PETTY CASH: One of the biggest hurdles to saving money is figuring out where you're spending it.
Americans cannot account for an average of $21 per week in cash spending, according to a recent telephone survey commissioned by Visa Inc.
That adds up to more than $1,000 per year.
The poll of more than 1,000 adults in the U.S. found that mystery purchases happened most often while buying food and other groceries, while almost a third said they can't account for money spent enjoying a night on the town. About a quarter of respondents said dining out leads to unexplained expenditures.
Meanwhile, consumers worldwide are unable to account for 20 percent of their cash spending each week, according to interviews with more than 12,000 adults around the globe.
"Despite consumers' focus on controlling spending, they are still losing track of a considerable amount of money each year, particularly when shopping or spending leisure time with friends and family _ key activities during the holiday season," said Wayne Best, Visa's chief economist.
The survey also found that younger U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 24 claim to lose track of $2,500 annually, more than twice the average amount.
The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
LAST-MINUTE SHOPPING: Don't let the stress of last-minute holiday shopping push you past your budget.
Atlanta-based Consumer Credit Counseling Service offers these tips to stay calm amid the mall madness and avoid impulse purchases while picking presents:
_ Jot down all the people you still need to find gifts for and how much money you can allocate to each gift. This will help you stay within your holiday spending budget. If there are people you won't see until after the holidays, you may be able to postpone purchasing their gift and take advantage of sales in late December and January.
_ The next few days are crunch time for retailers and many will offer steep discounts and other incentives to encourage shoppers to buy, particularly for electronics and toys. While these deals can help you save on items you already planned to buy, try and avoid buying something just because it's on sale.
_ Order online. You will pay substantially more for overnight delivery, so be sure to factor those costs into your budget. If you're looking for a special item, don't forget auction Web sites like eBay.
_ If you know the person's interests, a magazine subscription or prepaid membership could be a quick fix. Know someone who loves to cook? Wrap up a single issue of a cooking magazine with a note letting them know they'll be getting one every month.
_ Framed photographs or inexpensive scrapbooks that you put together or have done online are always a hit. Spend an evening baking and give containers of goodies, or offer a commitment to getting the car washed, a free night of babysitting, the garage or gutters cleaned, the lawn mowed, the dog walked or even the dinner cooked. Write your gift of service out on a nice card or print it up on your computer. Sign, seal, wrap and deliver. Remember that some of the most appreciated gifts don't cost a thing.
MILITARY-TO-CIVILIAN RESUME: People leaving the military face a unique challenge in their job search: They have to translate their experience into skills that will resonate with civilian employers and recruiters.
Rephrasing military duties as relevant job experience can be difficult, say Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark, authors of "Expert Resumes for Military-to-Civilian Transitions." The goal is to downplay titles while highlighting expertise with an achievement-focused resume.
Remember, your entire background counts, including everything from a 10-year infantry career with the U.S. Army to time as a volunteer for a local organization. Consider any experience acquired in event planning, logistics, volunteer training, fundraising, media affairs or contract negotiations.
Some recruiters or military placement services do a good job of matching veterans with employers. Meanwhile, preference is given to disabled veterans, some who served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces during certain times periods and those in military campaigns. It's important to note those details on a resume.
Dependents and spouses of those on active duty also receive preference for government jobs.