How to Avoid Common Winter Budget-Busters

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Winter car breakdown - woman call for help, road assistance
Alamy
From clothes to car repairs, things just seem to cost more in the winter. Add in holiday shopping, and even the most carefully-planned household budget can get crushed under the weight.

But the winter months don't have to wreck havoc on your budget. We talked to the experts to find out how to plan for, and avoid, some common expenses.

Season-Proof Your Wardrobe

Back when seasons were predictable, switching out one wardrobe for another was a quarterly ritual. But now, there's no reason to invest year after year in winter clothes. A few, well-chosen, high-quality items can blend with fall and spring clothes for a year-round look. And heavy, and expensive winter coats? One or two will do.

Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, says, "We seldom have prolonged exposure to the elements these days. Many of us go from our homes to our cars to our offices. There's really no need for the sort of heavy layers we used to need."

The same idea goes for a winter-only wardrobe. Skip buying heavy sweaters only practical a few weeks or months. Downing favors pieces that can be dressed up or down, or layered over, throughout the year. "I love seeing basic essentials like a nice dress or classy skirt and blouse, that work year-round, and can be dressed up with that season's color and accessory." For this fall, Downing recommends leopard accessories like a purse or heels, a belt or a scarf.

Get a Jump-Start on Car Problems

Bill Tatler, a Firestone mechanic in Brick, N.J., says that certain parts of a car are more likely to fail during the cold months, especially as a car repeatedly goes from being parked in below-freezing conditions to its standard operating temperature. "A battery will almost always go in the winter," Tatler says. "Hoses that are a little worn out should be replaced, because the changes in the temperature could cause them to blow."

Tatler recommends coating windshields with a water repellent like Rain-X to help prevent ice from sticking to them, topping off windshield wiper fluid often, and replacing wiper blades. (It's not necessary to replace the arms.) If windshield wipers stop working altogether, it's probably just a blown fuse, which is easy and inexpensive to replace.

For drivers of pick-up trucks, Tatler says, "Leave the snow in the bed. The extra weight will add some stability in cold weather, and when it gets warmer, and road conditions improve, the snow will naturally melt away." It may not be ideal for gas mileage, but that load of snow could mean the difference between a slide and an accident.

You've Got to Give (a Little!)

It's tempting to go overboard when holiday shopping for loved ones, but a bit of caution can save your from a budget blow-out. Skip the ultra-trendy items in favor of an "investment" piece; for example, a leather handbag for a new college graduate or an interview-appropriate tie for a jobseeker. Don't be afraid to ask what people want; sometimes the best gift is something that's truly needed.

Alternatively, focus on creating memories rather than giving material items. Gift certificates to a movie (with enough included for popcorn), a night out for two, or a weekend away with the family (or from them!) will last much longer than the memory of a sweater that's pushed into the back of a closet, and never seen again.

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