I like to think of year-end as a time to relax and get away. Yes, concerns about the Omicron variant have heightened coronavirus-related fears. But we can still find ways to celebrate the year-end holidays and family traditions. This week, I share some holiday tips and suggestions. Hopefully, they can make your holiday season more enjoyable.
The holiday season provides a chance for some downtime. Most important, it gives us a chance to spend time with family. In our house, this has become more meaningful over time. Our kids are older. Some of them are away at school. This means they no longer live in our home year-round.
When it comes to gifts, remember that it’s important to practice good financial habits all year round. In our house, we like to share experiences. Covid has interrupted some of our travel plans over the last two years, but we still favor sharing experiences. My wife and I hope our kids will remember our experiences fondly and want to continue to travel with us – at least occasionally – even when they are on their own.
On that note, I’ll share some thoughts on some things to consider if you want to give experiences as gifts. After that, I’ll offer some tips to help you avoid the scams that are often prevalent this time of year. I hope you find these holiday tips and suggestions helpful. You may also still have time to implement some of the tax and financial planning tips I shared in this blog.
EXPERIENCES OVER THINGS
A growing body of research tells us that one of the best gifts you can give your family this holiday season is an experience. Sharing activities with your loved ones can increase brain activity and create more lasting happiness than material objects.
Plus, after the holidays, you’ll have fewer things to make room for as you’re boxing up decorations and preparing for the year ahead. This approach can also help when/if you decide to relocate in retirement. Your heirs may appreciate having fewer things to go through after you’ve passed on, too.
Here are three gift ideas that could boost your family’s Return on Life and, potentially, create new traditions that will spread joy for years to come.
1. Try something new.
If your family’s routine feels stale after two years of pandemic life, shake things up a bit. Gift yourselves a membership to a museum, theatre company, or zoo. Now that you’re not locked up at home anymore, trap yourselves in an escape room. If you’re comfortable with being out and about, create a monthly dining-out plan and buy gift cards to all the new restaurants you want to try. Take up a new family sport, like skiing or indoor rock climbing. Are your kids starting to stretch their culinary skills? Buy virtual cooking classes or a meal kit subscription and make mealtime a real family activity.
2. Schedule a big vacation.
Some high-profile theme parks and attractions started opening their gates just as the pandemic closed them. 2022 could be a great year to make up for any lost time. Look for a place that has a little something for everyone. Combine roller coasters with fine dining, a first-class spa, and sports facilities. That can make everyone more willing to stick together even if the next activity isn’t a personal favorite. You might even be able to add visits to nearby family to the itinerary, another experience that’s sure to spark some extra joy.
Of course, with a new COVID-19 variant making the rounds and pent-up demand and staffing problems still affecting prices, your travel plans need to balance forethought with flexibility. Read all the fine print and try to stick with bookings that are refundable or covered by travel insurance. Consider contingency plans that won’t break your budget. And if you’re planning to fly, be prepared for vaccination or masking requirements both in the air and at your destination.
3. Create a family giving plan.
Of all the experiences that can create happiness, none are as impactful as reaching out and making someone else’s life a little bit easier. In addition to the immediate emotional benefits to both givers and recipients, charity has a way of rippling out into your community and creating more goodwill.
The holidays provide a variety of festive giving options, such as toy trees for children, food and clothing drives, and providing holiday meals to families in need. You could also make volunteering a new holiday tradition by taking a shift at a local soup kitchen or assisting at a favorite nonprofit’s charitable event. Or you might donate to an organization that’s doing good work for a cause that’s important to your family. This could even inspire your family to think about establishing a charitable organization of its own. Maybe you will make philanthropy a permanent part of your family mission.
Part of the fun of a great holiday gift is being surprised. But a family experience might be a present that you should talk through with everyone before you put a bow on it. Getting group buy-in on the experience can make it even more enjoyable.
4. Tips to avoid some of the most popular holiday scams.
The holiday season can leave us in a festive mode. We want to spend money on people we love. Unfortunately, that can leave us vulnerable to cybercriminals.
Cyber fraud can occur at any time during the year. Crooks can look to scam others even more during the holidays though. Why? We are often too distracted or hurried to see through their actions.
