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    Cool Hacks for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

    By Parker Wallace

    Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving and all the trimmings. And then, by Saturday, everybody is sick of Thanksgiving and all the trimmings. Gag me with a turkey sandwich, right?

    The key to leftovers is making them feel like a different meal with a new texture and flavor profile for each.

    Give leftover stuffing a crunchy panko crust -- inside these yummy croquettes is a tender piece of turkey! Turn butter into a whole new condiment by adding a few spoonfuls of leftover cranberry sauce. And transform those mashed potatoes into potato pancakes.

    Here is everything you need to know. Be sure to refer to the video to watch each one being made. None takes more than a few minutes.

    Turkey Croquettes

    Ingredients
    • Bite size pieces of turkey
    • Stuffing (If it's dry, add some melted butter to it.)
    • Canola oil
    • Flour for dredging
    • 3 eggs whisked for egg wash
    • Panko
    • Leftover gravy
    Directions
    • Heat canola oil -- about 2 inches in depth -- in a wide rimmed skillet or Dutch oven using medium-high heat.
    • Roll stuffing into golf-ball sized orbs.
    • Press a bite-sized piece of turkey into the middle of each stuffing ball.
    • Dredge balls in flour, then egg wash, then panko.
    • Put croquettes in the hot oil and brown on all sides.
    • Drain on paper towels.
    • Serve with hot gravy.
    Cheesy, Savory Potato Pancakes Ingredients
    • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
    • 1 beaten egg
    • 1 cup cheddar cheese
    • Handful of chives or scallions
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon canola oil
    • Sour cream for garnish
    Directions
    • Fold egg, cheese and chives into the leftover mashed potatoes and mix to combine evenly.
    • Heat canola oil and butter in a skillet.
    • Form potato and cheese mixture into pancakes.
    • Put into the hot skillet and fry until browned on both sides.
    • Serve with sour cream.
    Cranberry Butter Ingredients
    • 1 stick softened butter
    • 2-3 tablespoons of leftover cranberry sauce
    Directions
    • Whip cranberry sauce into butter until smooth.
    Now it's time for you to share your favorite leftover recipes, either in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    Red christmas baubles on tree
    Getty Images
    By Andrea Cannon

    Let's face it: The holidays can be expensive. Along with spending money on gifts, food and fun, you also need to worry about lights, decorations, wrapping essentials and other items. Fortunately, we've found some smart ways to help you save big on your holiday decorations!

    1. Set a Budget

    First, figure out how much you're willing to spend. Set this amount aside and don't go over-budget. It might be easier for you to set it aside in cash. That way you're protected from overspending and it's easier to keep track of how much is left.

    2. Follow the Sales

    There's no better time than the holidays to take advantage of things like price matching, coupons and promo codes. Many stores, like Walmart, offer to match or beat any local competitors' prices or will accept competitors' coupons, so you should know which stores near you offer these perks. Most large stores start offering discounts on outdoor decorations in early November, indoor decorations in mid-November and tree decorations in early December. Follow the sales.

    3. Buy Holiday Items Off-Season

    Right after the gift-giving season, holiday decorations, lights, wrapping and seasonal foods go on massive sale. You can save up to 75 percent on all of the holiday essentials. If your storage or garage has the extra space to store decorations for next year, this can save you big money.

    4. Make DIY Decorations

    Not only will you save money and get in touch with your creative side, but you can also get the kids involved for a fun family activity. There are thousands of free videos and tutorials online to help you create beautiful DIY decorations and ornaments for a fraction of the cost of new ones. (See also: 12 Ideas for Cheap, Festive, Fall Decor)

    5. Use the Outdoors as Inspiration

    Your yard might have some great natural pieces that you can use to decorate the interior and exterior of your home, like pinecones, dried leaves, twigs, branches, acorns and other foliage. You can use pinecones as centerpieces or you can even spray paint them gold or silver and add glitter for a DIY tree ornament.

    6. Give Your Old Decorations a Makeover

    Nearly anything looks better in a glass vase, so consider filling some with cranberries, old glass ornament or pinecones to create brand new, festive displays and centerpieces.

    7. Get More Out of Your Tree

    When purchasing your tree, remember that prices are usually lower during the week and higher on the weekends. You can also save big by buying your tree the week before Christmas, if you are okay with waiting. Save any bits that are lopped off your tree as it is being shaped. These pieces can be used to decorate the mantel or serve as a centerpiece.

    8. Get More From Old Wrapping Paper

    Keep small scraps of wrapping paper to make your own gift tags. Simply fold the scrap of wrapping paper in half, tape it to the gift and write the "To" and "From" inside. You can also do the same with old holiday cards.

    9. Focus on the Smells of the Holidays

    Cinnamon sticks, cloves, oranges, clementines, cranberries, pumpkin spice and vanilla are all staple holiday ingredients with discernible smells. Some other ways to focus on the scents of the holidays include:
    • Cook more with seasonal ingredients to naturally scent your home;
    • Buy holiday scented candles;
    • Make your own affordable holiday simmering potpourri, which is the perfect way to welcome someone into your home and also doubles as a great gift;
    • Use candy canes and seasonal fruits to make a unique scented table display;
    • Hang bunches of cinnamon sticks from the tree or mantle.
    10. Buy in Bulk

    Some of the best holiday items to buy in bulk include wrapping paper, ornaments, candles and serving dishes. If you buy too much, consider repurposing ornaments into DIY gifts or centerpieces.

    11. Visit Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores

    Dollar stores, discount stores and craft stores have some beautiful decorations for a fraction of the cost. Craft stores also have large selections of branches and wreaths that are both affordable and unique. Along with holiday decorations, you can stock up on essentials like glitter and tinsel to complete your holiday decorating kit.

    Don't forget about used! Many thrift stores also offer great deals on vintage decorations, holiday sets and ornaments. You might also be able to find some great holiday finds at nearby garage or moving sales, all at prices that can't be beat.

    12. Think Outside of the Box

    There are countless ways to upcycle your unwanted items and old holiday decorations into unique pieces. For example, try one of the following ideas this year:
    • Turn old brown paper grocery bags or comic strips into DIY wrapping paper;
    • Make garlands out of popcorn;
    • Download a fireplace screensaver to your laptop, tablet or mobile phone, which can light up the room with fake flames and even make the crackling sounds that we all associate with the holidays;
    • Purchase inexpensive plain tissue paper and decorate it yourself.
    13. Save on Holiday Cards

    You can usually find holiday cards for cheap at the dollar store or on sale at your local home goods store (they typically go on sale in December if you can wait). If you don't want to spend part of your budget on holiday cards, send a postcard, letter or even holiday email instead.

    14. Plan an Ornament Swap

    Before you start decorating for the holidays, take inventory of what you have and what you want to use this year. Whatever is left over can be traded at an ornament swap with your friends, family, neighbors and/or co-workers. Everyone will be able to clear out their holiday stash and you'll have some "new" ornaments, wrapping essentials or holiday decorations at the end. Bring some wine and holiday snacks to make a pre-holiday party out of the swap.

    How do you save money on holiday decorations and wrapping essentials? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

     

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    Inside A Costco Wholesale Co. Store Ahead of Earnings Figures
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with a struggling music app getting a boost from a record-breaking album and another cult fave experiencing an E. coli scare.

    Pandora (P) -- Winner

    Adele's "25" is a hit, and unlike streaming music rivals Spotify or Apple's (AAPL) new Apple Music, all of the tracks of the record-breaking album are available on Pandora. It's a big score for Pandora, and it can certainly use it. Its stock has shed two-thirds of its value since hitting an all-time high early last year.

    It's not a perfect situation. The reason that Adele's available on Pandora is because the app doesn't let listeners select the actual songs that they want to hear. It's a music-discovery site that delivers customized playlists. However, with Adele's album shattering the record for its first week of sales, it's not going to hurt to draw attention to Pandora's platform at a time when usage has stalled.

    GameStop (GME) -- Loser

    We're not playing video games the way we used to, and GameStop is feeling the pinch. The leading video game retailer took a hit after posting sales, earnings, and comparable-store sales that all fell in its latest quarter when pitted against the same pre-holiday quarter a year earlier.

    This wouldn't be such a big deal -- many retailers are struggling these days -- but GameStop was forecasting positive comps for the quarter just three months ago. New software and hardware sales continue to eat away at growth in the sale of collectible items and pre-owned games and gear.

    Disney (DIS) -- Winner

    Disney-Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" hit theaters on Wednesday. Movie critics have given mixed reviews on the computer-rendered movie, something that doesn't happen often when Pixar is telling the story.

    However, there's no point in denying the property's fate. It will be a big box office winner. It has dinosaurs. It's Disney-Pixar. It came out on Thanksgiving Eve, likely making the most of the extended holiday break that drives a family to the corner multiplex.

    Costco (COST) -- Loser

    It's not just Chipotle (CMG) dealing with an E. coli scare. Costco came under fire on accusations that its chicken salad may have disseminated the bacteria that causes an unpleasant gastrointestinal disease.

    There aren't many cases that have been announced so far, but burned Chipotle investors over the past few weeks will be the first to tell Costco shareholders that it's not over until it's over.

    Holiday Travelers -- Winners

    Thanksgiving finds many people hitting the road to visit family members, and it should be cheaper than usual this year with less pain at the pump. Gasoline prices over the holidays haven't been this low on Thanksgiving since 2008, and that will come as a welcome surprise to the 42 million drivers that AAA sees on the road this holiday weekend.

