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Black Friday career advice: Don’t go shopping!28 Nov 2008 10:43 am

ditch-santa.jpgYou don’t want to end up a drunk Santa in a ditch.

I know the ads are tempting. I know the media won’t stop talking about it. I know Black Friday kicks off the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

But we all need to so restraint.

Many of us haven’t been too worried about saving in the last few years. The U.S. savings rate actually fell to zero in 2005. We were all excited about increasing home values, and a booming economy that looked like it would never end. But not having money in the bank was a dumb idea. Unemployment was low so most of us didn’t have to worry too much about losing our jobs, but now it’s becoming that “rainy day” for many of us and we need lots of money in the piggy.

Lately, U.S. consumers have been doing a bit better at saving. The savings rate is actually rising, according to the U.S. Commerce Department:

savings-rate.png

Americans realize bad times are upon us so they’re going into financial conservative mode. This is good. But I’m worried about all the fat Santas at the mall, and the endless ads that pour out of our newspapers. Don’t get sucked in folks!

This is a good time to go back to money saving basics.

Ask yourself — How big is your layoff fund? You know, the fund you’ll need just in case you get the boot. Unemployment is at record levels. You all have to be prepared just in case.

A colleague of mine from MSNBC.com, Laura Coffey, just did a how-to-prepare-for-layoffs story and she includes some info about an emergency fund:

Make it your top priority to set aside enough money to cover your basic living expenses for three to six months. This should give you the ability to pay your rent or mortgage, buy food and repay debts during a bout of unemployment. Consider socking this money away in an online-only, high-yield money market account or a short-term certificate of deposit. For more details about how to choose such an account and earn more interest on your dough, read this past “10 Tips” column on the subject.

While the three to six month fund is smart, I’ve always felt more comfortable with six to nine months in the bank. But everyone has to do what works best for them. I know many people that have over a year of money saved just in case.

The best way to search for a job is if you’re not desperate. Desperation leads you to accept a job you really don’t want, something that can derail your ultimate career ambitions. It would be great if you had the breathing room to sensibly go about job hunting, no?

Stop what you’re doing right now and calculate what you have and whether you’ll be able to weather a six-to-nine month layoff, which is what many of you are saying is the amount of time it takes lately to find a new gig.

Look, I’m not being stupid here. I know how tempting the holidays can be when it comes to luring bucks out of your wallet. You want to help boost the spirit by getting great gifts for your kids, nieces and nephews, your parents, friends, etc. I don’t blame you. I love giving gifts and receiving gifts.

The only thing I’m suggesting is that we all sit down and figure out how much money we have and how much, realistically, we should be spending this year. Make a budget. Talk to your siblings and friends. Tell them, that it may be a good idea just to give gifts to the kids this year.

One thing that may help is volunteering in your town to help out those who are less fortunate. My column this week on MSNBC.com was on how workers were trying to get their firms to help shelters and a host of nonprofits this year.

When you see how people out there are struggling it makes you realize that lavish gifts are really very meaningless. And you don’t have to be an adult to get this.

We took our kids to a homeless shelter called the Sunday Breakfast Mission in downtown Wilmington yesterday morning. The shelter needed help setting up for the mad rush they expected for the Thanksgiving meal. Last year the shelter had 500 plus people waiting in line for a holiday meal. This year? They were expecting even more.

We set up tables and spent hours sorting through food donations, putting canned veges with canned veges and jars of baby food with other jars of baby food.

My son is six and my daughter is nine. It was a lot of fun for them running from box to box, yelling out “protein”, “cranberries”.

But it wasn’t lost on them that the food was for families that didn’t have money to make ends meet. We didn’t hit them over the head with this message but we discussed it as a family so they would understand how any of us could end up in this situation.

Today, my kids made out their lists to Santa. We typically do this the day after Thanksgiving while we listen to corny Christmas music.

We told them this year was a good idea to just ask for two gifts from Santa because times were tough. My six year old only asked for one thing. He wanted a Lego set of people. Now I’m not naive. I know when Christmas morning rolls around he’ll be sad if he only has one gift under the tree and his sister has more than that. So, I encouraged him to write down one other gift.

What this made me realize is that if a six year old can get it, we should be able to get it too.

Let’s all try to keep our heads together and spend within reason. You can email me, or post a comment if you need help keeping the shopping demons at bay.

I’ll admit it, I may need some support when Rudolph is on TV or when it’s time to go Christmas tree shopping.

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