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The holidays can be happier (and easier on your finances) if you manage them like any other financial goal. Learn how to budget, plan ahead, and save for holiday expenses.
Stop Singing Those Holiday Spending Blues
The holidays can be a magical time of year, filled with the warmth of family and friends and the joy of giving -- or receiving -- the perfect gift. But if you're not careful, the holidays can also be a financial drain, leaving bills that linger long after the winter snow has melted.
The key to managing holiday spending is to treat it as you would any other financial goal: plan, budget, and save. Financially happy holidays are a year-long endeavor.
Start With Savings
Not having enough money during the holidays can make you reach for your credit card, adding interest payments to your holiday expenses if you can't pay the bills off in January. Remember, even a low interest rate adds to the cost of every purchase you make and could negate any bargains you found.
To avoid credit card use, begin setting aside a little money from each paycheck in January in a special account reserved for holiday expenses. Saving just $10 a week will give you a nearly $500 head start when December rolls around. Check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer special holiday savings accounts, or consider a direct deposit from your paycheck. If you never see the money, you're less likely to miss it.
Build a Budget
With a savings plan underway, your next step is to start planning for holiday expenses. This simple but efffective Holiday Budget Worksheet can help you figure out where the money goes and target a savings goal. Don't forget those other expenses besides gifts, such as meals out, decorations, and babysitting. If you still have receipts from last December, you can use them to help plan the coming year's expenses.
Your goal should be to bring your holiday budget in line with what you will be able to save before the holidays. If you find a sizable gap between savings and expenses, try to find ways to reduce costs or save more. Bringing your lunch to work is an excellent way to free up money for savings. Also examine your gift list and non-gift expenses. Do you really need to buy more Christmas lights? Can you eat fewer meals out during the holidays?
Cutting Back on Spending
Last-minute shopping is the easiest way to wind up in debt during the holidays. You can begin to reduce holiday expenses by starting your shopping for next year as soon as the holiday season winds down. Post-holiday sales offer deep discounts on wrapping paper, cards, and decorations.
The same strategy can be used for gifts. If your family spends a lot of time at the beach, stock up on seasonal outdoor gifts in September, when these items are greatly reduced. Watch for sales and clearances to find the best prices throughout the year.
You can also look for bargains online. Holiday shopping online has increased significantly in recent years, and many online retailers offer lower prices than their mall counterparts. Just make sure you can pay the bill before submitting your credit card number. And if you're insecure about that, many sites now offer toll-free numbers you can call to place an order. If you don't have a computer at home, you should be able to find one at your local library. And don't assume that you'll always get a better deal on the Net. Compare online prices with those of local retailers to make sure you're getting a bargain -- and don't forget to include the price of shipping in your overall cost.
Gift Giving Alternatives
Creativity is a key ally in managing holiday expenses. One of the easiest ways to reduce gift costs is to give the gift of time. Homemade coupons for a home-cooked meal, an afternoon at the beach, or a pledge to mow the lawn, paint or clean the house, or babysit can be just as valuable as store-bought items. Busy moms and dads can offer coupons promising to take a day off to spend with the kids or to come to school for an event or recital.
If you have a lot of people on your gift list, consider a holiday grab. Similar to the office grab, everyone picks a name of someone to buy for, reducing the number of gifts each person has to buy while making sure that no one is forgotten.
Buying after the holiday can also work to your advantage. If there are people on your gift list you know you won't see until after the holidays, postpone your shopping to take advantage of those late-December discounts. Surveys have found that the majority of consumers shop post-holiday sales to take advantage of the savings.
It's better to give than to receive, especially when you get a tax break. Generous-minded people on your list may be happy with a charitable donation made in their name, and you can potentially pocket a tax deduction.
Planning, budgeting, and creativity can help keep holiday bills in check â€” and keep you from reaching for credit cards. If you must use credit to balance the holiday budget, use the card with the lowest interest rate and work to pay down the balance as soon as possible after the holidays. The holiday season is more joyous when you're not still paying for it when summer arrives.
