Susan Cosgrove (Staff)

Susan Cosgrove holds a festive piggy bank.

The holidays are the most wonderful -- and most expensive -- time of the year. Nobody knows that more than Susan Cosgrove.

A Neshoba County native, Cosgrove became an agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in 1992 as a home economist in Coahoma County. Now, 21 counties in the state benefit from her expertise in financial management. She develops and delivers financial management programming to MSU Extension agents and clients as the family resource management agent for the state’s southeastern region.

The holiday season is a time when financial management can be particularly challenging for parents buying gifts for children and families searching for the right presents for their loved ones. Lack of planning and not sticking to a budget are two of the main problems Cosgrove sees consumers face each December.

“We should have a budget all the time, but for holidays we should have a specific holiday budget,” Cosgrove said. “Consider who you are going to buy gifts for and how much you are going to spend. Extra expenses incurred during the holiday season that you don’t have the rest of the year -- such as travel, food and entertainment -- also need to be taken into account.”

Financial literacy is one of many skills Mississippians learn through research-based information provided by the MSU Extension Service. Extension coordinators and agents in each of the state’s 82 counties share knowledge in agriculture, natural resources, community development, youth development, and family and consumer sciences. MSU Extension also oversees the state’s 4-H program.

“One thing I’ve really enjoyed is working closely with newly hired younger agents,” Cosgrove said. “Relationships with them have been very rewarding.”

Cosgrove has been based in Newton County since 2000. In addition to being the area agent for family resource management, she was the coordinator of the county’s Extension office from 2006 to 2013.

As with many common New Year’s resolutions, saving money is most likely achieved by making a plan and sticking to it. To get started on a budget, Cosgrove suggested tracking every penny spent for one week and writing down each transaction.

“You need to know where all your money is going -- not just the house payment, car payment or light bill, but everyday expenses,” she said. “Don’t forget about those non-monthly expenses, such as car tags, insurance payments and taxes.”

Another strategy is to evaluate monthly expenses not related to necessary amenities. Cosgrove suggested cutting back on monthly phone and television packages and finding alternates to certain items on grocery lists.

“Reevaluate your menu and see if you can find less expensive food choices while still eating healthy,” she said. “Don’t make purchases just because you have coupons because that can be a way of spending extra money.”

She also recommended setting up an emergency fund separate from checking or savings accounts. The fund should be large enough to cover normal expenses for one to three months.

For more financial management tips, view the MSU Extension Publication 2398, “Financial Fitness Exercises to Shape Up Your Spending,” at https://goo.gl/4wGBD4.