    It's not just drivers that will be grateful. Jet fuel is also cheap, and that's factored into lower airfares than in previous holiday travel seasons.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Costco Wholesale, Pandora Media and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    World Human Hands Holding Word Give
    Getty Images
    By Maria Baugh

    Are you generous with your time and money? If you're like most Americans, you probably are.

    According to a recent report by the Charities Aid Foundation, 61 percent of Americans said they volunteered or made financial contributions to a charity organization last year. Overall, that made the U.S. the second most generous nation in a global survey involving 145 countries (Myanmar came out on top with 66 percent of charitable residents).

    But with the holiday season in full swing, it can be tough to find the time to not only identify new charities but to actually organize your giving. To help you out, we've pulled together a list of organizations that support kids both across the ocean and in your own backyard. And some are even creating innovative ways for you to assist in their mission.

    Didn't think your foodie Instagrams could make a difference? Want your holiday shopping to do good? These groups make it possible to incorporate charitable giving at whatever level that works for you.

    Help At-Risk South African Kids Get Healthy Meals

    Source: Lunchbox Fund
    Charity: The Lunchbox Fund

    The Mission: To teach South African schoolchildren about healthy eating by providing a rotating menu of nutritionally fortified foods. The organization's secondary focus is female empowerment, and it employs previously out-of-work women from local communities to help prepare and serve the food.

    The Impact: Simply put, when kids are well fed, they have more energy and are better able to focus on other things -- including their schoolwork -- enabling them to create new lives for themselves.

    "We've seen children who rely on The Lunchbox Fund as their sole food supply experience major academic success," says Sophie Barnett, the organization's digital coordinator. "A recent program graduate completed high school with honors and matriculated to college on a full engineering scholarship."

    The Lunchbox Fund launched 10 years ago, and in 2015 it provided 2.6 million meals to children in early childhood development centers, primary and secondary schools, and after-school homework assistance programs in townships and rural areas across South Africa.

    "The program now feeds 13,000 children per day," Barnett says. "Our current goal is to reach 50,000 children by 2017."

    How You Can Help: Because meals are only 25 cents each with 100 percent of proceeds going toward the mission, each of your donated dollars provides four meals for a child in need.

    You can donate money through their site, and use social media to support the cause. Using the organization's app, Feedie, you can take a picture of your meal at a participating restaurant across the U.S., Europe, Asia and South Africa, and the eatery will donate a meal to a child via The Lunchbox Fund.

    Now that's a "foodstagram" you can feel good about.

    Help Find a Cure for Childhood Cancer

    Source: Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation
    Charity: Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation

    The Mission: To raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer research and empower people -- especially kids -- to make a difference.

    Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation began in 2000 when 4-year-old Alex Scott, a cancer patient, wanted to create a lemonade stand to raise money and help find a cure for all children with cancer. Although Scott died in 2004, the project grew and continues to help children nationwide today.

    The Impact: The organization raises money to help fuel cancer research and has given more than 500 research grants to over 100 organizations. One child who benefited directly from the organization is Zach Witt, who had an aggressive type of cancer that didn't respond to chemotherapy. After receiving treatment partially funded by an ALSF research project, doctors found the medication that helped Zach become cancer-free.

    "Within two days, he was up and running around the hospital," says Elizabeth Romaine, the foundation's director of communications and PR. "In the last several months, he's been able to return to a normal childhood -- he's even playing baseball."

    How You Can Help: The idea is simple: Support in any way you can.

    You can follow Alex's example and host a lemonade stand to raise money. Or, If you're athletically inclined, you can join Alex's Million Mile, where people walk, run or bike to help reach the goal of a million miles traveled in the name of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.

    Want to think -- and raise money -- outside the box? Romaine encourages it.

    "There's an attorney in New Jersey who calls himself 'The Caveman' -- for one full calendar year, he won't shave or cut his hair," she says. "He started in January, and so far he's raised just under $5,000. He's creating a visual reason to have the conversation."

    Help Kids, Parents and Teachers Use Technology to Succeed in School

    Source: PowerMyLearning
    Charity: PowerMyLearning

    The Mission: To enable students in grades K-12 to thrive by offering special websites, videos, games, mobile devices and laptops for academic exploration. The goal is to leverage tech to improve interactions between students, teachers and parents, and increase engagement and learning.

    The Impact: The nonprofit's free online platform, PowerMyLearning Connect, helps drive personalized instruction and self-directed learning, complete with fun games and activities.

    "We now have registered users from more than 40 percent of U.S. public schools, a figure that's tripled over the past two years," says CEO and co-founder Elisabeth Stock. "Teachers and parents continue to be the individuals who have the greatest impact on a child's academic success, and using technology to make them more effective is our secret sauce."

    How You Can Help: Financial gifts are always welcome, but you can also donate new or used laptops to the program.

    "We launched our #BelieveInFamilies campaign so more low-income families can support learning at home using the transformative power of technology," Stock explains. "We've already served more than 60,000 families in high-poverty communities, and we hope this campaign will help us bring in enough financial support to reach another 5,000 families in 2016."

    Give New Shoes to Kids Who Need Them

    Source: Shoes That Fit
    Charity: Shoes That Fit

    The Mission: To help children attend school in comfort -- and with dignity -- by giving them shoes to wear.

    The Impact: Since its humble beginnings in 1992, the organization has reached 1.4 million children around the country.

    "Last year we helped more than 90,000 kids in more than 2,000 schools and 46 states and D.C. -- all with one office in California and about six staff members," says Lee Kane, the charity's program manager.

    How You Can Help: Shoes That Fit recently kicked off its holiday campaign to provide 20,000 pairs of new athletic shoes to schoolchildren this winter. Through Dec. 24, supporters can purchase a $10 giving card from their local Nordstrom or Nordstrom Rack, which will go toward buying a pair of sneakers for a child in need.

    And if you want to go beyond a cash donation, Kane notes that supporters can replicate the program in their own community on a smaller scale. "We help match groups with nearby schools, and they go out and buy shoes directly for those students," Kane says.

    Feed America's Hungry Children

    Source: No Hungry Kid
    Charity: No Kid Hungry

    The Mission: To end childhood hunger across the country by making sure all kids get nutritious food.

    The Impact: One in five children in the U.S. struggles with hunger. Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry initiative, which began in 2006, is tackling that problem in many ways, like connecting kids with programs that provide breakfast at school and summer meals.

    "We want to make breakfast part of the school day," explains Clay Dunn, the program's interim chief communications and brand officer. "In the past, kids who wanted breakfast would have to arrive at school early, and there was a stigma attached -- the 'poor kids' were going to the cafeteria."

    Now breakfast is served directly in the classroom, and all the kids eat together.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest in the country, recently finished its three-year rollout of the program, and breakfast is now available to every kid in the school system. The East Coast is up next.

    "Earlier this year we got a commitment from New York City to offer breakfast to every elementary school student over the course of next year," Dunn says.

    How You Can Help: You can donate online, and for every $1 you give, No Kid Hungry can offer as many as 10 meals to children.

    And if you're feeling political, you can take things to the next level. The organization is currently lobbying Congress to change the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which governs most child nutrition programs like school breakfast, lunch and summer meals. Their hope is to increase children's access to nutritious food even when school is not in session.

    Help Kids Whose Parents Are Deployed With the National Guard or Reserves

    Source: Our Military Kids
    Charity: Our Military Kids

    The Mission: To provide grants for sports, fine arts and tutoring to the children of deployed or severely injured National Guard and Military Reserve members.

    The Impact: While the organization has been helping military children for 11 years, this past one has been especially successful. "Through October we've been able to give out more than 3,000 grants and more than $1.2 million," says AnnaMaria Gallozzi, the charity's communications associate. "We've seen an increase in dance, martial arts and gymnastics grants allowing children to be active in their communities."

    Not only do the children get to participate in enriching activities, but the organization's annual survey found that 92 percent of families saw an improvement on the child's stress and anxiety.

    How You Can Help: With 93 percent of each donation going directly to help a child in need, a financial contribution made to Our Military Kids can go a long way.

    And if you're looking to do extra good while holiday shopping, sign up on Amazon Smile to donate a percentage of what you spend to Our Military Kids. You can also donate via eBay for Charity, which lets sellers donate a portion of their sales, and buyers support the organization by shopping.

    Bring Playgrounds and Activities to Kids Everywhere

    Carde Cornish
    Credit: Carde Cornish
    Charity: KaBOOM!

    The Mission: To make sure children can participate in active play wherever they are -- especially if they're in underserved areas. Best known for building playgrounds, KaBOOM! also focuses on creating opportunities for kids to "play along the way" -- like adding a hopscotch outline at a bus stop, for example.

    The Impact: Since its launch in 1996, KaBOOM! has built more than 2,700 playgrounds across the country, including three new playgrounds in Baltimore as part of its Play More B'More initiative this past October. "We want to help bring back hope and pride in communities there," explains Amy Levner, the program's vice president of communications and marketing.

    In 2015, with the help of thousands of volunteers and donors, they've created new play opportunities for more than 1 million kids.

    How You Can Help: Of course one easy way is to donate money to help support their efforts around the country. But to really up the ante, consider setting up a donation party, or ask that friends donate to the cause in lieu of getting a gift. "We also love to get community help and support on playground builds," Levner says.

