Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’ Reinvented Holiday

Charles Dickens took his London background to the pages of "A Christmas Carol" in late 1843.

Charles Dickens wrote the immortal story “A Christmas Carol.” In the process, he enlivened what was a somber holiday. The Puritans had made sure that most of the fun was squeezed out of Christmas for the prior two centuries, mandating a quiet day exchanging presents at home and going to church.

“He was frustrated and felt ineffective after giving a lecture in Manchester (England) on the benefit to the nation of educating the working class, at a time when there were no free public schools,” Carlo DeVito, author of “Inventing Scrooge,” told IBD. “His first idea was to write a pamphlet about helping the less fortunate, but then realized he could get the message across better if he created a compelling story. As he drew on his own experiences growing up, both hurtful and joyous, he became obsessed with the tale of personal redemption and completed it in six weeks.

“It changed both his career and the way the holiday season was celebrated around the world.”

Tough Going

Dickens (1812-70) had an early childhood in southern England, including London, that he called idyllic. Yet his father, a government clerk, spent more than he earned and was sent to debtors’ prison for a few months when the boy was 12.

As the second of eight children, Charles began working at a boot factory 10 hours a day, six days a week. The family had to move to cheaper quarters and pawn everything it owned to get by.

Dickens had only a few years of formal education, but his mother taught him a love of reading, the foundation for his career. At 15, he began clerking at a law office, learned shorthand and became a freelance reporter at the courts.

At 22, he began writing entertaining reports about city life under the pen name Boz. Two years later, in 1836, they were collected into the two-volume “Sketches by Boz.”

The next year, Dickens broke through big-time.

“The Pickwick Papers” came out under his own name — and when the novel was serialized in a magazine, it drew 400,000 readers for the last installment.

The year before, he had married Kate Hogarth, daughter of one of his editors, and they would have 10 children. Dickens provided for the growing family with increasingly nicer homes by churning out one masterpiece after another.

In 1838-39, he had two smash hits — “Oliver Twist” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” Then in 1841, he had two more: “The Old Curiosity Shop” and “Barnaby Rudge.”

7 Ways to Cut Down on Holiday Gift-Giving

Family opening Christmas presents togetherAs the holiday gift-giving season approaches, we often are filled with a sense of dread: How will we ever find the perfect gift for everyone on our list, the time to finish our shopping and the money to pay for all the stuff we need to buy?

Some Americans are saving money and sanity by changing their gift-giving traditions and, in some cases, eliminating gift-giving entirely.

“I just gave up altogether,” says Sandy Smith, a human resources professional in New York City who blogs at Yes, I Am Cheap. Several years ago, after realizing she had blown a substantial bonus on gifts people had long forgotten, she told her parents, brother and sister that she was no longer going to buy Christmas gifts for them, and she didn’t want them to buy her anything, either.

Instead, she would take the family out to dinner at her expense. Her brother has since joined her in financing the outing, which the family looks forward to every year.

“We’ve enjoyed going out and hanging out and enjoying different cultures and cuisines,” she says. The first year she took the family to an authentic Chinese restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown. “It was such an exotic experience for my parents, and they loved it,” she says. “We’ve been introducing them to different foods all over the city. They’ve had a good time traveling the world through food.”

Holiday traditions are important to many people, but you may find that your relatives are happy to quit exchanging gifts, especially as the family grows.

“It’s all about time, money and energy,” says Stefanie O’Connell, founder of the personal finance blog The Broke and Beautiful Life. “I think that the gift-giving process is a toll on all three of those things.”

She suggested to her four siblings several years ago that they quit giving each other holiday gifts and concentrate on their parents and older relatives. Not only did she save money, she discovered that she had more time available to spend with her family since she wasn’t out shopping. Her friends draw names for a Secret Santa exchange and they have the added bonus of enjoying the get-together where they exchange the gifts.

Some families find it easy to limit gift-giving among adults but still want to make their children’s holidays magical. But buying fewer things may be better for your children, says Andrea Deckard, a mother of three boys in Cincinnati and author at Savings Lifestyle.

She and her husband decided several years ago that they would buy each of their three boys only four gifts every year: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. They coordinate with grandparents and other relatives, so that if someone else in the family is buying one of the boys a jacket, the parents will get him socks or underwear, for example.

“We want to make sure they’re not getting too much junk,” Deckard says. How do the kids react to receiving fewer gifts? “It’s not as much of an issue as some people might think it is,” she says, adding that her sons, who are now 8, 11 and 16, have learned from the experience. “Our kids now realize that it’s stuff and we don’t really need all this stuff this time of year.”

