Giving Till It Hurts

Once that holiday spirit of giving starts working overtime, it’s easy to lose track of money.

“Before you know it, it’s January and you realize you’ve spent two or three times more than you should have,” says KeyBank senior vice president of retail banking Todd Hays.

He recommends establishing a holiday budget that includes a list of gift recipients, a spending limit for each and — often forgotten — a list of other holiday expenditures. “People forget about travel expenses, entertainment, wrapping paper, shipping costs, postage, greeting cards ... that all adds up,” says Hays. Then, start setting aside money nowto minimize holiday debt.

“If debt is unavoidable, establish a payment plan for yourself before you start shopping and aim for a maximum of 90 days to pay off those holiday expenses,” Hays suggests. Also, keep receipts in one spot so you can easily compare what you’ve spent to your budget.

And even when that spirit of giving hits you, stick to your guns. “It’s easy to get lost in the joy and excitement of the holidays and lose track of the budget,” says Hays.
Sitter Supply
There’s no time tougher than the holidays to get a good baby sitter, when demand is high and the supply can afford to be picky. “High school and college girls are so busy with activities, and they’re not as dependent on outside income as we were as kids,” says Kathleen Heydorn, owner of the Nanny Connection in Hudson. As a result, you may pay a bit more and have to book further in advance during the holiday season, she says. But what to do if your normal sitters aren’t available? Here’s Heydorn’s advice:
 - Avoid sitter Web sites. If you can’t find a recommended sitter through friends or family, talk to a nanny agency like Heydorn’s that also provides baby sitters. Her sitters submit to the same extensive background checks as teachers and day-care workers and have been interviewed in person by Heydorn or her staff.
 - Google them, and take a look at your sitter’s Facebook or MySpace pages before hiring. “You may be surprised what you’ll find about them,” says Heydorn.
 - Articulate your expectations. “The younger they are, the more specific you need to be,” says Heydorn. That may mean explaining your expectations for her behavior — no cell phone use, no personal computer use, no MTV — and for her care of your children and home. “You may have to say, ‘If the trash is full, please take it to the trash can.’ ” Talk to your kids after the sitter leaves. “They may just say, ‘She was fine,’ but ask them specific questions about what she did while you were gone,” says Heydorn.
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