Avoiding future debt from holiday present

Anne Maneikis has a problem with the holidays. She goes crazy.

The rest of the year, she is perfectly sane. Thirty-seven and single, she works as an account executive for an advertising agency, managing budgets.

She balances her checkbook, carries no credit card debt, has accumulated $60,000 in her 401(K), and has set aside $9,000 in cash for emergencies. She has a $450,000 house in Norwood, bought two years ago with help from her parents, and she's furnishing it gradually. The loveseat in her living room? It was plucked from a curbside and reupholstered.

But come Christmas, Maneikis is the anti-Scrooge, lavishing gifts on her parents and three siblings. "I take the holidays to heart," she says. One Christmas past, she bought bumpers for the family boat. Last year, she searched for a $300 radio that could pick up signals from Asia, after her dad mentioned he was curious about talk shows in China. She also dropped more than $100 to buy a Burberry umbrella for her stylish older sister.

Along the way, she'll sneak in a gift or two or three for herself. "Things get out of control," Maneikis said. "My question is, how do I get through the holidays without overspending and getting in debt?"

The Globe paired up Maneikis with Sharon Rich, a fee-only financial planner, whose Belmont firm, Womoney, specializes in financial counseling for women. Rich asked first for a detailed reckoning of Maneikis's income and expenses, then probed her habits, hopes, and plans for retirement.

Was there anyone in the wings? Any plans for children? How well off were her parents, and could she expect some inheritance? "I use any excuse to get at the big picture," Rich said.

The big picture showed that Maneikis was outspending her income of $79,712 a year by almost $2,400 and using her cash reserve as a backup. Rich's first goal was to give Maneikis a budget that would keep her in the black. Maneikis had already refinanced twice, locking in a 30-year note at a good 5.5 percent rate, so there was no wiggle room on her biggest fixed expense. Nor was she interested in taking on a roommate.

"The reality is, it is expensive to be single and own a home," said Rich. "A lot of people don't live alone for that reason."

Maneikis could improve cash flow by claiming more federal exemptions in taxes. But where to cut? Determined to stay fit, she didn't want to give up her gym membership. She spent little on movies or concerts or travel.

Two things popped out at Rich: the $3,600 a year Maneikis allocated for clothing and $2,500 estimated for haircuts and color, $80 and $160 a pop. Maneikis decided she could save $1,800 a year by buying clothes for three seasons instead of four and visiting the salon less frequently.

Maneikis's original gift budget, which included Christmas, birthdays, and special occasion presents for friends, was $2,200. That was cut to $1,675. The holiday medicine: trimming back her parents' gifts from $200 to $150 apiece at Christmas and siblings from $100 apiece to $50 to $75.

"The trick is not cutting out these pleasures but keeping these amounts in the back of your mind, so if you want to spend more one time, the next time you spend less," said Rich.

A few days later, Maneikis was still "blown away" by the comprehensive advice provided by Rich. "But I don't want to get so obsessed with this that I turn into a miser," she said. To be considered for a Money Makeover, fill out the form at the "Your Money" section of, or call 617-929-2916 and ask for an application.