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A Season for Saving?

'Tis the season... for profligate spending, that is. Unfortunately savings is not at the top of most people's lists during this officially sanctioned shopping season.

Still, socking money away for college, retirement, and a gold-leaf fake fir should never leave the forefront of your mind. The nonprofit Consumer Federation of America agrees. We're happy to leave you with a little reminder of the organization's four-step savings strategy (part of its America Saves program) to ponder this long weekend while doing your holiday chores.

Step 1: Set goals. This is the fun part. Think about what you want for you and your family in the short term (one to five years) and long term (10 years or longer). Chances are, a few of those goals require some money to achieve. What better time to think about the future than when you're surrounded by family and friends stuffed to the brim with turkey and cranberry creations? Load the dishwasher, and start brainstorming.

Step 2: Just do it. Yeah, we know -- easier said than done. But it's easier to reach your goals if you consider them an automatic part of your budget. Here's a 60-second snapshot on planning for near-term expenses. And for those with dreams of retirement dancing in their heads, here's some light reading (really!) on making your golden years truly shine. A cautionary note for those who feel savings zeal: If you find your monthly budget pinched to the bone, don't abandon the idea of saving. Assess, adjust, and carry on. This may mean scaling back your goals or delaying a few.

Step 3: Choose savings and investment products wisely. Hear, hear! There's nothing worse than watching the down payment for your next house dwindle because the market enters a slump. Conversely, don't get too conservative with your long-term stash. Inflation has a nasty way of turning nest eggs into a pile of twigs. Investing ideas are all around you -- in the products you use and the place where you work. Do your research, and seek help if you need it. And remember, time is the No. 1 factor in determining where to put your savings. Familiarize yourself with this concept, and you'll be the most popular person at the office party punch bowl.

Step 4: Give your plan an annual checkup. We're talking at least once a year, people. If you've automated your savings plan (technology and direct deposit are wonderful things, no?), your checkup should go smoothly. If you want a second or third opinion, find a trusted financial pro whose paycheck isn't padded at your expense. Shuffle funds around where needed, and go back to addressing your Christmas cards. When next year's spending season rolls around, you'll be amazed by how flush you feel.

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