     

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    woman taking credit card out of ...
    Shutterstock
    By Lisa Gerstner

    As you pack for a trip or set foot in a mall over the holidays, take a close look at the benefits that come with your credit cards. Many issuers are shuffling the lineup of perks they offer to customers.

    Discover has dropped several travel-related benefits from its suite of perks for cardholders, including travel assistance, emergency roadside assistance, travel and baggage-delay insurance and lost-luggage insurance. Sears MasterCard removed the collision damage waiver for rental vehicles, insurance that many cards supply to cover bills for damage to a rental car. Travel assistance, roadside assistance and purchase assurance (insurance for damaged or stolen items bought with the card) also disappeared -- and Bank of America (BAC) is discontinuing the same three benefits on its MasterCard Better Balance Rewards cards.

    Many changes are in response to 2014 alterations to the core benefits that come with all standard, gold and platinum cards carrying the MasterCard logo, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a consumer-resource site. That means more cuts could be coming as banks evaluate their offerings. Watch for letters from your card issuer notifying you of revisions.
    Advertisement

    At the same time, card issuers are adding or refreshing other benefits that you may find more appealing. At a time when data breaches dominate headlines, Master­Card (MA) includes assistance for identity-theft victims among its core benefits, and Discover (DFS) provides the ability to freeze and unfreeze your account online or through an app, in case you lose your card. Several issuers, including Barclaycard, Citibank (C), Discover and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, provide free FICO credit scores to at least some cardholders. Wells Fargo offers up to $600 in coverage for cell-phone damage or theft if you pay your wireless bills with one of its cards.

    The tantalizing cash-back and miles offers that issuers dangle to attract customers in a competitive rewards-card market are replacing less-popular benefits, says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. New customers who open a Discover It card by the end of 2015 get double cash back after a year.

    Regularly review the perks that come with your cards, even if it's just once a year. "You may find that you're using the wrong card for certain benefits or missing out on a valuable benefit you didn't realize you had," says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. In a series of studies on card benefits among major issuers, credit card research site CardHub.com found that cards from Discover and Chase (JPM) had the strongest price-protection benefits (reimbursement for the difference if you find a lower price on a purchased item). American Express had the best extended-warranty policy, and American Express (AXP) and Visa (V) had superior car-rental insurance coverage. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card had the best general coverage for travel insurance.

    Make sure you understand the ins and outs of each benefit your card offers. Price protection is typically available up to 60 or 90 days after a purchase, for example. Rental-car insurance usually covers only fees that your personal auto insurance policy doesn't, and only if you decline the collision damage waiver that the rental-car agency offers you.

     

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    Santa Peeking Over Money Fan
    Getty Images


    It turns out Santa Claus doesn't just deliver gifts under the Christmas tree. Traditionally, November and December are positive months for the U.S. stock market as well.

    Chalk it up to year-end catch-up buying or positive seasonal holiday cheer, but history shows that investors can expect stock market gains into year-end, particularly because of the trend known as the Santa Claus rally. But this year's wild card is the Federal Reserve, which is considering an interest rate hike in December. Let's take a look at what could lie ahead for Wall Street as well as opportunities for investors now.

    What is the Santa Claus rally? The Santa Claus rally phenomenon is a short but respectable upward move in stock prices over the last five trading days of the year and the first two days of the new year -- a trend identified and popularized by Stock Trader's Almanac publisher Yale Hirsch in 1972.

    Over this seven-day trading period since 1969, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) has averaged a 1.4 percent gain in the Santa Claus rally. One of the factors driving stocks higher is buying action by portfolio managers who are chasing stock winners and gains in an attempt to "window dress" their portfolios for year-end statements, says Jeffrey Hirsch, Yale Hirsch's son and the current editor at Stock Trader's Almanac.

    Significantly, the Santa Claus gains can be used as a warning signal for stock market action ahead. "The significance of the Santa Claus rally is really when it does not occur. If Santa Claus should fail to call, bears may come to Broad and Wall," Hirsch says, referring to the streets. Over the last 21 years, the Santa Claus rally has failed to emerge only four times, which preceded flat overall performance years in 1994 and 2005 and down markets in 2000 and 2008, he says.

    October's gains may keep Santa away. Looking at the bigger picture, there is a general seasonal tendency for positive stock market performance in November and December. "Over the last 10 years, on average, the S&P 500 has gained 0.38 percent in November and 1.29 percent in December," says John Canally, investment strategist and economist for Boston-based LPL Financial.

    However, Santa Claus and his reindeer may run into some trouble, as this year offers conflicting headwinds for the seasonal bullish performance period. "We had an extraordinarily strong October, and that likely ate into a little of the gains that we normally see in November and December," says Hank Smith, chief investment officer, at Philadelphia area-based Haverford Trust.

    Analysts point to the Federal Reserve as a potential spoiler for the traditional Santa Claus rally action. Smith highlighted the widespread uncertainty over how the stock market might react to a Federal Revere rate hike. "Assuming we get a rate hike in December, we might be looking at markets that trade relatively flat between now and year-end," Smith says.

    The Fed is widely expected to raise interest rates at its December meeting, which would mark the first increase since before the global financial crisis began in 2008. Analysts will be watching closely for clues on how far and how fast the central bank might raise rates in 2016, and this could be the key to the stock market's reaction, Canally says. "If the Fed raises rates in December and says we will only do three or four more hikes next year -- in that environment, we will get the Santa Claus rally," Canally says.

    For active investors looking to jump on seasonal trends, another well-documented phenomenon is the January effect, in which small-capitalization stocks tend to outperform large-cap stocks. But investors should take note: The January effect has been occurring earlier in recent years. "Nowadays, most of this so-called January effect takes place in the last two weeks of December. This is likely due to the anticipators trying to take advantage of this trend and getting in earlier," Hirsch says.

    "Small caps and beaten-down bargain stocks should be positioned to rally again this year in late December. If the market reacts positively to whatever the Fed does on Dec. 16, that would be a bullish sign for the small-cap effect and the Santa Claus rally," Hirsch says. There are several exchange-traded funds that track small-cap stocks, including iShares Russell 2000 (IWM).

    Kira Brecht is a financial journalist who writes extensively on stock, commodity, and foreign exchange markets, investing strategies, the economy and the Fed. She was managing editor at SFO (Stock, Futures & Options) Magazine for 10 years, creating digital magazine, newsletter and online content aimed at the individual investor. She began her career on the floor of the Chicago futures exchanges covering commodity markets for a financial newswire service. Follow her on Twitter @KiraBrecht.

     

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    group of friends meeting in the city center
    Getty Images
    By James Salter

    Failing to plan wisely for your own death or disability can create serious consequences for your loved ones.

    If you don't have a valid will in place, the state will decide how your possessions and assets are distributed. That could tie up your estate in a complicated process that leaves less in the end for your survivors. Or, if you are rendered mentally disabled, who will be responsible for your care? If you go into a coma, who would pay for your medical care? All these decisions will dictated by the court if you don't plan in advance. By failing to create a will, you are leaving the fate and financial security of your family at the mercy of strangers.

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is only for the elderly and the rich. Nobody likes to think about the prospect of being old, disabled, incapacitated, or about dying, especially when you're still young and healthy. But this is actually the right time to pause and think about your finances, your possessions and your family. Regardless of your age or financial status, It is important to have an estate plan if you wish to protect your family against every adversity even when you aren't around. Don't make your busy schedule an excuse and put off the plan until you're richer or older, because this can create unintended consequences for your family.

    The biggest mistake millennials make is that they associate estate planning with the elderly and the affluent. They feel that they have enough time to plan such serious stuff. Millennials rarely know what an estate plan is and why it is necessary for families with children. This is why young professionals often don't have their financial affairs in order. An estate plan protects your spouse and children from financial difficulties and provides you with complete peace of mind. It plays a crucial role in deciding how your assets are distributed upon your death. It allows you to decide who will receive your property and financial assets if you die an unnatural death. If you think singles can escape the hassle of estate planning, you are mistaken! Everybody has assets and belongings that should be designated in advance.

    Drafting the will is important, but it's only half the battle. It is definitely a good start but not enough to safeguard your family. If you don't want to subject your family to potentially drawn-out probate court proceedings, you need to plan your estate. Probate can be financially draining and mentally taxing for your family. Once you have a will, you need to have it reviewed every year by a legal professional to ensure that it complies with the changing life situations and ever-evolving laws. Set up a consultation with an experienced and certified financial adviser and know what's best for you.

    People typically start planning with their first child, but the right time to start is as soon as you start earning. If you are single, you need to protect your earnings. If you are married, the financial security of your spouse is your responsibility. If you have children, you need to create an estate plan to protect their future in case you die an unexpected death. The rules governing inheritance are strict, and if you don't take them seriously, you could be inviting some serious trouble for your surviving family members.

    Now that you're convinced that estate planning is essential for every age, the next rational move you should be making is to schedule a consultation with a certified and credible financial planning professional or a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and probate, such as Blossom Wealth Management. (The author is the co-founder of this firm; it's one of many that can help.) Downloading a standard format from a legal site and drafting your own will will probably leave you with a document that doesn't fully address the complexity of your own situation. Laws vary by state and only an experienced lawyer can recommend the right course of action.

