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Financial lessons from our favorite holiday classic movies.

It’s that time of year again: the decorations are up, your calendar’s filled and you’re deciding who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. We all know that the holidays bring laughter and cheer, and they can also bring a bit of financial stress. This year we thought we’d recount a few financial lessons from our favorite holiday films.

 
 
Financial Lessons from Holiday Movies
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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View video transcript[PDF]

Flights, rails and interstates: prepare for travel disruptions. (Planes, Trains & Automobiles)

The “once in a generation” winter storm of 2022, combined with staff shortages and outdated software systems, resulted in Southwest canceling more than 60% of its holiday flights. Along with problems at many other airlines, this left tens of thousands of passengers stranded. If you plan to travel this holiday season, consider travel insurance, and make sure that you’ve reserved additional funds for any unplanned changes if your itinerary is disrupted. And think long and hard before deciding to travel with a stranger!

Don’t wait for a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past to consider giving. (A Christmas Carol)

Scrooge-inspired characters have graced every holiday season since Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in the 1840s. But you don’t need to be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to consider helping others. Many charities rely on the holiday season for a majority of their donations, which you can often deduct from your taxable income. If you’re feeling cash-strapped at year-end, consider noncash donations like clothing, furniture and even cars, which are also tax-deductible.

As you hang the holiday lights, don’t bank on a bonus. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)

Before you go putting a down-payment on a pool for the backyard, remember that employers do not guarantee bonuses, which are often determined by a variety of factors. Bonuses can shift dramatically from year to year — from a nice amount of cash one year to a turkey the next — so plan accordingly and do not allocate any funds until they’re actually in your bank account. Also try not to burn the house down with an overabundance of out-of-code holiday lights — LEDs are energy efficient, don’t contain mercury like some of the older lights, and don’t get hot to the touch.

Track your bags — and your children — carefully. (Home Alone)

Technology has come a long way since Kevin was left to fend off bumbling thieves by himself over the holidays. If you’re traveling by air, consider putting AirTags or another type of luggage tracker in each bag to help you stay on top of where each bag is. Nearly three million bags were lost by the airlines in 2022, and trying to get reimbursed by the airlines can be a real hassle. If you’re sending a minor on a flight on their own, make sure they have a foolproof way to get in touch with you, like a smartwatch for younger kids or a simple cell phone for teenagers.

Before buying that pink bunny suit or a Red Ryder BB Gun, reconsider your giving strategy. (A Christmas Story)

Between family, colleagues, teachers, and friends, it’s easy to wind up with a gift-giving list that feels overwhelming. Many people have chosen to simplify in recent years. We’ve got some great ideas on how to give differently, and how to spread holiday cheer without going over budget:

  • Give an experience instead of a thing.

  • Research has found that spending on doing things versus buying things engenders more happiness. This year, consider taking a loved one to a concert or giving your team a day at the ice rink or an escape room. The memories created will last a lot longer than a coffee shop gift card will!
  • Use the 3-gift rule for kids.

  • If you have children, consider relying on the three-gift holiday rule: give them something they want, something they need, and something to read.
  • Switch white elephant or secret Santa gift exchanges for volunteer opportunities.

  • Instead of doing an office party around a gift exchange, consider holding a group volunteer event at a local food bank, shelter or community center. It will reduce the financial burden on everyone and bring folks together through a common purpose.

Add some maple syrup to your spaghetti and remember that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones. (Elf)

We’re mostly kidding on that last one. But really, the true spirit of Christmas is about slowing down and appreciating time with the people you love. And try not to call out the next mall Santa you see as a fraud — they’re doing their best!

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