Getting off the gift-giving merry-go-round starts with a frank discussion with friends and family.

Smith, whose blog chronicles her journey of paying off $120,000 in debt from student loans and a failed business venture, has been vocal in recent years about her less stuff, more time philosophy. She believes it frees her friends from worrying about whether they need to buy her something because she’s buying them something.

“It turns into this crazy thing where they’re not really giving you a gift because they want to but because it’s a pre-emptive strike,” Smith says. “When you put it out there, it makes things easier for everyone. … I think a lot of people want to go back to simpler things. I don’t think people will protest much.”

Here are seven ways to cut down on holiday gift-giving, while saving you time, money and stress:

Set a realistic budget, and then figure out how to stay within it. Many people buy gifts without calculating their total expenditures and are surprised when the bills arrive. “Getting honest about what those numbers look like is a way to get grounded,” O’Connell says. “You don’t want to be paying your Christmas bills when spring comes.”

Talk to your significant other about alternatives. O’Connell and her boyfriend put the money they would have spent on gifts toward trips they take together. Other couples may prefer a night at the movies or a romantic weekend at home.

Suggest to relatives and friends that you end or limit gift exchanges.Some families may draw names for gift exchange, do a Secret Santa drawing, set dollar limits or end gift-giving entirely. Others, like Smith’s family, may do something together instead of exchanging gifts. “It’s been better for my relationship with my family,” Smith says. “The experiences have been so much better than the gifts that I was giving.”

Coordinate gift-giving for kids with other friends and relatives.Deckard’s family members keep in touch to make an effort to limit the gifts they buy to things the children actually want or need. If your child wants something expensive, all the relatives might go in and buy that one gift, rather than buying individual gifts.

Opt out of office gift exchanges. Bake cookies for co-workers or write each a note about what you appreciate. O’Connell, who works in theater in addition to writing, gave up participating when she noticed how much some co-workers worried over the gift exchange. “The Secret Santa became this financial stressor that people weren’t finding joy in,” she says.

Ask your relatives if they would prefer alternatives to gifts. Many older people don’t want more things. Grandma may have all the sweaters she needs, but she may really want you to come over with dinner one evening or clean her gutters. Or, perhaps all the relatives can go in together and buy a year of housecleaning for the grandparents. Young families may appreciate an evening of babysitting, and teens may really enjoy an outing alone with a relative.

Bring edible gifts to parties. O’Connell comes from a big Ukrainian family where guests are expected to bring gifts. “You don’t come anywhere empty-handed,” O’Connell says. But a $5 bottle of wine is considered gift enough, she says. Wine, chocolate, cookies or other food items don’t cost much and won’t end up on a shelf collecting dust.

FedEx Sees Record Holiday Shipments on Rising Retail Sales

Earns FedexCHICAGO — Package delivery company FedEx (FDX) said Monday that it expects to see a record number of shipments during this year’s busy holiday season, driven by rising retail sales and a jump in e-commerce.

The Memphis-based company said it expects to handle 317 million shipments between Black Friday, traditionally the busiest U.S. shopping day of the year, and Christmas Eve, an increase of 12.4 percent over the previous year.

“Each year we face a challenge that’s greater and that’s driven by e-commerce,” Patrick Fitzgerald, FedEx senior vice president for integrated marketing and communications told Reuters. “We’ve learned that planning and preparation is key.”

The National Retail Federation has predicted retail sales in November and December — excluding automobiles, fuel and restaurant sales — will increase 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion after a 4.1 percent increase last year. The NRF said online retail sales could increase up to 8 percent, to as much as $105 billion.

FedEx said that it expects to see three spikes in package volumes during peak season, on Cyber Monday and the first two Mondays in December. The company said its holiday projections are included in its full-year fiscal 2016 earnings guidance of between $10.40 and $10.90 a share.

The rapid rise of e-commerce poses challenges for retailers and package delivery companies alike. In 2013 bad weather and a late surge in online retail packages caught FedEx and main rival United Parcel Service (UPS) off guard, leaving an estimated 2 million packages undelivered on Christmas Eve, the majority in UPS’ network.

Last year both companies touted investments in their networks and close collaboration with major retailers to manage package flows during the holidays. UPS ended up over-spending to prepare for package volume spikes that didn’t materialize, hurting its fourth-quarter earnings. FedEx didn’t report any problems.

