Trimming your gift list may not be enough to help you stick to a holiday budget this year.
Presents are still the No. 1 category for spending, with shoppers expected to shell out $458 on them this year, according to Deloitte. That's up 9 percent from last year, and represents 35 percent of the typical shopper's overall $1,299 holiday budget.
But parties can be a stealth budget buster. Deloitte expects spending on "socializing away from home" to rise 15 percent, to an average $310. Costs to host a party are up 22 percent, to an average $194. Combined, that's almost 39 percent of your budget. (Solidly 50 percent, if you factor in the $144 in holiday spend on "nongift clothing"—because let's face it, you're not buying a holiday-themed sweater or sparkly party dress to hang out at home alone.)
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"The first thing I think about when I hear the dollars and cents is, life is short," said etiquette consultant Jodi R. R. Smith, author of "From Clueless to Class Act." "If you have the opportunity to celebrate the season with people you love, do it. Just don't go into debt doing it."
Coming down with the flu can make you feel more than a little queasy—about your budget.
The flu can be expensive for consumers and businesses alike. During the particularly bad 2012-13 season, the flu cost workers $8.5 billion in lost wages from taking unpaid sick days to recuperate or to care for a sick family member, according to Walgreens. And an earlier report from the pharmacy chain found that many people end up spending more than $250 out of pocket to treat their symptoms.
Fortunately, reducing your risk of that kind of bill is easy, and cheap.
If you've spent more time examining holiday sales ads than your open enrollment insurance materials, you're not alone.
A new survey from Aflac found that last year, 41 percent of employees spent less than 15 minutes researching benefits options during their employers' enrollment window—compared with an average two hours deciding which TV to buy. That can be a costly mistake.
Unless you're buying a top-of-the-line $4,000 set, health care is going to be the pricier financial decision. This year, the average worker paid out $4,823 in premiums, 3 percent more than in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And experts say more increases are in store for the coming year, so the plan you choose can make a big difference to your bottom line.
"This is a year where employers are making a lot of changes," said Beth Umland, director of research for health and benefits at Mercer, an HR consulting firm. "If you're ever going to read your open enrollment materials, this is the year to do it."
Building an emergency fund can be a crisis in itself for plenty of Americans.
Although financial advisors typically recommend consumers stash away at least three months' worth of living expenses, and ideally, six months' worth, few have hit the mark. More than a quarter have no emergency savings, according to a Bankrate.com study released earlier this year. Of those who do, two-thirds have less than that the six-month target.
Eking out more savings can be a dismaying prospect, with budgets already stretched entering the holiday season and credit card debts mounting. "People tell me they can't afford to save," said Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "You can't afford not to."
Looking at the prices for a hot concert or rival baseball match-up, cheap summer fun can seem anything but.
On the secondary market, tickets for popular acts such as Justin Timberlake and Paul McCartney are averaging $243 and $241, respectively, reports aggregator SeatGeek.com. (See chart below for the going rates for some of this summer's popular shows.) Baseball fans, meanwhile, are seeing box office ticket prices that are 2 percent higher than last season, according to Team Marketing Report. That's $27.93 for the average seat and $93.41 for premium ones. (See chart below for some of the priciest and cheapest teams.)
But there's no need to pay a premium price—or in most cases, even shell out for a ticket's face value. Event tickets are the rare area where it can pay to be either an early-bird or a procrastinator.
Selling your stuff at a yard sale could be a losing proposition.
Stories of valuable finds abound, like the rare Chinese bowl bought at a tag sale for $3 and auctioned off last year for $2.225 million. Sure, it's unlikely your old junk is worth quite that much. But it could be more valuable than typical yard sale profits imply. (The average item is priced at just 85 cents, according to Signs.com, and 42 percent of yard-sale shoppers say they expect to negotiate.)
Check out the video above for some clutter categories worth researching ahead of time. Trade-in programs and secondhand sites may offer more for certain items than you'd get from individual bargain hunters. Even a few "finds" of your own can add up over multiple closets cleaned and junk drawers sorted.