    Estate planning will ensure that your assets are inherited by your family and not handled by the court in the event of your death. Make an estate plan today and save your family from the costly and time-consuming court procedures, and give them the gift of a secure future.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

     

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    If 2015 is like last year, 78 percent of workers can hope for some kind of year-end bonus from their employers. Few will get anything like the average $172,860 Wall Street bankers can expect in their stockings. But a holiday bonus is still an opportunity to reduce debt, pad savings and otherwise do the right financial thing.

    Alternatively, you could do the wrong thing.

    Making a mistake with a year-end bonus is just as easy as making a smart move, warns Joe Roseman, a financial planner in Charlotte, North Carolina. The first thing you shouldn't do with your bonuses is spend it all. "Don't blow it on Christmas," Roseman says.

    The second thing you shouldn't do is use it for a down payment on a new car. "You're still going to have the payments next year," Roseman points out.

    "Don't pay extra on your mortgage," he adds. "You are taking away your tax deduction." While paying down a mortgage will save future interest, at today's low mortgage interest rates that savings is modest, and the benefit is further reduced by the tax deduction.

    Finally, Roseman adds, "You shouldn't count on a bonus every year." By that, he means don't spend next year's year-end bonus on next year's summer vacation. Many employers pay bonuses when times are good and then cut back or eliminate them if business contracts. If you charge a vacation to a credit card thinking you'll pay it off with your bonus, you could find yourself in a high-interest hole next New Year's.

    So what should you do with it? A really smart move is to sink at least some of it into a retirement savings account, suggests Scott A. Stratton, a financial planner in Dallas. "If someone 25 years old took $5,000 of their bonus and invested it until they were 65 and earned 8 percent, they'd end up with $108,622," Stratton notes.

    The younger you are, the smarter it is. For instance, if a 35-year-old socked away the same $5,000 bonus until age 65, also earning 8 percent, the ending balance would total just $50,313, according to the Security Exchange Commission's calculator at Investor.gov. "You'd end up with half as much just by waiting 10 years," Stratton says.

    While getting started on retirement saving is important, it isn't only important financial use for a year-end bonus. Because the compounding effect of interest you are paying is just as powerful as interest you are earning, consider paying off all or part of any debts that charge steep interest rates.

    "If you're carrying a balance on any credit cards, that's got to be a high priority," Stratton says. "And a lot of people want to look at paying down their student loans, especially those that are higher interest."

    Next after that is an emergency fund. "You need six to nine months of living expenses set aside," Stratton specifies. If you have trouble getting traction on an emergency fund, a year-end bonus can help get you started.

    The final thing you should consider doing with your year-end bonus is spending part -- not all -- of it on something that isn't necessarily financially whip-smart. Say, a nice vacation, or a piece of jewelry. How much? Roseman suggests 25 percent, but it depends on the size of the bonus.

    But whatever you do or don't do with your year-end bonus, remember to treat yourself to a little extravagance. "Everybody, when they get a pile of money, deserves to spend it on something they've always wanted," Roseman says.

     

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    Smiling senior couple at breakfast table
    Getty ImagesYou should feel confident about your finances on the first day of retirement.
    By David Ning

    It's an achievement to make it to retirement. Years of hard work pay off once you have saved enough and get to hand over a resignation letter to your boss. You say farewell, and there may be a few tears as you part ways with your former life. But there's also the excitement of finally starting the new leisurely chapter of your journey.

    The next day there's no reason to get up before 10 a.m. You feel so grateful you no longer need to wake up early just to get ready for boring morning meetings. You get up and go downstairs, brew a morning cup of coffee and sit down at the table and ask, "Now what?"

    The start of retirement is a time of exploration for some people. There is a new life routine to figure out. Here are a few questions to ponder as you enter retirement.

    Do you plan to reduce stock exposure? It's commonly accepted that you should gradually decrease the risk in your portfolio as you age and accumulate more assets to protect. Many people do this by adding bonds to their portfolio in order to reduce volatility during retirement. Unfortunately, there isn't a simple asset allocation that fits everyone's circumstances. Adding more bonds might help you sleep well at night because they reduce volatility, but you also risk outliving your money if you live a long life. You could add more stocks if you have a long time horizon, but a bad sequence of return at the beginning of retirement could cause your portfolio to be depleted prematurely. There's no way to determine the optimum split between stocks and bonds unless you can predict the future, so the key is to be flexible with your spending and never follow any rigid rules. You also want to avoid staying away from stocks completely, because one of the biggest enemies for retirees is inflation. Price increases don't seem like a huge problem now, but there will be a time when the eroding effects of inflation are noticeable again. Almost every retiree will need some stock exposure to fight off the wealth destroying power of inflation.

    What is your strategy to withdraw money to meet daily expenses? You spent years accumulating the assets to retire and employing investment strategies to grow your nest egg. Most people spend too much time thinking about how to tweak their portfolio for maximum gains and too little time optimizing how they will withdraw their assets in a tax efficient manner. You need to give just as much throught to the withdrawal phase. Decide how much you need to spend regularly and where the funds will come from. Without a paycheck and with your assets spread between pre-tax, post-tax and taxable accounts, you want to know exactly how to take money out without paying more in taxes than is absolutely necessary.

    What do you plan to do with your assets? The flip side of not outliving your money is the opportunity to leave money to your heirs once you pass away. You could leave it to your children or grandchildren, donate the sum to charity or something else. Put together a plan to make sure your cash gets used in a way you approve of. You may also want to start gifting while you are still alive so you get to see the fruits of your contributions.

    What do you plan to do every day? Finances are an essential part of retirement, but this question may be the most important one to answer. It's easy to start relaxing and slow down once you retire because no one is pushing you to stay active. However, those who don't keep busy could see their health erode, and no one wants to age prematurely. By staying active, you will have the energy to pursue physically demanding activities, but leisurely ones will be more enjoyable with fewer aches and pains as well. Staying active can make even being a couch potato more enjoyable.

    As you linger over that first coffee of retirement, hopefully you are off to your next activity with a perfectly clear idea of where the money to fund daily life is going to come from. You've already spent years contemplating retirement's toughest questions. It's now time to enjoy it.

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.

     

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    Chances are you'll be spending about $805 this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

    But chances are high you won't be using mobile apps to pay for presents and party favors.

    According to Bankrate.com, mobile payments just aren't catching on with U.S. consumers of age groups. "Just 14 percent of U.S. adults who use a smartphone or a similar handheld device plan to use services such as Apple Pay or Android Pay even once this holiday shopping season, including 19 percent of millennials," Bankrate states. "Among those who don't plan to make mobile payments, the top reasons were 'not secure enough' (36 percent) and 'other payment methods are more convenient' (31 percent)."

    About 70 percent of shoppers will use cash or debit cards to pay for holiday purchases. 22 percent will use credit cards, Bankrate reports.

    What's interesting about consumers and mobile payments is that the most common fear linked to digital payments -- angst over security breaches -- might be overblown. "The most common misconception surrounding mobile payments is that they are not secure," says Mike Cetera, an analyst at Bankrate. "Truth be told, fraud is much more likely to occur on ordinary credit and debit card transactions. And of course cash can be lost or stolen without any consumer protections."

    Other experts say Americans will use mobile payments this holiday season, but with strict limits. "Currently, the vast majority of payments using mobile wallets are for low priced goods below $20," says Bob Bentz, president of Purplegator, a mobile-first digital agency located in suburban Philadelphia. "That could be because restaurants such as McDonald's (MCD) and Panera (PNRA) are well-known users of proximity mobile payments or that users are reluctant to pay for more expensive good with mobile wallets."

    Bentz does see clear sailing ahead for mobile payments, once consumers grow used to the technology. " Digital wallets and mobile payments just make sense and their added convenience and security will ultimately lead to greater use," he says. "People carry their smartphones everywhere they go. Now, in addition to being their primary device for music, taking pictures and accessing the Internet, the smartphone can now also be their wallet."

    Is there really a need for having all those plastic cards in a wallet when the mobile phone can pay for things?

    James Goodnow, a Phoenix-based attorney and recently named one of "America's Most Techiest Lawyers" by the "ABA Journal," says that level of acceptance won't be happening anytime soon. "14 percent of Americans using mobile to buy holiday purchases actually seems high as the validity and security of mobile payments is still really an unknown," Goodnow says.

    "People are skeptical, and the early adopters are really the 'beta-testers' -- there's no track record yet. Combine this with last season's highly publicized Target security breach -- which included my information -- and it's easy to see why people are hesitant to jump onboard," he says.

    Some mobile technologies offer better consumer protections than others, and eventually they will drive digital payment growth. "Apple Pay actually makes simple financial transactions more secure," Goodnow says.

    "The Apple Pay mobile payment system on your iPhone requires a fingerprint for security verification. Apple Pay on your Apple Watch requires the device to be on your wrist so the heart rate sensor can sense the rightful owner's heartbeat. A stolen wallet is thus a treasure trove until someone shuts those cards down, but if someone steals my phone or watch, they can't use my Apple Pay without my fingerprint or heart rate," Goodnow adds.

    While technology firms work out the security kinks, and as consumers grapple with security concerns, mobile payments shouldn't be a huge factor this holiday season, if Bankrate (RATE) is right.

    Given the hoopla surrounding digital commerce, and the prevalence of smart phones, that's a surprising takeaway this holiday season.

    Maybe, just maybe, mobile's big breakthrough will come in 2016, or even 2017 -- but it's just not happening in 2015.