This year FedEx has invested $1.6 billion in capacity and automation projects at FedEx Ground to help with peak season.

FedEx’s Fitzgerald said that if retailers come in way above forecast with a sudden surge in packages, the company may “need to cap volumes” in order to protect its network.

Walmart Tweaks Discount Strategy for Holiday Season

A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Location Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Walmart Stores (WMT) said it would offer fewer “this weekend only” short-term deals during the holiday shopping season while discounting thousands of items for 90 days as it seeks to entice customers by being more consistent on pricing.

The retailer also said it was launching a new mobile application to reduce waiting times for in-store pickup of online orders as part of an effort to expand a service in which it believes it has an advantage over rivals, like Amazon.com (AMZN), which lack a bricks-and-mortar presence.

The moves were announced in a media briefing to outline its strategy for the November to December holiday shopping season, a crucial time for retailers during which they earn an outsized portion of their annual profits and sales.

We will not be beat on pricing this holiday. If we need to react we will.

The decision to offer fewer short-term discounts comes at a time when Walmart is seeking to burnish its reputation for low prices amid relentless competition online from Amazon.com, supermarkets and dollar stores. It said customers were frustrated by “gimmicks” and wanted more consistent pricing.

“We will not be beat on pricing this holiday,” said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart’s U.S. operations, noting its policy of matching rivals’ prices at its stores. “If we need to react we will.”

Walmart said that it would have more “rollbacks,” or discounts that last for 90 days, than the 20,000 offered last year, although it didn’t give an exact figure. Bratspies said the discounts would be across all categories.

Walmart also said it was introducing a “mobile check-in” function to its mobile phone application that would allow shoppers picking up online orders to easily notify the store when arriving to cut down on waiting times.

Walmart said that it was focusing on in-store pickup as a way to take advantage of its 4,500 stores in the U.S. It has recently expanded curbside pickup for groceries ordered online to 23 markets, with plans to add 20 more early next year.

To Wait – or Not to Wait – for Black Friday Deals?

Holiday ShoppingChristmas is still about eight weeks away, but retailers and many shoppers don’t seem to care. Holiday shopping is in full swing.

Gone are the days when shoppers waited until Black Friday, once revered as the biggest shopping day of the year, to hit the stores and snatch up great deals on everything from clothing to electronics. Instead, early-bird shoppers are purchasing items off their holiday lists earlier than ever.

According to a new survey from coupon destination site RetailMeNot, just 10 percent of consumers today believe that Black Friday savings are really worth the wait and 85 percent of shoppers expect retailers to start their holiday promotions before Black Friday. “Consumers in record numbers are questioning the value of offers on Black Friday,” said Trae Bodge, senior lifestyle editor at RetailMeNot. “While early bird behavior is beneficial for the strategic buyer, RetailMeNot’s offer data still suggests that deals during the five days of savings from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday are stronger on a percent-off basis than in prior weeks.”

For example, RetailMeNot said the deepest discounts on electronics and computers — ranging from 38 to 40 percent off — can be found between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, and oftentimes into the first week of December.

But if you’re shopping for little ones this holiday season, RetailMeNot suggests that you “act fast and purchase toys early.” Because toy prices remain relatively stable throughout the holiday season, if you wait too long you might not have much to choose from if inventory runs low.

RetailMeNot said it’s easy to score Black Friday-worthy discounts whenever you want if you follow this simple approach:

  • Purchase a discounted gift card, which are typically sold post-Cyber Monday, at your favorite retailer and get an instant savings of 2 to 20 percent.
  • Use the discounted gift card in conjunction with a coupon code or digital rebate. “RetailMeNot users report an average savings of $20 per transaction,” said Kristen Larrea, RetailMeNot shopping expert. If you want to score even bigger savings, pay for your purchase with a cash-back credit card.

The survey also found that the most attractive promotions to shoppers are: money-back purchase options (44 percent), holiday sales (37 percent), flash-sale deals (31 percent) and door-buster offers (27 percent). Consumers said they can also be lured into stores by gift-wrapping services (24 percent) and good holiday music (16 percent).

How to Save on Holiday Spending Without Being a Scrooge

Small present boxBah humbug, the holidays are approaching but you are broke. What do you do?
Do you want to save on holiday spending this year? If you do, then don’t do it looking like a Scrooge!

There are so many ways to save money on your holiday shopping without looking cheap, so here are some of my top tips on how to get your most bang for your buck around the holiday season.