Case in point: Electronics. There are dozens of trade-in programs from manufacturers, retailers and independent trade-in sites. To name just a few: Apple, Amazon, Best Buy, NextWorth.com and Gazelle.com. Amazon offers as much as $30 for a year-old Garmin GPS; a Blackberry Bold is worth $30 at NextWorth.com. Even gadgets without power cords, or with cracked screens, may have some value.
Sites typically offer free shipping to send in your stuff, and retailers allow in-store trade-ins for shoppers who want their cash or store credit quickly. Most promise to wipe your gadget of personal content, but it's still a smart idea to clear it yourself first.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Moving takes its toll, emotionally and financially—particularly if you pick the wrong mover.
These days, the average in-state move costs $2,300, according to Angie's List. Heading out of state? Expect to spend about $4,300. (Watch the video for tips to cut the bill.)
Tempting as it may be to take a jog in the park or join an outdoor boot camp, there's good reason to check out the gym this summer—it may be your cheapest shot at membership year-round.
Sure, there are plenty of promotions in January, as gyms compete for their share of New Year's resolution-makers. But there are also plenty in the summer, as gyms try to lure in new members amid sunshine, fresh air and warm weather.
Despite some analysts' predictions for a summer with the best gas prices in recent memory, motorists may still face big fuel bills.
The simple reason? It's not called the "summer driving season" for nothing.
"As the weather warms up, more people hit the road," said Michael Green, a spokesman for AAA. That's more vacations, more day trips and excursions, and that classic, the summer road trip. The extra miles can more than counterbalance any savings from lower prices. Over Memorial Day weekend alone, AAA expects 36.1 million people will travel 50 miles or more, a 1.5 percent increase over last year.
Memorial Day gas prices are likely to run about $3.62 per gallon on average nationwide, down from $3.65 last year, said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com. He expects prices to continue falling, with the summer average falling somewhere in the $3.40 to $3.50 range for most of the country.
"It should be, overall the cheapest summer since 2010," DeHaan said.
Watch the video above for smart shopping tricks to get the best price while fueling up, including the right way to pay for gas. Whipping out that gas rewards credit card isn't always your most cost-effective bet—Wal-Mart, Cumberland Farms and other chains all offer breaks for certain payment methods.
For longer trips, sites such as AAA's Fuel Cost Calculator and BeFrugal.com's Fly or Drive Calculator can help you figure out whether it's cheaper to get in the car or hop on a plane, based on your vehicle and the route. BeFrugal.com also factors in considerations like tolls, hotel (if you'd need to break up the trip over several days) and added cab costs to and from the airport if you decide to fly.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant.
Graduating from college and striking out on your own can be a financial wake-up call—one that's as jarring as a bucket of ice-cold water.
Sure, the job market is a little rosier for this year's grads. Employers expect to hire 8.6 percent more 2014 grads than they did from the Class of 2013, according to the National Association of College and Employers. But the April unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 24 is still high at 10.6 percent.
Add in average student loan debt of $29,400 (or more—that figure, the latest available, was Project on Student Debt's estimate for 2012 grads) and $3,000 in credit card debt, and the outlook is a little rougher. Not panicking yet? A new Pew Research Center report found that households with student loan debt have less money and more debt overall. Other studies have found they're more likely to put off home-ownership.
All the more reason to be smart about your money from the get-go, financial advisors say.
"Right after college, you're creating financial habits that will follow you for a lifetime," said certified financial planner Janet A. Stanzak, president of the Financial Planning Association. "You have to be intentional about how you use your money." (Watch the video above for three tips to get started.)
Though it can seem overwhelming, don't focus solely on student loan debt. "A lot of people ask, 'should I be paying off my debt and then start to invest?'" said Stanzak, whose son and daughter will be graduating from college this spring. "It's really important to keep a balance and do both." Time is on young adults' side to build those savings into a retirement nest egg.
Saving as you pay down the debt can also make your financial situation less precarious. Most planners recommend having at least three months' worth of living expenses in a savings account. "Establish an emergency fund so if something goes wrong, you aren't begging, borrowing or stealing," said Mark Prendergast, a certified financial planner based in Huntington Beach, Calif.