     

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    Twelve Days Cost
    Phil Coale/AP
    By JOE MANDAK

    PITTSBURGH -- Lords a-leaping is the U.S. economy slow to recover!

    The cost of 10 lords a-leaping increased 3 percent over last year, but nine of the other 12 gifts listed in the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stayed the same price as last year, according to the 32nd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index released Monday.

    The index is a whimsical way the Pittsburgh-based bank tracks inflation.

    The set of gifts spelled out in the final verse of the song would cost $34,131 this year, or 0.6 percent more than the adjusted 2014 price of $33,933. PNC decided to adjust the historic prices of turtle doves and swans after realizing the prices quoted by vendors didn't reflect the birds' overall value on the open market over the years.

    "The headline, I think, is that inflation in this economy, with the sort of tepid recovery we've seen, is almost nonexistent.

    "The headline, I think, is that inflation in this economy, with the sort of tepid recovery we've seen, is almost nonexistent," said Jim Dunigan, chief investment officer of PNC's asset management group.

    While the good news is that the price of consumer goods isn't rising very much, it also means demand for those goods is down, at least partly due to wage stagnation.

    The government's Consumer Price Index has pegged inflation at about 0.2 percent, Dunigan said.

    The only other items to increase in price since last year were a partridge in a pear tree and two turtle doves.

    The bird in the bush rose 3.5 percent overall, mostly because partridges now cost $25 each, up from $20, because partridges are increasingly popular as gourmet food. Pear trees inched to just under $190 up from $188.

    Turtle doves increased 11.5 percent, to $290 from $260, mostly due to increased grain prices that pushed up feed costs.

    The lords a-leaping are more expensive because labor costs increased their price to $5,509 from $5,348.

    PNC calculates the prices from sources including retailers, bird hatcheries and two Philadelphia dance groups, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco.

    A buyer who purchased all the items each time they are mentioned in the song would spend $155,407.18.

    The full set of prices:
    • Partridge, $25; last year: $20
    • Pear tree, $190; last year: $188
    • Two turtle doves, $290; last year: $260
    • Three French hens, $182; last year: same
    • Four calling birds (canaries), $600; last year: same
    • Five gold rings, $750; last year: same
    • Six geese-a-laying, $360; last year: same
    • Seven swans a-swimming, $13,125; last year: same
    • Eight maids a-milking, $58; last year: same
    • Nine ladies dancing (per performance), $7,553; last year: same
    • 10 lords a-leaping (per performance), $5,508; last year: $5,348
    • 11 pipers piping (per performance), $2,635; last year: same
    • 12 drummers drumming (per performance), $2,855; last year: same

     

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    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Avon Products (AVP) -- Up 27 percent last week

    Shares of the iconic direct seller of beauty and home products moved higher after a bullish analyst note. Citi (C) issued an upbeat take on Avon, slapping a price target on the stock that suggested 44 percent in upside.

    Citi visited Avon's operations in Brazil, the country that has become the direct seller's biggest market over the years. There are challenges there, but Citi observed underlying strength in a country where it has 1.5 million reps selling its products.

    Movado (MOV) -- Up 18 percent last week

    The clock is ticking at Movado. The maker of watches moved higher after posting mixed quarterly results. Its profit of 92 cents a share on $185.6 million in revenue fell just short of Wall Street expectations, but its guidance -- calling for per-share earnings to clock in between $2 and $2.10 on $590 million to $600 million in revenue -- finds it landing just ahead of where the pros are perched.

    We may not be wearing traditional watches the way we used to, but Movado's encouraging guidance suggests that it will be a better-than-expected holiday shopping season for its timepieces.

    TrueCar (TRUE) -- Up 15 percent last week

    A change at the top apparently looks good for TrueCar. The online marketplace -- where customers are offered haggle-free prices on cars available locally -- moved higher after announcing that Chip Perry will take over as CEO in two weeks. Perry was formerly the CEO at Auto Trader. TrueCar's founder and CEO Scott Painter had announced that he would be stepping down back in August and the market clearly like the move to tap a seasoned outsider to take the wheel.

    Abengoa (ABGB) -- Down 64 percent last week

    Last week's biggest loser was Spain's Abengoa, shedding nearly a third of its value after initiating insolvency proceedings. The renewables giant thought it had found a savior earlier in the week, but that investor decided Wednesday not to inject new capital into Abengoa. The insolvency proceedings began the following day.

    Daktronics (DAKT) -- Down 17 percent last week

    It was another losing quarter for the scoreboard maker. Daktronics fell short of analyst profit targets, but that's not really a surprise. It has fallen short on the bottom line every single quarter for more than a year. Net sales also clocked in 9 percent lower than a year earlier.

    Pure Storage (PSTG) -- Down 12 percent last week

    A bad earnings report will trip up a stock, but sometimes it's also enough to slam a competitor. Enterprise data flash storage specialist Pure Storage took a hit after rival Nimble Storage (NMBL) served up unflattering financials. The fear here is that the entire sector is in a funk. We'll know for sure if the selloff was warranted, as Pure Storage reports quarterly results for the same period on Thursday.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Movado Group and TrueCar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    By Mitch Lipka

    If you end up with a massive money hangover after the five-day holiday shopping mania that stretches from Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday to Cyber Monday, the antidote is Giving Tuesday.

    The one-day charitable giving promotion -- hashtag #GivingTuesday on social media -- was launched in 2012 to galvanize people around a less gluttonous pursuit.

    Since most charities generate the vast majority of their contributions at the end of the year, Giving Tuesday opened the door to a more organized effort on a specific day that any organization could step into. And it worked.

    While still in its early stages compared to its retail counterparts, Giving Tuesday has already produced spectacular results for many non-profits. That has led more than 30,000 organizations in 68 countries, from non-profits to corporations to governments, to participate. And the hashtag was mentioned more than 750,000 times on Twitter in 2014.

    Reuters spoke with the founder of Giving Tuesday, Henry Timms, who is executive director of New York City's 92nd Street Y (a prominent cultural and community center).

    Q: Why do you think Giving Tuesday has caught on?

    A: It speaks to the most American of values. America is the most generous country in the world. Giving Tuesday was a beneficiary of that strand of DNA. It spoke to a sense of a lot of people around the holidays that we need to ritualize how we think of others. And you never need more than six words to explain what giving Tuesday is: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday.

    Q: How much do you have to do to keep Giving Tuesday going?

    A: The success of Giving Tuesday has been with the partners around the country and around the world. That's the real engine behind Giving Tuesday. We've seen a lot of local strategies starting to develop. The secret sauce of Giving Tuesday has been community. The reason it has grown is because the Giving Tuesday community has found a way to do it quite publicly.

    Q: Do you think it could have come to fruition if there was no Twitter or Facebook?

    A: I think it has been critical. We sometimes get a bit too obsessive about social media as an end unto itself. Giving Tuesday has technology as an engine, but it is driven by humanity.

    Technology allows that network to grow. It's simply providing a catalyst and a link for people to do good things in the world at a greater scale. The most powerful way to raise money is to have a friend ask a friend. Increasingly we see peer-to-peer movements taking place. We see the shift from donors to owners. We have to create things that leave space for people to give their own touch. They've made it more about their cause, their community, the things that matter most.

    Q: Do you think the idea of Giving Tuesday has changed giving patterns and brought in any new giving?

    A: It's a big opportunity. It's really interesting to see how technology is going to shift giving. Facebook is now experimenting with giving. That could be transformative. There are new apps coming out relative to Giving Tuesday.

    Q: What is your feeling about Giving Tuesday as a year-round venture rather as a once a year counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

    A: We've certainly seen people use other Tuesdays throughout the year. It has been really amazing. Lots of organizations on Giving Tuesday are trying new ways of engaging.

    (The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

     

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    Existing U.S. Home Sales Rise to Second-Highest Since 2007
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Lucia Mutikani

    Factory activity in the Midwest shrunk in November and contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose marginally, the latest suggestions that economic growth will probably remain modest in the fourth quarter.

    The raft of weak economic reports isn't likely to stop the Federal Reserve from hiking interest rates next month provided job growth doesn't slow significantly in November, economists say.

    "It suggests that there is no obvious uplift for growth in the near-term," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago said its business barometer fell 7.5 points to 48.7 in November as new orders tumbled, pushing the index back into contraction territory for the sixth time this year. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in the Midwest manufacturing sector.

    New orders plunged 15.3 points to 44.1, the lowest reading since March. Production also fell sharply, but remained just above the 50 level. The survey, however, likely exaggerates the weakness in the factory sector.

    Data on business capital spending plans and factory output have suggested that manufacturing's decline has bottomed.

    That was also supported by a separate report on Monday showing the Dallas Federal Reserve's manufacturing index rose 7.8 points to -4.9 in November.

    A report Tuesday from the Institute for Supply Management could shed more light on the health of the nation's factories.

    Housing Softening

    Manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. economy, has been slammed by a strong dollar and spending cuts by energy firms.

    In a third report on Monday, the National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index rose 0.2 percent in October. While the increase ended two straight months of declines, it was far below economists' expectations for a 1 percent rebound.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

    We saw resilience in existing home sales in the third quarter, but pending home sales ... suggest a slowing in existing home sales ahead.

    The pending home sales and factory reports added to tepid consumer spending data in suggesting that the economy remained in moderate growth mode early in the fourth quarter. The economy grew at a 2.1 percent annual pace in the third quarter.

