This post, authored by Claudia Mott, originally appeared on NJMoneyhelp.com

Q. Every year I promise myself I will save money for the holidays, and every year, some emergency comes up and I end up spending the money. How can I start a savings account for the holidays that I won’t ravage until it’s time?
— Spender

A. It’s probably too late for this year, but it’s a great goal to want to set aside the dollars that you’ll spend for future holidays.

This was the premise behind the Christmas Club accounts that used to be offered by banks and savings institutions to help their customers put money away over the course of the year, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

For those accounts, a regular deposit would be made weekly or monthly to grow the account until year end, she said.

While these accounts can still be found, you can set up a similar system on your own, Mott said.

“Use an existing savings account — or open one — so that the money you are putting aside is kept separate from your regular banking accounts,” she said. “Having accounts for specific purposes should help protect your holiday account from being used for regular expenses.”

The next step will be deciding how much you want to put away.

One option is to decide how much you want to save by the end of the year and how often you’ll make a deposit, she said. This will help you determine how much extra cash you need to have on a regular basis to fulfill your goal.

As an example, if you’d like to save $1,100 over the course of 11 months, that’s $100 a month or $50 every two weeks or so.

A second option is to look at your available cash flow — the difference between your net earnings and regular expenses — to determine what you can afford to save each pay period, she said.

“If you don’t feel that the amount of extra cash you have will get you to your goal, it may be time to take a deeper look into your spending habits to determine if any changes can be made to free up additional savings dollars,” she said.

There are apps that you can use on your phone, online or have installed on your computer — some are free, others have a fee to use or download — that can help you accomplish this, she said.

What’s most important is that you find the tool that’s right for you, Mott said.

“An app like Mint.com connects to your bank and credit card accounts and categorizes most of your transactions every time you log on making it easy to see where you’ve spent your money,” she said. “A computer-based tool like Quicken requires more hands-on time to download the transactions and put them into categories.”

Then there’s You Need a Budget (YNAB), which Mott said has a very user-friendly step-by-step process to help you determine where your dollars go.

And there are other similar tools you can use.

“If you find you need to dip into the holiday savings account to cover unusual expenses, you may need to focus on putting aside savings in an emergency or rainy day fund,” she said. “This is another savings account that is used to cover unexpected and unanticipated bills that may arise and provides a cash cushion when needed.”

Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp.com.

This story was originally published on Dec. 10, 2021.

NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.

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