Husband vs. Wife: Last-Minute Holiday Saving

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage — except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This round, they try to make good on their failed promise to each other to save for the holidays. He promises to buy her a gift using frequent flier points, she says just wrap me a workable plan.

Can a married couple work together to fix a broken plan in time for a happy holiday? Or will the kids cry?

Mrs. Fuchs: Whoops, we did it again.

Mr. Fuchs: Oh no, a 4th kid?!

Mrs. Fuchs: No. We botched another financial plan.

Mr. Fuchs: Which one? Oh, I remember. Back in August, we vowed to set aside $100 a month for holiday shopping, which last year ran us about $1,500. But Black Friday, which signifies the start of the holiday shopping season, is almost here and guess what? In our busy life with all our expenses, we forgot again. Yet another good plan bites the dust. So what now? Time is tight. How should we save on the holidays if we haven’t stashed money away ahead of time?

Mrs. Fuchs: How do you feel about the night shift at Target (Stock Quote: TGT)?

Mr. Fuchs: Or celebrating the Chinese New Year instead—since it takes place in January we can take advantage of post-holiday sales. Or we can just pick fights with all of our relatives in the lead-up to the holidays and mend fences well afterward.

Mrs. Fuchs: You try explaining that to the kids. You’ll spend more on therapy than on gifts in the first place. But John Cioffi of Hazlet, N.J., had a good idea. What about wrapping our gifts in newspaper comic pages? That is good for the environment and I won’t have to shell out for adorable holiday gift wrapping. “It’s colorful enough,” Cioffi said, “and they usually run holiday themed strips two weeks before the holidays.” Plus, you’ll be saving the newspaper industry. We’ve also had past success in cutting down on adult gift giving by making side deals with siblings to only gift each other's kids.

Mr. Fuchs: Those are two good ones, but we need a plan with larger impact.  At this point, we need something systematic — one of those four-point plans from a savvy financial planner.

Mrs. Fuchs: Where are you going to get one of those?

Mr. Fuchs: Surprise! The holidays came early for you — I have one!

Mrs. Fuchs: Oh joy.

Mr. Fuchs: Here comes Scot Stark, who runs Stark Strategic Management in Freeland, Md., and is president-elect of the Financial Planning Association-Maryland, to present you with your gift — a nicely wrapped four-point plan. Wrapped in comics, that is.

  • First off, Stark suggests paying cash for holiday gifts, which helps you resist the temptation to overspend your way into oblivion.  “It just feels different to hand someone a $50 bill than it does to hand them your credit card and be charged $50.”  True that, as they say.
  • Next, says Stark, ask for a discount. Even when they are not advertised, in this economy they might be yours for the asking. A few discounts can cut costs rapidly.
  • Third, Stark suggest the iPhone (Stock Quote: AAPL) App called Saving Benjis. It costs 99 cents, but more than earns its keep by allowing you to comparison shop while in actual stores.
  • Fourth, redeem purchaser points on credit cards. Many of these points are never used, but if you find yourself staring straight down the barrel of an expensive holiday season without having saved, look here. Which reminds me ... I haven’t gotten you a gift yet, but I have plenty of points stored up—

Mrs. Fuchs: As if ...

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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