1. Shop at cashback sites to earn money back on your purchases. One company I really like is InboxDollars.com. I’ve been using the site for years; they actually were a big part of me being able to pay for Christmas one year just from surveys and cash back shopping. You simply take surveys to earn cold, hard cash! You can get a percentage of your purchase in cash back as well, so it really helps by stacking the savings. One of my favorite ways to save is the 5 percent cash back deal on Groupon.

2. Make sure every purchase you make has a triple dip savings. That means stacking savings. For example, buy your gift cards at a discount through your grocery store or places like cardpool.com and then shop through cash back sites like InboxDollars.com and then use a coupon code to shop online. If you are lucky, you can get a quadruple dip and get free shipping, too.

3. Make a list and stick to it. I have 14 nieces and nephews under the age of 10. Instead of buying junky gifts for everyone and going broke in the process, each kid picks the name of a cousin. Then they shop for that cousin with a $20 to $30 budget, so each kid gets one quality gift. Instead of spending over $200 on gifts for all the nieces and nephews, I now spend under $100, plus my kids get gifts that they are really interested in (instead of dollar store junk).

4. Instead of paying full price, price match everything. There are so many stores that will price match competitors prices. I use Retale, an app for the best savings at major retailers close to you, to check circulars for in-store deals and coupons. But a really cool added benefit is the ability to pull up store flyers in your area to compare prices. You can also use it to create and manage shopping lists. It’s the go-to digital hub for the on-the-go shopper.

Many stores are open about their price matching policies. All you have to do is ask. Target will price match many online stores; you can get all the details on the Target website. Just make sure you have a way to validate the prices, like the Retale app.

Walmart will also price match any store, as long as the lower price is for the exact same product. Just be sure you have clear proof of that lower price, and read about all the details of Walmart’s policy on its website.

Kohl’s will also price match competitor’s prices, but not online prices. You’ll need a flyer with you for proof of the lower prices. Best Buy’s policy is to price match all local retail competitors, including their online prices, as well as major online retailers, including Amazon, Dell and HP. As you can see, there are so many options for price matching that with just a few minutes of homework you will be able to save a lot of money. Don’t be afraid to do some research and ask questions if you aren’t sure how to proceed; the effort can really pay off.

5. Opt to skip giving gifts altogether. This strategy might sound like the most Scrooge-like of all, but it’s not, if you simply replace gifts with experiences. Movie tickets, ski tickets, a free night of babysitting — all are great gifts. One year I gave my nephew tickets to see Sesame Street Live, and we had so much fun.

Just because you opt out of giving gifts doesn’t mean you are a real Scrooge. It just means that you value time spent more than dollars paid.

If you follow these tips, you can enjoy this holiday season without being a broke Scrooge. Plan ahead, save money and enjoy this year!

10 Savings Tips for Holiday Shopping

Mother and son shopping for Christmas ornaments in store

Christmas is weeks away, but many consumers are already prepping for the annual holiday spending extravaganza — and they may be on to something. Retailers, to be sure, are revving up the profit engines and setting their sights on Black Friday, traditionally the single biggest shopping day of the year. In the not-too-distant future, Christmas decor will be hanging from store rafters and weekly circulars will be advertising deals on coveted items. These tips can help consumers get their budgets in order, their money saved up and their plans in place for a smooth and financially sound holiday shopping season.

Make a budget. Hold a “state of the union” about holiday expenses with your spouse, significant other or anyone with whom you expect to buy gifts this year. It may not be fun, but knowing in advance how much you can spend will alleviate a lot of stress. Make your holiday budget all-inclusive: gifts and holiday cards for everyone on your list, wrapping paper and stamps, decorations, food and drinks for parties and during shopping excursions and whatever else requires a cash outlay during the holiday season. Don’t budget for more money than you have or know you can save by the deadline.

Save now. Like, immediately. There is still a month to go and for anyone paid weekly, that’s five paychecks before Black Friday. Fix a budget now and stash some cash for the big day. Given the magnitude of many holiday discounts, $30 out of each paycheck stretches pretty far. To ensure the savings intended for Black Friday are actually used for that purpose, consider setting up a targeted bank account. Many employers let employees divvy up their take-home pay into multiple accounts.

Save up gift cards. Any cash-like asset can be put toward a holiday shopping budget, so get in the habit of saving up gift cards. Dig out old ones that may still hold a few dollars and take them along when you shop; every little bit helps. Alternatively, search a site such as Gift Card Granny and buy a few unwanted gift cards from a marketplace that sells the plastic at a discount off its underlying value.