    Pending home contracts become sales after a month or two, and last month's small gain implied home resales will probably remain weak after falling 3.4 percent in October.

    Also coming on the heels of weak housing starts in October and a drop in homebuilder confidence in November, the report suggested a moderation in overall housing activity.

    Home sales are being constrained by tight inventories, which are pushing up prices. Sales activity has also weakened in areas heavily dependent on oil-related jobs.

    "We saw resilience in existing home sales in the third quarter, but pending home sales ... suggest a slowing in existing home sales ahead," said Derek Lindsey, an analyst at BNP Paribas in New York. "Additionally, the flat trend in mortgage applications suggests little pickup ahead in home sales activity more generally."

    Pending home sales are up 3.9 percent from a year ago. In October, contracts rose 4.5 percent in the Northeast, which the Realtors group said hasn't experienced much of the drastic price appreciation and supply constraints afflicting other parts of the country.

    Contracts fell in both the South and the Midwest, where low inventory continues to drive up prices.

     

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    FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, file photo, Tashalee Rodriguez, of Boston, uses a smartphone app while shopping at Macy's in downtown Boston. For the first time, analysts predict more than half of online traffic to retailer sites will come from smartphones than desktops during the busy Black Friday holiday shopping weekend. And though it�s still a small fraction of online revenue, mobile sales are jumping too. Larger phone sizes, improved retailer apps, more online deals and shoppers� increasing comfort with shopping online are driving the trend. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
    Michael Dwyer/APA shopper uses a smartphone app while shopping at Macy's in downtown Boston.
    By MAE ANDERSON

    NEW YORK -- Shoppers traded bricks for clicks Monday, flocking online to snap up "Cyber Monday" deals on everything from cashmere sweaters to Star Wars toys.

    Now that shoppers are online all the time anyway, the 10-year-old shopping holiday has lost some of its luster as online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday pick up. But enough shoppers have been trained to look for "Cyber Monday" specific sales to ensure the holiday will still mean big bucks for retailers.

    It's too early for sales figures, but Monday is still expected to be the biggest online shopping day ever, likely racing up more than $3 billion in sales, according to comScore (SCOR). Adobe (ADBE), which tracks 200 million visitors to 4,500 retail websites, said $490 million had been spent online as of 10 a.m. Eastern time Monday, the latest data available. That's 14 percent higher than a year ago.

    "A lot of people wait to see if deals are better on Cyber Monday," said Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

    New Yorker Anna Osgoodby was one of the many online shoppers who spread her purchases throughout the holiday shopping weekend. On Black Friday, she took advantage of a 35 percent sale at online accessories retailer ashandwillow.com, buying earrings, a necklace and bracelet. Then she bought earrings and clutches Monday during its 40 percent off sale.

    "That extra 5 percent convinced me to buy a few more," she said.

    Some hot sellers were in scarce supply by early afternoon Monday. At Target (TGT), a Swagway hoverboard was sold out by early afternoon. The electronic transportation gadget had been $100 off at $399. Drones and some Star Wars toys were hard to find as well.

    "There are certain hot products, hover boards seem to be a phenomenon, they're selling out everywhere," said Scot Wingo, chairman of ChannelAdvisor, which provides e-commerce services to retailers.

    Adobe found 15 out of 100 product views returned an out-of-stock message as of 10 a.m., 2½ times the normal rate.

    And there were a few brief outages at sites like Neiman Marcus and Target and online payments company PayPal reported a brief interruption in service.

    Retailers have been touting online deals since the beginning of November. And they no longer wait for Monday to roll out Cyber Monday deals, either. Amazon (AMZN) started "Lighting Deals" on Saturday and Walmart (WMT) beginning all of its Cyber offers at 8 p.m. Sunday.

    'Digital Deals'

    "It's no longer about one day, but a season of digital deals," said Matthew Shay, president of retail trade group The National Retail Federation.

    That seems to have taken a toll on brick-and-mortar shopping. Frenzied crowds seemed to be a thing of the past on Black Friday -- the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving -- and sales fell to $10.4 billion this year, down from $11.6 billion in 2014, according to preliminary figures from research firm ShopperTrak.

    "Consumers are recognizing the Internet is the place to go for a deal any time, any day," said Gene Alvarez, managing vice president of research firm Gartner (IT).

    "I personally skip Black Friday just to shop Cyber Monday," said Mark Flores, a parks and recreation director from Lynwood, California. But this year, he started online shopping on Black Friday, buying five pairs of Sorel and Uggs shoes for gifts and eight Chromecasts that were two for $50 instead of $35 off. He planned to shop on Cyber Monday too, but did not find compelling deals. "Nothing standing out so far," he said midmorning on Monday.

    Research firm comScore expects online sales to rise 14 percent to $70.06 billion During the November and December shopping period, slowing slightly from last year's 15 percent rise. Online sales make up 10 percent of overall retail sales, but that increases to 15 percent during the holidays as online shoppers snap up Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, according to research firm Forrester (FORR).

    The name "Cyber Monday" was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation's online arm, called Shop.org, to encourage people to shop online. The name was also a nod to online shopping being done at work where faster connections made it easier to browse. Now, even with broadband access, Cyber Monday continues to be a day when retailers pull out big promotions.

     

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    Money is an important part of our lives. We buy what we need with it, we fund our future with it and we support others with it.

    Unfortunately, there are a number of bad habits that can sabotage our financial well-being. Some of these habits won't destroy our finances right away, but over time, we may find ourselves in a dire situation with little hope of recovery.

    Let's take a look at some of these bad habits and how you can avoid or conquer them as quickly as possible.

    1. Smoking. According to the CDC, "Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States." Talk about bad for your finances and your health.

    Let's pretend for a moment that the only cost from smoking is what hits your wallet -- not your lungs. OK, how much will you be spending?

    Let's say that a pack of cigarettes costs you $4.49 -- although the price widely varies from state to state. And, let's say you smoke two packs a day. That's $8.98 a day.

    There are 365 days in a year, so that'll cost you about $273.14 a month. That's a lot of money -- especially when you figure that you could have invested that money. Let's say you invest that amount of money every month for 10 years with an 8 percent annual return on your investment. You know what that comes to?

    $51,280.92. Yeah, that's serious money.

    Another way smoking can hurt your wallet is with life insurance. A client was looking to obtain term life insurance from me and in the process I learned that he was a smoker. While I was shocked to find out I was even more shocked to see how much more life insurance is for smokers. In his case, his life insurance policy was more than three times more expensive than someone that doesn't smoke.

    Remember, we're just figuring in the cost of the cigarettes on your wallet. How about the health consequences? The cost of medical procedures and the lost opportunities when you're on chemotherapy are staggering.

    Avoid smoking. It's one bad habit that kills more than your financial well-being.

    2. Using credit cards irresponsibly. How many credit cards do you have in your wallet right now? Two? Five? Eight?

    While it's not necessarily a horrible thing to have credit cards, it is a horrible thing to use them irresponsibly. And, unfortunately, that can be easily done.

    Sure, you can earn some pretty nice rewards by using credit cards on a regular basis. But remember, if credit card companies weren't making money by giving away some money, they wouldn't do it. That means that the average guy or gal can't win by using credit cards. The average guy or gal would pay more in interest on their credit cards than they would make through the rewards programs. No good.

    Okay, so you think you're above average. That's cool. You're going to need to prove it by following one little tip. What's the tip? I never thought you'd ask ...

    Pay off your credit cards every single month.

    That's right, before you use your credit cards, you need to make sure that you will be able to afford the bills that come every month. And really, for many people, the only way to do that is to get on a budget and make sure that you have the money before you spend it.

    So if you're going to use credit cards, get on a budget and pay off those credit card bills like clockwork. Get in the habit of doing the right thing with your money, not the wrong thing.

    3. Eating out during your lunch breaks at work and making other small miscellaneous purchases. It's just too easy to head down the street, swipe your card and get a meal. The problem is that it can end up costing you a lot of money.

    Let's say you spend $7.50 a meal four days a week. That could come to about $120 a month or $1,440 a year. That's a lot of money, honey.

    Keep in mind that eating out on your lunch breaks alone probably won't kill your finances, but if you add to that getting your morning coffee at your favorite java joint, buying that bagel to go with it and picking up some candy bars after work, now it's starting to look like a bad habit that will inevitably kill your finances.

    Of course, this entire article is assuming you don't have a money tree growing in your back yard (if you do, I recommend keeping it out of sight). If you're the average American, living like the average American and making little purchases throughout the day just isn't an option if you want to have a decent retirement and leave some money for your kids when you reach your final destination.

    Don't discount this tip. Entire industries thrive by selling low-cost goods. Don't let these little expenses sneak up on you and destroy your financial situation.

    There is some "good" news if you're in the habit of making multiple small purchases every day. You know what it is? It's that you probably won't experience a sudden downfall due to your spending behavior. It will happen slowly over time without you realizing it. Perhaps that's not such a good thing after all.

    4. Buying a new car every couple of years. Every time I hear of a person buying a new car every couple of years, I almost roll my eyes. There are worse things, but not much is worse than forking over $20,000 every few years.

    Driving older cars can save you so much money it can make your head spin. Now, I'm not recommending you drive something from the '50s, '60s or '70s. Hitting your head on a metal steering wheel probably isn't much fun -- just saying. The cars I'm talking about driving are maybe five or 10 years old. These cars have depreciated enough and are safe enough to represent tremendous value in your life -- especially to your finances.