The Mindoro tamaraw is vanishing
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It is one of the world's most endangered land mammals, found only in the Southern Luzon island of Mindoro. Habitat loss, hunting and disease have reduced its population to near-extinction levels--from about 10,000 in 1900 to the present estimate of 260-300 heads.
Now widely dispered in the grasslands of F.B. Harrison, Mt. Calavite, Mt. Aruyan-Sablayan, Eagle Pass and Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park, the fragmented populations of the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) are left with not much opportunity for natural exchange or breeding.
Captive breeding in a 280-hectare gene pool farm in Aguas, Rizal, Mindoro Occidental had led to four births recorded in 1990, 1992, 1996 and 1997. But all four calves died. The first calf succumbed to undetected parasite infestation after surviving for only one year. Stillbirth and twin birth were listed as the causes of death of the succeeding captive-bred calves.
Two female and three male tamaraws are currently confined in the gene pool. Armed with more information on the reproductive behavior of the endangered species, the staff of the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP), which is now under the direct supervision of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Southern Tagalog (DENR-Region 4), is focusing its efforts on simulating actual habitat conditions in the gene pool.
TCP, which has solicited the technical assistance of scientific groups, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCS), is bent on saving the tamaraw from extinction.
Various measures to ensure the continuous survival of the tamaraw were identified by TCP and IUCS experts and scientists in a Per-Population Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) Workshop conducted in May 1996. These were: captive breeding, wild population management, massive behavioral studies of tamaraws in the wilds, and community involvement in implementing the tamaraw information, education and conservation campaign.
"But the main emphasis of the program, which was turned over by the Protested Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to DENR-Region 4 early this year, is habitat protection, rehabilitation and management," Norma M. Molinyawe, supervising ecosystems management specialist of PAWB, said.
Based on a work plan provided by PAWB, protection activities are now in place in all known tamaraw grazing ranges, with special focus on Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park and Mt. Aruyan in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, where 260 heads were sighted and counted as of April 1998.
"Sightings are difficult to ascertain," Molinyawe noted. "We rely on reports made by the field staff of the project consisting of forest guards."
Six Bantay Tamaraw teams have been created by the project to monitor illegal activities which have caused the rapid decline of the species: hunting for food and tropy, shifting agriculture, logging, and cattle ranching, notably in the vicinities of Mts. Iglit-Baco and Mt. Aruyan.
Consisting of five to 12 members each, the teams roam the grasslands of the two mountain ranges which straddle the boundary of Occidental and Oriental Mindoro.
The fierceness of the solitary animal and the vastness of its grazing territory make counting and monitoring very difficult.
Often mistaken as a pygmy carabao (it grows to about 1,000 mm high at the shoulders and weighs 300 kg), the animal has a very keen sense of smell and can detect an intruder even a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. The bulls and the cows are together only during the breeding months from April to July.
Based on the latest status report of the TCP, habitat restoration and rehabilitation, involving 5.27 hectares in Kawadlay Hill, Magtangcob and Poypoy, and another five hectares within the gene pool farm, have been planted with narra, pajo, amugis and other suitable tree species.
School- and community-based nurseries were also grown in Barangays Ligaya, Burgos and Poypoy near the Mts. Iglit-Baco sanctuary to serve as alternative sources of livelihood for residents of communities which lie close to the sanctuaries.
"Support of the public is key to the success of the conservation program," Molinyawe said. "If communities around the sanctuaries are not conscious of issues such as illegal hunting, the program will not succeed."
Occupants of conservation areas, mostly Mangyans, are thus tapped as active partners in conserving tamaraws and other wildlife as well. For instance, a barangay tamaraw conservation councill (BTCC) was created in Barangay Malpalon to assist in protecting the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park.
The TCP has initiated other alternative livelihood projects such as hog-raising, buri production and weaving with selected members of the BTCC as initial beneficiaries.
"All these have been put in place despite TCP's limited logistics and funding support," Molinyawe said. -- Environment News Network