Pay with cash. Once you’ve decided on a holiday budget, stick to it. Credit cards are the enemy here — they tempt you to spend now and worry later. Be firm and reject the siren call of credit when hitting the holiday sales. Pay for this year’s goodies with cash, check or debit card so you don’t spend more than you have. Steel yourself to walk away from holiday sales once you’ve hit your holiday budget limit.

Purge to make room for new. Everyone has something to get rid of and there’s still time to try selling it. In some parts of the country it’s still warm enough to host a garage sale. You can also post sale items to Craigslist or with a local buy/sell/trade group on social media. You’ll make room for the flood of new gifts while padding the holiday budget with a spot of extra cash.

Make a list and check it twice. Holiday spending, especially on Black Friday, can easily turn into a cash-flow catastrophe. Seemingly everything is on sale everywhere, luring too many consumers to spend, spend, spend. To help stanch the outflow, make a list of recipients and the amount you’re willing to shell out — and then stick to it. Have a plan of action ready even before the Black Friday ads start rolling out.

Clip and save. No need to go coupon crazy here, but if you spot a coupon for something on your list, use it now. It’s always worthwhile to check some of thebest coupon and deal sites. The same goes for store cash: Investigate the offerings from local merchants. Kohl’s, for example, frequently runs Kohl’s Cash promotions. If you have a similar medium on hand, spend it now on something for the holidays.

Shop early. Once confined to the Friday after Thanksgiving, big discounts are increasingly leaking into the rest of November. Some retailers now offer a few “Black Friday” deals in advance. In the past, Amazon has released deals all week leading up to Black Friday and Walmart has hosted a “Super Saturday” sale in early November featuring Black Friday-like deals. Similar promotions from these and other retailers are likely this year. If an item on your list is advertised for less than your budget allotted, grab it. You’ll get a running start on your shopping and save along the way.

Sign up for alerts. Want to be among the first to glimpse those coveted Black Friday ads? There’s little time for browsing once the crowds descend, so sign up for email lists, “like” retailers on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for an early look-see. Signing up for a Google Alert with the search query “Black Friday” will fill up your inbox with Black Friday ads and related coverage. With all that information at your fingertips, you’ll know which items to target long before Black Friday arrives.

Track your budget. Even if you shop early, be sure to keep your budget up to date. Print out a copy or store it on your smartphone and always carry it with you. Mark down how much you’re spending and where and regularly check your progress against the plan. Accountability goes a long way toward keeping your finances straight during the holiday shopping season.

7 Best Rewards Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping

Row of Credit CardsFrom presents for the kids to special food for family get-togethers, holiday traditions have the potential to put a significant dent in your wallet. However, you can take the sting out of that spending by earning rewards for every purchase.

Rewards credit cards come in many flavors, with some offering cash back and others providing miles or points that can be redeemed for travel, gift cards or merchandise.

U.S. News spoke to four credit experts to learn which cards they recommend consumers use this holiday season. They say shoppers shouldn’t only worry about which card they select, but to also focus on how to maximize rewards.

“I’m a strong believer that rewards cards are best used by people who pay off their balance each month,” says Jason Steele, the credit card expert at CompareCards.com. If you fail to pay off your balance, you could get charged interest that will negate any rewards you earn.

Online shoppers should also always visit their card’s website to look for special offers before making a purchase. “A credit card bonus mall is an online portal that allows you to get extra points or cash back on your online purchases,” says Sean McQuay, a credit card expert for NerdWallet. “But remember, the consumer has to use the card associated with that bonus mall to take advantage.”

Beyond that general advice, McQuay and Steele say it helps if you are swiping the right card for you. Here are their picks for the best rewards cards for holiday shopping, along with those of Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma, and Jill Gonzalez, credit card analyst for WalletHub.

Best rewards credit card for online shopping: Chase Freedom

Any rewards credit card can be used online, but Hardeman, Steele and McQuay all single out the Chase Freedom card as a particularly good choice this holiday season.

The card offers 5 percent cash back on categories that change quarterly. This quarter’s bonus retailers include Amazon, a go-to destination for many holiday shoppers, as well as Zappos, diapers.com and Audible. “[The current bonuses] are very helpful for those who like to do shopping online with ease and convenience,” Hardeman says.

