Updated April 11, 2016

Monthly Savings Plan: Your Savings Calendar

How to Save Money, From January to December
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Are you nursing a holiday debt hangover?

It’s common practice to whip out the credit card in the weeks before the gift-giving season; 57 percent of parents said they’d take on debt to buy gifts for their children in 2013, according to one study, while 37 percent of adults planned to use credit cards to fund their holiday spending, according to a CreditDonkey study.

The downside of that convenience is, of course, when the time comes to pay it off. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers admitted in a Think Finance poll that they’d probably have to carry holiday debt with them into the new year. While many of us may struggle with starting the new year off right, the rest of the year presents opportunities for acting smarter with our money. You just need to do some planning ahead of time.

Take it step-by-step – in this case month-by-month – and you may end up with a better financial picture than you did a year ago. We’ve put together a calendar for you to spend your money more wisely, starting now:

January:

Plan spring break. It’s freezing outside and your biggest concern is whether there’s going to be a snow day, but spring break airfare is very expensive and only going to keep going up. Try using the Kayak Explore tool to enter your target budget and see where in the world you can go for that amount.

See what to buy in January

February: Buy winter necessities for next year.

Early February is a goldmine for clearance on jackets, coats and other winter clothes. As winter wraps up, think about the items you could really use for next year and get them now. Ashley Stetts, who writes the blog The Frugal Model, suggests: “Shop classic pieces that are sure to always be in style, like pea coats and classic V-neck sweaters. Make sure it’s not something that you’re buying just because it’s on sale, either. If you wouldn’t pay full price for it, then you likely will never end up wearing it when next winter rolls around.”

See what else to buy in February for the best deals this month.

And if you are still suffering from a debt hangover, consider a balance transfer credit card to help you slow down the pace of multiplying interest charges and pay down your debt.

March: Think about wedding season.

If you’re planning to attend multiple weddings this year, you’ll need to save up for gifts, transportation, hotel stays, bachelor(ette) parties, matching outfits for the wedding party and more. To avoid a frenetic flurry of spending, estimate how much you’ll spend on all the weddings combined, divide by the number of months you have until it all begins, and you’ll have the ability to spread out the wedding-spending burden by putting some funds away now.

When the time to shop comes around, Stetts says, “Check for wedding-appropriate dresses on inexpensive fashion sites like asos.com, or rent something from renttherunway.com. Weddings are expensive enough without having to worry about buying something to wear.”

Related: what to buy in March

April: Solidify summer travel.

The price of travel during everyone’s favorite vacation season will go up as we get closer to June and July. Consider your options and whether you can book flights or hotels now to get any breaks. Play around with a gas cost calculator to make an informed decision about whether to fly or drive to your destination.

Consider signing up for a travel credit card now so that you can start collecting rewards as you plan your trip, and you’ll have some rewards when your travel dates finally arrive.

May: Up your short-term saving.

One British study found that the average person spends 315 pounds per month (about $515) more than usual during the summer because of the added cost of travel, socializing and entertaining their kids, and that 45 percent of those polled find September financially tight as a result. Before the season kicks into full gear, start saving a financial cushion so you don’t ring up debt while celebrating in the sun.

Consider using a gas credit card to be rewarded for your weekly trip to the pump, and designate the proceeds to your summer spending.

June: Decide on a charity strategy.

It may feel early, but if you plan to donate enough to charity to receive a tax write-off, you need to start thinking about it in advance. You’re more likely to feel generous if you spread your contributions throughout the year than if you write a lump-sum check at the end of the year. If you’re aiming for a certain percentage of your income (say, enough to surpass the $6,200 standard deduction (single filing status) when paired with any other deductions you’re taking), the easiest way to hit your goal is to schedule monthly recurring contributions with your favorite charitable organizations.

“Developing a charitable giving budget can reinforce the practice of setting aside money for the issues you care about and, just as importantly, thinking strategically about where those dollars can be used most effectively,” says Rebecca Riccio, Director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern University and the Academic Advisor to the Learning by Giving Foundation. “Charitable gifts aren't just tax write-offs. They are investments in the organizations you want to support, so planning for them makes sense in terms of your finances and the impact you can achieve.”

One bonus of planning your giving early? Some organizations offer contribution-matching or other perks for recurring donors.