    Mechanics will tell you that new cars like hybrids and electric vehicles aren't quite yet cost-efficient. Why? The batteries. When the batteries have to be replaced every few years, you might end up spending more than you'd save by not having to purchase gasoline. So next time you try to convince yourself that you "need" a new car because of the efficiencies involved, make sure to do your math first.

    If you haven't noticed, newer cars cost a whole lot more to cover with auto insurance than older cars. Plus, when you have newer cars, you're probably going to be tempted to raise your comprehensive and collision coverage -- and those coverages cost a pretty penny.

    Be smart when it comes to vehicles. Your finances will thank you over time.

    5. Winging it (financial planning) and hoping for the best. I have clients step into my office all the time to ask how much money they need to save every month for retirement. Do you think I tell them all the same thing? Of course not. How much they need to save depends on their current financial status, what the future holds, and their goals.

    For example, I'd want to know how much money they think they could live on in retirement and then I'd need to account for inflation. Then we'd have to look at what they can expect from various investments from now until they retire and beyond. I'd also need to know about any major expenses that they have coming up. The list goes on and on.

    True, you can drive yourself crazy accounting for every little data point in the process. But it's certainly worth some exploration. After all, you don't want to retire only to realize five years later you blew it by quitting your job.

    That's why I recommend meeting with a financial adviser who can help you create a financial plan. Now, I'm not just talking about investing, you're going to need a professional who will help you look at the big picture.

    It's also worth your time to understand how financial advisers get paid. They need to demonstrate their value to you before you sign on the dotted line.

    When it comes to financial planning, don't wing it. Hire a professional, educate yourself, and make a plan.

    By overcoming these bad financial habits, you'll find yourself enjoying a healthier bank account and more time to do the things you want to do in life. Don't let money rule your life -- you tell it what to do.

     

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    Markets Open In New York As Global Stocks Rise
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK - U.S. stocks slipped Monday, led by declines in health and consumer shares, as investors braced for policy news from central banks.

    The three major stock indexes posted a second straight month of gains, however, helped by financial shares, which were up 1.7 percent, while utilities were down 2.8 percent for the month.

    Retail stocks were down on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. The S&P retail index was down 1 percent, while Target shares fell 1.3 percent to $72.50 after its website faced an outage due to heavy traffic.

    Shares of brick-and-mortar stores were down following Black Friday, including Walmart Stores (WMT), down 1.8 percent at $58.84, and Macy's (M), down 2.3 percent at $39.08.

    Sales on Cyber Monday, the busiest day of the year for internet shopping, were up 14 percent from a year earlier, according to data.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is due to address Congress on Thursday and give a speech on the economic outlook the day before.

    While the U.S. central bank could raise interest rates in December for the first time since 2006, the European Central Bank is expected to unveil fresh monetary easing measures Thursday.

    Friday's non-farm payrolls report could give further clues on the direction of policy ahead of the Fed's Dec. 16-17 policy meeting.

    "There's apprehension on the part of investors to make any big commitments ahead of the data and potential policy moves coming up," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

    The The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 78.57 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,719.92, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 9.65 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,080.46 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 18.86 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,108.67.

    For the month, the Dow was up 0.3 percent, S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.1 percent.

    Market Movers

    The S&P health sector's 1.3 percent fall led the decliners, with biotech stocks down the most. Consumer staples were down 1 percent, while discretionaries fell 0.8 percent.

    Other U.S. data expected during the week include November manufacturing and auto sales reports.

    Among other retailers, Staples (SPLS) fell 1.9 percent to $12.07. The New York Post reported U.S. antitrust regulators were preparing to block Staples' acquisition of smaller rival Office Depot. Office Depot (ODP) was down 2.4 percent at $6.59.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,752 to 1,325, for a 1.32-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,516 issues fell and 1,327 advanced, for a 1.14-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 15 new 52-week highs and 7 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 127 new highs and 55 lows.

    About 7.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • At 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for November and the Commerce Department releases construction spending for October.
    • Automakers release vehicle sales data for November.

     

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    Home Depot Raises Profit Forecast as Housing Market Lifts Sales
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Terence Loose

    In 1978, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired from Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers -- and that might have been the best thing to ever happen to them. Fourteen months later they opened the first two Home Depots, the start of an international success.

    Today, Home Depot is the world's largest home improvement retailer with more than 2,200 locations. But while the store might offer some of the best deals on home improvement products, some of its products are less than stellar. Click through to learn about the best and worst Home Depot deals.

    The 10 Best Deals at Home Depot

    From grills to ceiling fans, Home Depot is home to some of the best deals for home improvement items. Here are 10 Home Depot deals you don't want to miss.

    1. Char-Broil gas grills. Home Depot is a great place to channel your grill master, with their Char-Broil gas grills getting high marks, according to Coupon Sherpa savings expert Kendal Perez. One model in particular, the $400 Char-Broil Gourmet TRU-Infrared, came in second only to a Weber in a Consumer Reports rating. "Just make sure to read reviews and research what features make for a quality grill before you buy," said Perez.

    2. Tool and truck rentals. If you're a DIY fanatic, you'll love Home Depot's dependable and affordable tool and truck rentals. "It's a perk greatly appreciated by DIYers who don't want to purchase a tile saw for their bathroom floor renovation," said Perez.

    For example, a small tile saw costs around $50 to $60 a day depending on the size you need. "You can also rent a truck for $19 for the first 75 minutes of use, a great deal if you need to transport heavy items from the store to your local project site," she said.

    3. Weekly workshops. Renting a tile saw is one thing. Knowing how to wield it is another. For that, Home Depot offers free classes from repairing drywall to installing kitchen faucets and laying tile. "These complimentary classes are great for homeowners looking for in-person instruction from professionals, as well as an opportunity to ask questions," said Perez.

    4. Behr paint. "Whether you're repainting a bathroom or updating your outdoor siding, Behr paint is among the top-rated paint brands and is only available at Home Depot," said Kerry Sherin of Offers.com. "According to Consumer Reports, Behr Premium Plus Ultra is top-rated among satin/eggshell and flat/matte interior finishes, for $32 to $34 per gallon."

    5. Patio furniture. Home Depot offers a fantastic selection of outdoor living gear and patio furniture, said Sherin. "If you're looking for the best time to buy, purchase in fall months like October and November. Typically you will see prices fall for these popular summer items during cooler months," she said.

    6. Lighting and ceiling fan fixtures. Lighting, a cool breeze and stylish fixtures can make a room, but they can often bust a budget. But not if you shop smart at Home Depot, said Lindsay Sakraida of DealNews.com. "Home Depot almost always has a clearance sale going on that includes lighting and ceiling fan fixtures, which means that shoppers can frequently get such items at discounts of 50 percent to 80 percent off," she said.

    7. LED light bulbs. New light fixtures demand new light bulbs, and while LEDs can be pricey, Sakraida said that Home Depot regularly sells individual and multipacks at competitive prices. "We've seen sales that slash up to 70 percent off select styles, and we've also seen the store offer 20 percent off coupons as well. The benefit to getting a deal on LED bulbs is your smart shopping will translate into energy savings too," she said.

    8. Vacuums. "If Home Depot doesn't come to mind when you think of vacuums, it should," said Sakraida. "The store frequently offers the best price on certain models, although, as always, you should do a price check before making a purchase. It's not unusual to see sales that knock up to 40 percent off both cleaners and general floor care items," she said.

    9. Plants. Landscaping often gets the short stick in the budget war when it comes to home renovations, but Home Depot can really help, said savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com. "Wait for Home Depot's Spring Black Friday, typically in April. Past years have seen veggie plants and eight-packs of annuals at five for $10. Join Home Depot's Garden Club to get exclusive coupons like an additional $5 off your $50 purchase," she said.

    10. Military discount. Don't forget: Home Depot offers discounts for military personnel. "Home Depot used to limit the military discount to holidays such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but in recent years the discount was changed to be valid year round," said Regina Conway, consumer expert for SlickDeals.net. "Military members and their families can get a 10 percent discount year round by showing a valid military ID."

    The 10 Worst Deals at Home Depot

    Despite Home Depot coupons and discounts, the store shouldn't be your top choice for certain items. Grilling accessories and home decor are among the worst deals at Home Depot, for example. Click through to see what topped our list.

    1. Grilling accessories. While you can score a great grill at Home Depot, Coupon Sherpa's Perez said to leave the grilling accessories where they lie. "Grilling accessories are often a better buy at Walmart, Target or online at Amazon," said Perez.

    She said price is the main factor. "So if you find an identical product for less, Home Depot will match online prices. However, they will not offer an extra 10 percent off like they do with local competitor's prices," she said.

    2. Wall art and home decor. "Home Depot doesn't specialize in home decor and its selection and pricing reflect that," said Perez. "You can find better inventory at World Market and Bed Bath & Beyond, both of which offer storewide coupons for extra savings," she said. Her favorite places to buy art include T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Ross. "These discount retailers offer large pieces of art for less than $50, which is a steal," she said.

    3. Cleaning supplies. Cleaning up after a home improvement project is vital, but don't let it add too much to the price of your upgrade. "Home Depot offers a selection of cleaning products, but it's not nearly as extensive as what you can find from such big-box stores as Target and Walmart. The pricing isn't competitive either, so skip this purchase," said Perez.

