By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer
Wallets are opening up this holiday season.
Some of that spending will be rewarding, but some will lead to a debt hangover in 2012. Pausing to develop a spending plan can help limit impulsive credit card purchases and set your priorities for the coming year.
With that in mind, these 12 ways to spend $1,200 in 2012 offer a mix of the practical and the indulgent. Even if you don't have that much, the tips may give you some ideas on how to get the most from your money to help you and others.
1. Invest in your career.
Take steps to jump-start your career: Pursue a professional certification, sign up for a college course, get proactive about a job search.
Thinking about changing fields? Start with four hours of private coaching at $125 an hour to get an assessment, customized resume, targeted cover letter and a plan for your search. Then get group coaching to help brainstorm strategy. The Five O'Clock Club, a national career counseling and outplacement company, charges $380 for 10 weeks of coaching sessions by teleconference. Spend the remaining $320 on networking lunches and new clothes so you look sharp and feel confident.
You probably need the outside help. Only 3% of jobs are filled through search firms and 3% through ads, says Kate Wendleton, Five O'Clock's president.
2. Gear up with a new computer.
Dying for a razor-thin MacBook laptop? A $1,200 budget allows room only for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air ($1,000); the mid-range, 13.3-inch version runs $1,300. If a larger screen is essential, try one of the 13-inch Sony S Series laptops, with list prices starting at $800. Also consider if a tablet would work for you. Apple Inc.'s iPad 2, with a 9.7-inch screen, sells for as low as $499. Rumor has it the next-generation iPad 3 will be released early in the year. Another iPad rival is rolling out this month -- a new 10-inch tablet called the Asys Eee Pad Transformer Prime, also for $499.
At those prices, you could buy a tablet and a laptop for less than $1,200. The HP Pavilion g7, with a 17.3-inch screen, is a Consumer Reports Best Buy at $570.
3. Support a candidate or cause.
Change only comes about through involvement. Consider supporting candidates and issues you're passionate about in the coming election year.
You may not be in position to donate $1,200, but that amount falls easily within the allowable limits. An individual is allowed to give a maximum $2,500 per election to a candidate for federal office, or $5,000 per year to a political action committee that supports federal candidates. State laws vary. Political contributions are not tax-deductible.