For all other purchases, Chase Freedom offers 1 percent cash back. Plus, you get a $100 bonus if you spend $500 in the first three months after you open your account.

Best rewards credit card for in-store shopping: Blue Cash Preferred from American Express

If you’d rather shop in stores, Steele recommends using the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.

The 3 percent cash back you get for department store purchases is nice, but the 6 percent offered at supermarkets is even nicer. “While you may not think of supermarkets as a place for gifts, you can find a lot of gift cards there,” Steele says. You can either give those gift cards as presents, or use them to buy presents at other retailers.

You may need to register for cash back promotions on the American Express website, and the supermarket cash back offer is limited to $6,000 in purchases. Other card perks include a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on your card in the first three months and a 0 percent APR in the first 15 months.

Best rewards credit cards for cash back: Discover it and U.S. Bank Cash+

For those who split their shopping between online and brick-and-mortar retailers, the Discover it and U.S. Bank Cash+ cards are two solid options.

The Discover it card offers 1 percent cash back for most purchases with the exception of three bonus categories that rotate quarterly. For the current quarter, cardholders can get 5 percent back at Amazon, department stores and clothing stores. “It also offers one of the best bonus malls in the industry so it’s an awesome choice for shopping online for the holidays,” McQuay says

The bonuses are even better if you use Apple Pay, Steele says. Currently, Discover it offers 10 percent cash back for up to $10,000 of in-store purchases made with the mobile payment service through the end of the year. New card members also receive double cash back for their first 12 billing cycles, which means you could earn a whopping 20 percent cash back before 2016.

For those who’d prefer a Visa to Discover, the U.S. Bank Cash+ card offers 5 percent cash back on two categories of your choice, on the first $2,000 in purchases. You can also earn 2 percent cash back on one category, such as gas or groceries, that you select. On top of that, you get 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Hardeman likes the card because it allows consumers to evaluate where they will spend the most and select the appropriate categories.

Best rewards credit card to help you stay out of debt: Citi Double Cash

The Citi Double Cash card gets a nod from McQuay as having one of the highest flat cash back rates in the industry. Users get 2 percent cash back on all purchases, with no rotating categories to worry about.

However, the catch is the card gives you 1 percent when you make a purchase and 1 percent when you pay your bill. For those tempted to carry over some debt into the new year, the card’s structure could provide a little motivation to pay off the balance ASAP.

Best rewards credit card for big spenders: Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you have a long gift list, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card could be a good choice, according to Gonzalez.

New account holders who charge $4,000 in the first three months receive 40,000 bonus points, worth $500 of travel through Chase. The card also offers other perks for travelers, including 2 points per dollar spent on travel expenses and restaurants, point transfers to eligible frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs and a 20 percent discount on travel redemptions.

The card is free for the first year but charges a $95 annual fee after that.

Best rewards credit card for those with average credit: QuicksilverOne from Capital One

Not everyone has stellar credit and for those with a few dings on their record, Gonzalez recommends the QuicksilverOne from Capital One. “It is a bit easier to get your hands on,” she says.

The card has a $39 annual fee and doesn’t offer any upfront bonus like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it does come with 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. Not too shabby for a card that may be willing to approve customers who wouldhave their applications rejected elsewhere.

Before you start applying for cards, check your credit score to find out whether you should start with a card like QuicksilverOne or if you can apply for a more lucrative account. Hardeman points out too many applications at once could drop your score. “You don’t want a bunch of inquiries on your report and nothing to show for it,” she says.

Smartwatches for all kinds this holiday season

Apple Watch

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (AP) — If you’re looking for a device to track your fitness, alert you to incoming messages and occasionally let you buy stuff with a scan or a tap, there’s no shortage of computerized wristwatches to choose from.

Over the past several months, I’ve tested numerous smartwatches for iPhones and Android devices, along with fitness trackers that have some smarts. I’ve even worn six watches at once during three marathons over the past month, courting both ridicule and some lousy times. (I’m blaming the extra weight.)

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are relatively early devices with a lot of growing up still to do. Temper your expectations, and you might be pleasantly surprised. Just don’t go in expecting magic, because that’s a recipe for disappointment.

Your options will vary depending on whether you use an iPhone or Android, as most of these watches require a companion phone for their smarts. There are also big differences between all-in-one smartwatches and simpler gadgets that primarily track fitness.