Any of us can fall prey to holiday scams. Our excitement about the holidays can cause us to act impulsively or look for instant gratification.
Tip 1: If you visit a website promoting an incredible deal, try digging a little deeper to make sure it’s real. For example, if it’s a discount on an item sold by a website, go to the website directly and look for the discount instead of clicking on a link in an email.
Tip 2: Be careful about using weak passwords or subscribing to internet-hosted mailing lists attempting to secure a discount. You may surrender valuable data at the same time.
Tip 3: Discount scams are a popular scheme. The scammers know what you’ve been searching for online – they can place cookies on your PC allowing them to track your activity. They could send you an email – that looks real – offering a discount. When you click on it, you get sent to a spoofed website that looks like the legitimate site. Once you get there, the site will ask for personally identifiable information that criminals can sell on the black market. They may also request your credit card number to purchase the item. You get charged the full amount. You never receive the item.
Tip 4: Have an email spam filter. If you’re not sure if an email is real, you can click on the “from” line of the email. If it looks fishy, it probably is. Also, look for bad grammar in the email, common misspellings, or a poorly designed website, too.
Tip 5: Watch out for sites that only accept gift cards. They could also tell you that there is a problem with your credit card and ask if you have a gift card. They want you to pay by gift card because gift cards don’t provide the same fraud protection as credit cards.
Tip 6: Be careful about travel phishing and charity scams. In the first case, you might receive an email saying a booking has been canceled. You get sent to a spoof site and are asked to enter your credit card number to set up a new reservation. You could also be directed to a clone site offering ridiculous deals on a house rental, flight, or hotel room as long as you put down a deposit to hold your reservation.
Charity scams can target victims through social media feeds. You could be asked to donate to an organization that doesn’t exist.
Tip 7: Check the address bar of any website you visit. Make sure the website address starts with https, rather than http. The additional “s” signifies a secure protocol for transmitting sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information over the internet.
Tip 8: Wherever possible use two-factor authentication for your most sensitive information, including bank and credit card logins.
5. Suggestions to help protect you against credit card fraud.
Tip 1: Credit cards often represent the safest payment option. You can dispute charges for items that you never received or already returned. The same applies if you are double-charged for an item. Plus, if your card is lost or stolen, your losses may be limited to $50 – if you notify your issuer promptly.
Debit cards do not offer the same protection as credit cards. Once money is taken from your bank account it’s gone. It may take time to resolve the issue. You can get it back, but you could be left short until the issue gets resolved.
Tip 2: Consider using virtual cards or mobile wallets. Many credit card companies offer “virtual card numbers.” These numbers link to your account when you make an online purchase. You can only use these unique, randomly generated numbers once. They provide another layer of protection for your real credit card number.
Digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and PayPal store your credit card information. While these wallets store your credit card information, they use “tokens” rather than your credit card’s primary account number when you make a purchase. This helps keep your actual card number safe and makes your transactions more secure.
Tip 3: Be cautious when using “buy now, pay later” services. These services let you pay for your purchases in equal installment payments. Many of them are interest-free, too. Here’s the downside. These products do not offer the same dispute protections as credit cards if the product you purchased turns out to be faulty or a scam. In other words, you could still be held responsible for payment.
I always enjoy the holiday season. It starts with getting together with family for Thanksgiving. If your kids are in school at any level, they should get a holiday break as well. I welcome the opportunity to have everyone home for their holiday break. We do exchange gifts, but that takes a back seat to the opportunity for experiences it provides. Before covid, we always traveled for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. This year, we will have less time away than in the past, but we have planned some time away along with some special activities. I’m looking forward to taking the last week of the year off for some quality family time.
I hope you find these holiday tips and suggestions helpful and that everyone reading today’s blog gets a chance to enjoy the season and experience some of their favorite holiday traditions.
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Phil Weiss founded Apprise Wealth Management. He started his financial services career in 1987 working as a tax professional for Deloitte & Touche. For the past 25+ years, he has worked extensively in the areas of financial planning and investment management. Phil is both a CFA charterholder and a CPA.
Located just north of Baltimore, Apprise works with clients face-to-face locally and can also work virtually regardless of location.