    4. Off-sale charcoal. If you choose to go old school on your barbecue and embrace the smoky, raw charcoal taste, pick your times to buy charcoal at Home Depot, said Coupons.com's Pavini. "Wait for a holiday weekend and you can get charcoal for around 50 percent off. For example, shop on Memorial Day weekend and stock up on enough charcoal to get through grilling season." You can also use a Home Depot coupon code to slash the price of a bag.

    5. Kitchen accessories. Things like frying pans, silverware and knives at a giant warehouse that also sells everything from lumber and toilets to plants and fertilizer might not be your best move. "You will find limited supply and higher prices on kitchen accessories like pots, pans and cutlery," said Sherin.

    6. Brinkmann grills. While the right Char-Broil Gas Grill might be a steal at Home Depot, some Brinkmann grills are no deal, said Sherin. "My husband and I gifted Brinkmann-brand grills to both our parents because we got a great deal at $200 each. Both grills basically rotted out from the inside after two to three years," she said. Consumer Reports gave low ratings to the Brinkmann Elite 810-3660-SB and Brinkmann Medalion 810-4580-SB.

    7. HDX paper towels. If you thought a specialty paper towel from a home improvement store would be tough, think again, said Sherin. "When it comes to dirty jobs, strength and absorbency are key, and unfortunately HDX-brand paper towels from Home Depot are not a good buy. Instead, stick with a brand that is known for quality, like Bounty's DuraTowel," she said.

    8. Select humidifiers. Consumers often correlate higher price with higher quality, but that's not typically a good idea, said Sherin. Such is the case for humidifiers at Home Depot.

    "One of Home Depot's Essick-brand console humidifiers (Essick EP9R 500) received the worst score from Consumer Reports and actually cost $50 more than the top-rated console humidifier from the retailer, the Essick MA1201. Again, it pays to read reviews before you buy," said Sherin.

    9. Home legend flooring. You might be tempted to opt for store-brand solutions for your next home renovation, like the Home Legend series offered by Home Depot. But Sherin said that might be a costly mistake. "It's important to research user reviews on these products. A recent evaluation by Consumer Reports did not give this line favorable results, so consider spending your flooring money elsewhere for the best value," she said.

    10. Glidden paint. While Behr paint is an excellent value from Home Depot, the lesser-priced Glidden brand isn't worth your dollars, said Sherin. "Painting is a big job and the last thing you want to do is re-paint because you can't remove a stain or notice inconsistencies in coverage. Glidden just isn't as high quality as Behr, and you'll save money in the long run by purchasing the latter," she said.

    This story, 10 Best and Worst Deals at Home Depot, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Woman holding money and a red purse
    Getty Images
    By Dan Rafter

    According to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers are planning to spend an average of $805 on gifts this holiday season. The same survey found that shoppers plan to spend an average of $463 on family members. That's the highest this figure has ever been.

    To make sure that you don't overspend this year -- no matter your target number -- be sure to create a holiday spending budget. That way, you're far less likely to find an unpleasant surprise when that credit card bill shows up in January.

    Here are five things you shouldn't do when planning your holiday shopping budget.

    1. Don't Let Guilt Break Your Budget

    Maybe your sister-in-law buys your kids three gifts each. This doesn't mean that you have to do the same for hers. If your budget calls for just one gift for your in-laws' kids, stick to it. It's easy to let guilt lead you to overspending during the holidays. But don't feel like a scrooge because you aren't spending as much as your other relatives. If your budget is tight this year, don't break it in a misguided attempt to keep up with the spending of others.

    2. Don't Add Last Minute Gifts to Your Shopping List

    When making a holiday spending budget, you'll need to list the people for whom you want to buy a gift. As the season moves along, you might feel a temptation to start adding names. It's one thing if you forgot to place Aunt Sally on the list -- but it's another if you decide at the last minute to buy a $25 gift card for the mailman.

    The late additions of folks who aren't friends or family members can quickly bust your holiday budget. Those small extra gifts -- even if they're $5 worth of lottery tickets -- can add up. You are under no obligation to provide a gift for your dog sitter, mail carrier, or children's karate instructor if you don't have enough room in your holiday budget.

    3. Don't Count on a Holiday Bonus

    You might receive a holiday bonus every year -- but you still shouldn't count on that bonus when setting your holiday budget. Instead, create a budget based on your normal monthly income. What if you overspend only to discover that this year your company is not passing out holiday bonuses? Suddenly, you're in a financial hole. And if you do get your bonus as expected? It's better to invest that extra money or use to it to pay off credit card debt than it is to spend it on holiday presents.

    4. Don't Just Go Through the Motions

    Retailers want you to spend, spend, and spend some more during the holiday season. Your holiday budget should provide you with the blueprint you need to ignore this noise and spend only what you can afford.

    Unfortunately, too many consumers make budgets but then never follow them. Once they spend more than they can afford, they turn to their credit cards. This is a huge mistake. If you put too much on your credit cards this shopping season, your holiday gifts will be long forgotten before you pay off your high-interest debt. When making a budget, actually do it in good faith. If you deliberately break your spending budget, what's the point of even making one?

    5. Don't Forget Other Holiday Expenses

    You might not overspend on anyone's gift this year, but that doesn't mean that you won't break your holiday spending budget. The holidays encourage all manner of overspending. You might be traveling to visit relatives, which might require you to spend on hotels and gas. Maybe relatives will be visiting you, which means you'll be spending more on food. Make sure to plan for these sometimes forgotten expenses when making your holiday budget. If you don't, you might shatter it.

    Do you make any of these holiday budget mistakes?

     

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    401(K) Plans: What You Need to Know

    By Emily Brandon

    Contributing to a retirement account qualifies you for tax breaks and employer contributions, both of which will grow your nest egg faster. Here's how to take full advantage of the 401(k) and individual retirement account perks you're eligible for in 2016.

    Max out your 401(k). Workers can contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2016. To completely max out this account, you will need to save $1,500 a month or $750 every twice monthly paycheck. A worker in the 25 percent tax bracket who tucks the full amount into a 401(k) plan will save $4,500 on his federal income tax bill. Retirement savers in the 35 percent tax bracket will save $6,300 on the same contribution. Income tax won't be due on this money until it is withdrawn from the account. And if you drop into a lower tax bracket in retirement, you will pay that lower rate on the distributions. If you withdraw that $18,000 while in the 15 percent tax bracket, you will only ultimately pay $2,700 on that contribution.

    Make catch-up contributions. Workers age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 to a 401(k) plan in 2016, for a total contribution of $24,000. "If you will turn 50 this year, that's an additional $6,000, and it's all deferred income from taxes," says Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner for Cuthbert Financial Guidance in Decatur, Georgia. Hitting this 401(k) limit requires saving $2,000 a month. Saving this much will reduce your tax bill by $6,000 if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket and $8,400 if you pay a 35 percent federal income tax rate.

    Financial Plans
    Getty ImagesFrom your 401(k) to IRA, these tips will help grow your nest egg faster.
    Get an employer match. If you can't save enough to take full advantage of the 401(k) tax deduction, at least aim to save enough to claim any matching funds your employer offers. If your company provides a 401(k) match up to 6 percent of pay, remember to set up withholding for that amount. This means saving $200 a month if you are earning $50,000 and $500 monthly if your salary is $100,000. Some companies automatically enroll employees in the plan at 3 percent of pay, and you will need to take action to adjust your withholding if you want to take full advantage of the match. "If you get a raise next year, I would increase your savings rate now so your take home pay is the same as it was before the raise, and instead put that money in your company retirement plan," says Francine Duke, a certified financial planner for Aqua Financial Planning in Chicago. "You won't even notice the difference."

    Take full advantage of IRAs. In addition to saving in a 401(k), you can defer income tax on another $5,500 that you contribute to an IRA in 2016. Workers age 50 and older are eligible to contribute an extra $1,000 for a total of $6,500. Maxing out an IRA requires saving $458 a month if you are 49 or younger and $542 a month for those 50 and older. If you have a 401(k) account at work, you won't be able to claim the full tax deduction for an IRA contribution if your modified adjusted gross income is between $61,000 and $71,000 ($98,000 to $118,000 for married couples), or any deduction if your income tops these amounts. If you are married to someone with a retirement account, the tax deduction for IRA contributions is phased out for couples earning between $184,000 and $194,000 in 2016.

    Consider a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs have the same contribution limits as traditional IRAs, but the tax treatment is different. There's no tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions, but the investment earnings in the account aren't taxed and withdrawals after age 59½ are tax-free. "You can just let that Roth IRA grow in value tax-free and use it as a source to take out money later in life," says Chris Falvello, a certified financial planner for Navigate Financial Advisors in Ocean View, Delaware. "You get the money back tax-free." Roth IRA eligibility phases out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is between $117,000 and $132,000 ($184,000 to $194,000 for married couples).

    Claim the saver's credit. If you save in a retirement account and your adjusted gross income is less than $30,750 for individuals, $46,125 for heads of household and $61,500 for married couples, you might be eligible to claim the saver's credit. Contributions of up to $2,000 ($4,000 for couples) could earn you a tax credit worth between 10 and 50 percent of your retirement account deposit.

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. She is the author of "Pensionless: The 10-Step Solution for a Stress-Free Retirement." You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ebrandon@usnews.com.

     

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