Gwen Given-Jones

It’s the holiday season – one of the most joyful times of the year. But, due to abundant social gatherings, checking off year-end to-do lists and the exchanging of gifts, it can also create a set of financial stresses unique to this season that are less than merry.

By December 1, most of us are already making our lists and checking them twice for the right decorations, candy, treats and presents for all our friends and family. If not properly planned for, the price tag of holiday cheer can take some of the fun out of the holidays. Fortunately, there are free, easily accessible financial tips that can set you up for success if you know where to look.

Start with a Holiday Spending Budget
A good place to begin is with a holiday spending budget. This will set the foundation for your overall holiday spending strategy. It should be more comprehensive than you might think, and even account for any gatherings or parties you intend to host or attend as well as all the gifts you intend to buy.

Decide How You’re Paying
There are pros and cons to shopping with a credit, debit, or store credit cards. Using a credit card offers some additional benefits such as helping you build a credit history or gain useful rewards like frequent flyer miles or cash rewards. However, using a credit card can also make it easy to go over your budget. In addition, it can result in having to face additional fees for late or partial payments.

Direct spending with a debit card is a good way to stay accountable for each purchase you make, but you will also face overdraft fees if you withdraw more than what’s in your account. On our Better Money Habits website there are free-to-view tips and videos to help you understand how these options work.

Giving Money as a Gift
Most gift-receivers are elated to find some extra spending money in their stocking. But, depending on who you’re giving it to, there are different ways to do it. Young children might prefer you give it to them in cash. For young adults who are beginning to take charge of their own finances, a savings bond can help them jump-start their own savings account.

Price Check with Your Phone
If there’s one experience I am sure we have all had at the holidays, it’s realizing that despite our best intentions, the perfect gift for someone, the one you just have to buy, is also the most expensive. If you find a gift that’s over your budget, use your phone to see if you can find a better price elsewhere. Many stores will now gladly match another store or online shopping site right on the spot to keep the sale.

Don’t Let Grinches Spoil Your Holiday
During the hectic holiday season, it’s especially important to always remember to keep your financial information safe from grinches who may try to take advantage and steal more than just your holiday cheer.

Here are some simple, but smart things you can do to protect yourself:

• Sign up for alerts from you bank or credit card company to notify you when there is suspicious activity on your account.
• Never, ever give out bank account numbers, your birth date or social security number to just anyone who reaches out to you. No bank will ever email you to ask for personal or account details.
• If you’re making a purchase using your credit card online, look for security-enabled website addresses that start with “https” (the extra “s” indicates that it is a secure website for your payment).

Put Your Mobile Tools to Work
Finally, your mobile tools can be your personal shopping and budgeting assistant during the holiday season. You can download your bank’s mobile app so that you can get a real-time look at your spending and stick to your budget. If you’re a Bank of America customer, you can use Erica, our artificial intelligence (AI) virtual assistant, to search transactions, look up your account balances, and credit card bill reminders, so you never miss a payment.

For all of us, the holidays are a time to reflect on the year and give thanks for what we have. But they also offer a good opportunity to look forward and think about our approach to financial planning so we can start the New Year on a strong financial footing.

Bank of America’s purpose is to help make financial lives better. In my role, I work to help set our community up for success by helping people take charge of their finances and work toward their biggest priorities. One way we do this is by offering free “Better Money Habits” seminars in local communities – we’ve done nearly 40 across Los Angeles this year alone, including at Taste of Soul, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall, for participants in the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) program, and for elementary school children at Barack Obama Charter School in South Central L.A., and Roosevelt Elementary in Compton.

For more savings tips or information on future Better Money Habits seminars, you are invited to contact us anytime via email at [email protected], or visit us at

And on behalf of everyone at Bank of America in Los Angeles, I wish you the safest and happiest of holidays and a joyous New Year.