Coronavirus has impacted our lives in many ways for months. Now, as we prepare for our first full holiday season under COVID-19, many families are up against another challenge: holiday spending pressures.
“On one hand, we are in a recession with mass unemployment and less ability to go shopping in public spaces,” says Meg Nordmann, author of “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas.” “On the other hand, we have gone so long without seeing many of our loved ones in person that we might tend to overspend in an effort to show how much we love and miss these people.”
No matter how you plan to spend the holidays, it is important to come prepared. Here are common holiday spending mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake No. 1: Ignoring the expense
One common mistake is failing to determine how the cost will fit into your overall personal finances.
“We all know when the holidays are going to roll around every year, and yet, they always seem to take us by surprise,” says Amy Maliga, a financial educator for Take Charge America, a Phoenix-based nonprofit credit counseling agency. “Planning ahead for your holiday spending will help reduce stress while keeping you on track with financial goals.”
Solution: Craft a plan
A plan keeps you organized and on track with your long list of to-dos to complete for the holiday season. In your plan, include a list of each person you plan to buy a gift for to help you decide what you can afford.
“Consider how much fits into your budget, then determine how much you can spend on each person on your list,” says Leslie H. Tayne, a debt relief attorney and founder of Tayne Law Group in New York. “Not having a plan can make you much more vulnerable to impulse buys or getting roped into spending more than you can afford, which can lead to unmanageable holiday debt.”
Mistake No. 2: Overspending on the extras
According to Nordmann, marketers would have us believe that if we want to show we truly love someone, it must be “bigger, better, and more, more, more.”
It’s all too easy to fall for these tempting shopping pitches, even when we’re shopping on our phones and laptops. As Nordmann sees it, the risk is even great there since it’s even easier to spend more than you intend in an online transaction — you never feel the actual exchange of money happen.
“If our shopping is to move primarily online this year, we might lose more of our dollars because of how easy it is to ‘add to cart’ or purchase with one click,” Nordmann says.
Solution: Make a holiday budget
A budget can help solve your holiday woes.
“Make a list and check it often,” says Jason Gaughan, a credit cards executive at Bank of America. “To create a holiday budget, you’ll want to first list out all of your planned expenses, such as decorations, travel, gifts and hosting costs. Also, remember to consider any hidden costs associated with the holidays, like smaller purchases (wrapping paper, gift exchanges, and shipping fees) or year-end tips, which can add up quickly.”
As you shop, remain vigilant with your spending, too.
“Retailers love to try to rope you into spending extra money,” Tayne says. “If you’re planning to buy a gift, try to avoid falling prey to the extras that go along with it. For example, if you’re buying a video gaming console, the salesperson may try to sell you extra controllers, games, and even warranties or insurance protection. While some of these things can be a nice addition to the gift, consider what’s actually necessary and what fits into your budget.”
Mistake No. 3: Waiting until the last minute
Not everyone is getting an early start on their holiday shopping and that delay could cost them.
“When you wait to shop for gifts, finding the perfect gift at the right price is tricky,” says Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized consumer and money-savings expert. “Not only do you have limited time to compare prices and look for deals, but you may run into limited inventory, requiring you to spend more on something that may not be that perfect item you wanted to give in the first place.”
As she sees it, waiting to buy all your gifts in December could put you under more budgetary strain. “This is when you’re more likely to use a credit card, racking up a balance that you can’t afford to pay off and ultimately interest on those purchases,” Woroch says.
Solution: Spread your planning throughout the year
“Avoid this holiday shopping pitfall by starting to hunt down deals now,” Woroch says. “There are plenty of retailers that are promoting early holiday deals. Best Buy is already offering Black Friday sales now and promises to match any price drops from now until Black Friday.”
Woroch recommends that you enlist the help of mobile tools to find the best sales. Paribus, for example, tracks prices of items you buy online and will help you get money back for anything that goes on sale during the retailer’s price adjustment window.
Mistake No. 4: Buying too many gifts
“One of the top spending mistakes people make, during the holidays, is feeling like they need to provide the best gift for everyone in their life,” says Bridget Stoker, founder of the blog How Do The Jones Do It. “They will often use credit to impress people with a gift that will likely end up in a garage sale pile within just a few months.”
Solution: Get creative
Before you make that purchase, determine whether you are giving something of true value to a loved one. Nordmann suggests you ask yourself these questions:
Are you just shopping around hoping for “inspiration” to hit?
Have you asked them what they need?
Have you peeked at their public wishlists or Pinterest boards to see what interests them?
Are you gifting clutter that will add to their overwhelm, anxiety and take away their time?
“Determine if the gift you’re giving is bringing actual value, is useful and high quality,” Nordmann says. “Two types of gifts that can meet these criteria are fine consumables (think artisan coffee, craft cocktails, fine chocolates or anything handmade locally) or experience gifts (think pre-purchased tickets to the art museum, mini-golf, spa treatment, or a babysitter for a date night).”
You may also want to rethink your gift-giving strategy altogether.
“If your large extended family all exchanges gifts, consider drawing names, doing a white elephant gift exchange, or just giving gifts to the kids in the family,” Take Charge’s Maliga says. “With friends, set up a spending limit or agree not to exchange gifts and plan a fun activity instead. It might feel a little awkward to bring it up, but others will secretly appreciate it when you lighten the pressure to exchange expensive gifts.”
Mistake No. 5: Putting financial priorities on the back burner
Before buying anyone a gift, make sure that all of your financial needs are covered first.
“While it’s noble to want to be generous during the holiday season, it’s still important to prioritize your financial health,” Tayne Law Group’s Tayne says. “Ignoring your financial well-being while holiday shopping can lead to debt, which can start your New Year off on the wrong foot. The negative impacts could even extend beyond the next year. It’s certainly possible to have a memorable holiday season with your loved ones without putting yourself into a bad place financially.”
In particular, watch out for the danger of taking on debt to pay for gifts.
“The average American household that puts Christmas and holiday gifts on a credit card will not pay that debt off until the following July,” says Todd Christensen, an education manager for the debt relief non-profit Money Fit. “Most households, as soon as they pay off their holiday debt in July, start to spend that same amount on other purchases.”
Solution: Be financially savvy
Shop around before committing to buying anything.
“The competition is going to be hot and heavy this year when it comes to online deals, and the big players, from Target to Walmart to Best Buy to Amazon, are going to be fluctuating prices often in an attempt to win the most sales and maximize profits at the same time,” Woroch says. “Those who fail to comparison shop could be leaving money on the table. The good news is you can automate your deal shopping by downloading a few free savings tools to your browser.”
She recommends Cently as one option to automatically track coupons and deals.
If you use a credit card for holiday spending, have a plan to pay it off quickly, Maliga says.
“You’ll give yourself the best gift of all if you can make the holidays special while staying true to your financial priorities,” she says.
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