SMARTWATCHES FOR ANDROID:

– Samsung’s Gear S2 (starts at $300)

Samsung smartwatches have improved tremendously. Instead of swiping through screen after screen, you now rotate the watch’s circular outer ring to select apps or view notifications. The watch faces can display information ranging from stock quotes and headlines to sports scores. I tracked some Mets games that way, though the watch doesn’t guarantee a win.

The main shortcoming: limited apps. The Gear S2 works with Android phones but doesn’t run Android apps, putting it in a kind of limbo. A few apps from big-name partners like Yelp, The Wall Street Journal and Nokia’s Here (for maps) are available, and Uber is coming soon. But most apps I looked for weren’t there.

As for exercise, the watch mostly tracks footsteps and heart rate. Its mileage calculation is way off unless you’re also carrying a phone with GPS. Alternatively, you could consider the Gear model with both GPS and 3G data for about $50 more, plus an additional $5 or $10 a month for the data plan.

The Gear S2 works with most Android phones, though some features specifically require a Samsung phone.

– Android Wear (starts at $129)

Several companies make smartwatches that run Google’s Android Wear software. I tried the cheapest, Asus’s ZenWatch 2, as a starting point. You can pay more for better bands, features such as built-in GPS or sheer luxury – right up to $1,500 for a model Tag Heuer developed with Intel and Google.

Android Wear has also gotten better. One swipe gets you apps, with recently used ones on top. Swipe again for contacts and again for common tasks. The screen can stay on without draining the battery, something rare in a smartwatch. App selection has also improved; many apps available for the Apple Watch now have Android Wear versions.

Sony’s GPS-enabled SmartWatch 3 worked well for me while running, but other non-GPS devices, including the ZenWatch, were more frustrating. The main health app, Google Fit, doesn’t let you start or stop workouts manually, with or without GPS. It relies on automatic detection and accused me of walking parts of my marathons, even though I didn’t (really!). Several apps offer manual controls, but require built-in GPS or a phone, which can be a pain to carry on a run.

You need an Android phone for full functionality. Android Wear works with the iPhone, but it’s handicapped. You don’t get turn-by-turn navigation on the watch, for instance, as I learned the hard way driving to Toronto with a Moto 360.

SMARTWATCHES FOR IPHONES:

– Apple Watch (starts at $349)

Android Wear will work, but Apple Watch is the one you need for full functionality. Apple put a lot of thought into it, with the inclusion of a lefties mode and a passcode in case you leave it on a bathroom sink somewhere.

Apple Watch stands out in fitness. Although the watch doesn’t have GPS, it learns your walking and running patterns when you have the phone with you, so it’s more accurate than other non-GPS watches when you leave the phone at home.

Apple’s smartwatch doesn’t just count steps. Instead, it challenges – or nags – you to exercise at least 30 minutes a day and to take 12 walk breaks throughout the day. For a perfect score, you also need to burn a certain number of calories – determined by your age, sex, weight and fitness level. With rival devices, I meet my default goals easily. With Apple Watch, even an eight-mile morning run isn’t enough. Bring on the challenge!

Apple Watch lacks advanced features found in sport-specific devices. I rely on a Garmin running watch during workouts, but Apple Watch nudges me the rest of the day.

Battery life isn’t as good as Samsung and many Android Wear devices, though I made it through the recent marathons with plenty to spare by turning off the heart-rate monitor.

FITNESS FOCUSED, FOR IPHONE, ANDROID OR WINDOWS:

– Microsoft Band 2 and Fitbit Surge ($250 each)

These are among the few fitness trackers with built-in GPS and heart-rate monitors. Don’t confuse the Surge with cheaper Fitbit models, which mostly track footsteps. The Surge and the Band are limited smartwatches that can, for instance, notify you of new texts or calls. The Band also offers news headlines and a few apps from the likes of Starbucks and Facebook.

But the Band’s battery life doesn’t cut it for heavy exercise. I outlasted the Band for all three 26.2-mile races. Even turning off the screen didn’t keep it from dying before the finish, in one case just a third of a mile short. By contrast, the Surge lasted each race with plenty of charge to spare. Under normal use, the Surge lasts up to a week.

Both are solid fitness companions – at least for shorter workouts, in the case of the Band. But neither is a replacement for a sport-specific device.

Oops! 6 Holiday Costs We Forget to Budget For

Girl decorating Christmas tree

The National Retail Federation predicts that the average spending on food, gifts and other holiday costs this year will reach $805.65 per person, just slightly higher than last year’s average of $802.45.