July: Buy techy Christmas gifts now.

It may feel like prices are rising across the board, but the month of July offers a discount oasis for shoppers who know where to look and when to buy. Big box home improvement and furniture stores generally have blowout sales the week of Fourth of July.

Plus, prices are great for items like computers and video games during back-to-school season, so check a few gifts off your list early.

Syble Solomon, Founder of LifeWise Strategies and creator of Money Habitudes, caveats that you should know your own spending patterns when deciding your gift strategy: “If you love the rush and spirit of last minute shopping, don’t do all your shopping ahead of time . . . Leave some significant gifts to be purchased last minute or when it brings you the most joy. Otherwise you’ll spend all your money ahead of time and have all your gifts, but still find yourself seeking out Christmas bazaars and last minute holiday sales for the rush that makes it feel like the holidays.”

See what to buy in July

August: Update your resume.

Many people are on vacation in August, making it a slow season for anyone on a job search. Generally speaking, the fall is a better time for a job hunt, when hiring managers return to work mode. Take the time in late summer to get ahead of your competition by refreshing your resume during the slow season.

See what to buy in August

September: Search for Thanksgiving tickets.

Airfare tends to be expensive over the summer because of gas prices, but it also gets expensive as you near the date you want to fly. Plus, Thanksgiving is the hardest holiday to buy tickets for because everyone wants the same travel dates (flying out Wednesday and returning Sunday). The Tuesday after Labor Day is often the best day to nab those tickets, as the summer is over but the holiday is still a while away.

Of course, plane tickets aren’t the only expensive costs on the horizon. As you shift into holiday-spending gear, Solomon recommends making a list of ten things you spent money on last holiday season and ranking them from 1-10 on how valuable you think they were in hindsight. “Based on that, decide what you will do differently this year,” she says. “Maybe you brought five desserts to the family Thanksgiving dinner when only two would have been more than enough,” she says. “Or you didn’t get your tickets to visit your family until the last minute so this year you’ll make your reservations ahead of time to get better deals. Or you invited people over to celebrate and prepared everything yourself but this year you will ask people to contribute a dish.”

See what to buy in September

October: Ditch any residual debt.

Ideally, holiday expenses won’t put you in the red and you won’t buy anything you can’t pay for immediately. Still, many people find themselves in debt by the time the holiday season winds down. If you start the season owing money on your credit cards, you’re setting yourself up for a debt spiral, , says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey. “Credit cards generally have higher interest rates than other kinds of debt like student loans, so even a small charge on your credit card will compound on itself, making it harder and harder to dig yourself out of the hole,” he says.

Before the holiday craziness begins, take the time to kick any lingering credit card debt. Think about your own psychology: If you’re all about optimizing your money, start paying down the debt with the highest interest rates first. If you have trouble getting started, consider the “snowball” method, in which you pay off the easiest debts first, picking the lowest hanging fruit and gaining confidence and momentum from there.

See what to buy in October

Consider getting a cash back credit card

November: Get a head start on your new year’s resolutions.

It can be daunting to tackle a sizable goal, and it’s a lot of pressure when the entire world seems to be in resolution mode. Maybe your goal is to save six months of living expenses in an emergency fund, or finally finish paying off your student loans. Whatever your resolution, you’ll feel motivated (and proud) if you hit the new year with your mission already half accomplished. Plus, you have time for a couple of false starts without any judgment from yourself or others, and you can treat the new year as a time to recommit to your goals.

See what to buy in November

December: Max out your retirement accounts.

This isn’t a task you have to do months in advance, but it can’t wait until after the new year. The IRS deadline for contributing to your IRA or 401(k) is December 31st, so make sure you seize the opportunity to make the most of your retirement savings. “The benefits of maxing out your retirement accounts are huge,” says Jeff Gorton, a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Financial Planner™ specializing in individual tax and retirement planning. “You receive an immediate tax deduction, and you are socking away amounts that can make a big difference in retirement.”

See what to do before the end of the year

More from CreditDonkey:

Are you currently saving for retirement?

Survey: Saving Money Statistics

Infographics: Where Does All My Money Go

Household Spending Statistics

Infographic: Compound Interest

Pay Off Debt or Save

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