Whether you’re planning to spend more or less than average, forgetting to factor in extras like the holiday ham or a gift for your great aunt Mildred could derail your budget. Fortunately, there’s still time to set aside some extra cash and plan your spending.

Here’s a look at several items we forget to include in our holiday budget.

1. Holiday dinner. Hosting a holiday party? Expect your grocery bill to spike, especially if it’s a sit-down dinner. “If you’re going to have a ham or pork roast and have 20 people over, that can be really pricey,” says Deacon Hayes, financial expert with WellKeptWallet.com and U.S. News My Money blog contributor. To minimize costs, make the meal potluck or BYOB, or serve appetizers or desserts rather than a full dinner. Also try to buy meat when it’s on sale, as that’s often the priciest part of the meal.

2. Travel costs. Airlines for America, an industry trade organization, projects that the number of air travelers will rise 3 percent during this year’s 12-day Thanksgiving travel period – averaging about 65,000 more passengers a day compared to last year – driven in part by lower airfare made possible by greater competition.

If you’re planning to fly in November or December, then cheaper airfare is welcome news. But with a growing number of airlines now charging for checked baggage, fees could wipe out the savings. If you’re planning to check bags (maybe to carry presents or cold-weather apparel), Hayes suggests factoring that into your airline choice. “If you’re a family of four, $50 extra per person is an extra $200,” he says. (Remember, that’s one-way.) Southwest Airlines lets passengers fly with two free checked bags, and you also may get free checked bags if you have an airline credit card or elite status with a particular airline.

3. Self-gifting. Holiday sales can create the urge to “self-gift,” buying items for yourself you might not normally buy while you’re on the hunt for others on your gift list. NRF predicts that more than half (55.8 percent) of holiday shoppers will splurge on themselves and/or others for non-gift items, spending an average of $131.59.

Even the experts aren’t immune to this temptation. “I know that if I walk into Best Buy, I get distracted with all the cool gadgets in there,” admits Kathleen Grace, a certified financial planner and managing director at United Capital’s office in Boca Raton, Florida. “I was in there buying a tablet for my daughter’s birthday, and I walked by the Fitbits.” (She resisted the temptation but also dropped hints to friends in case they’re looking for gift ideas for her.) Grace tries to shop online for this reason. Another way to prevent overspending on self-giftsis to give yourself a cooling off period. The desire for the item often dissipates a few days after you’ve left the store and given the purchase more thought.

4. Festive outfits. Holiday party invites can bring the urge to buy a new outfit or two, whether for a black-tie dinner with clients or an ugly sweater party with roommates. “Is it necessary to buy a new outfit?” Grace asks. “It goes back to needs versus wants.” If it’s within your budget, it could make sense to invest in a few timeless, high-quality items you’ll re-wear or inexpensive accessories that dress up items you already own.

For trendier items you’ll only wear once, consider swapping dresses or accessories with friends or renting through services like Rent the Runway. And for ugly sweaters, hit your local thrift store. You can always embellish with ribbon or fabric scraps if you want to up the kitsch factor.

5. Extra gifts. If you’re a planner, you’ve probably already set aside cash to buy gifts for close friends and family. But sometimes gifting needs creep up on us. “People forget about the one-off, the uncle or the aunt or the neighbor to give a gift,” says Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner and president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, which has offices in Sacramento, California, and New York. “Or going to holiday parties, they don’t plan the expense to bring a gift.” She suggests making a list of how many gifts you need to buy for the holiday season so you’re not caught off guard.

Surprises can still happen, like when you discover last-minute that your cousin’s friend’s roommate is coming to Christmas dinner or your co-worker surprises you with an unexpected gift card. For situations like this, Hayes suggests having a gift box in which you keep generic gifts in your house like candles or bottles of wine. “Another way to make sure everyone gets a gift without breaking the bank is to make some caramel popcorn, divide it into multiple smaller bags with ribbons on them and attach a small little personalized note,” he says.

6. Credit card interest. If you forget to plan for these items and go over budget, then credit card interest could be another unintended consequence of holiday spending. If you must carry a credit card balance, try to use the card with the lowest interest rate, or take advantage of a 0 percent introductory period and pay off the balance before the grace period ends.

Foss recommends that clients shop with cash only so they can’t overspend. She also suggests using Acorns, an Android and iOS app that automatically rounds up everyday purchases and invests the spare change for you. “I’ve done that for a year now, and most people are amazed [how quickly it adds up],” she says. That way, you won’t have the guilt of extra credit card bills come January.