Last Updated: November 15, 2010
Holiday shoppers, like Santa Claus, could stand a little belt tightening. Many families should be keeping their holiday spending in check. That's easier said than done. Americans routinely overspend what they plan to every holiday.
Here are some tips from financial planners to help you keep your spending in check and the New Year free of burdensome holiday debt:
- Put a bright bow on your budget. Shopping for gifts during the holidays is no different from shopping the rest of the year — you'll want to determine how much you can realistically afford to spend. Look at your holiday budget in light of your overall budget, especially during these tough times. (Don't forget to include wrapping paper, postage, decorations, travel and entertainment expenses associated with the holidays.) Let your family know you're watching your pennies this season. This may not sound "in the holiday spirit," but you don't want the bright greens and reds of the holiday turning to the blues of January and February as you struggle to pay off your holiday debts. The best gift you can give your family is financial stability.
- Don't count on money you don't have. Don't base your holiday budget on a hot stock sale or a bonus or raise that may not come through by the end of the year.
- Make a gift list and stick to it. With your overall budget in mind, make a list of the people (and charities) you want to buy for, what you want to buy for them and the amount you want to spend for each person. Take the list with you when you go shopping and avoid impulse shopping, which is a major contributor to budget-busting spending during the holidays. Take a calculator along, if necessary, to make sure you don't exceed your limits. Gift certificates also can curb expenditures.
- Start early. You may not be in the holiday shopping mood yet, but shopping early provides several advantages. First, you can comparison shop and watch for sales, which can mean huge savings. Second, you're less prone to impulse shopping. Third, waiting until the last days often means you can't be as selective and you're more likely to pay full price or simply grab something expensive out of desperation. Waiting last minute also can mean expensive last-minute postage.
- Start late. The opposite strategy is to start late — after the holidays, when retailers hold big post-holiday sales. You may not want to do this for smaller items, but it can really pay for big ticket items, just let the person who's receiving the gift know what you're doing.
- Pay cash. If you've got the discipline and the cash to pay off all credit-card charges every month, fine. But even then, it's easier to overspend with a credit card than by paying cold hard cash. Credit cards are a major source for debt problems any time of the year, but especially during the holidays. Credit counselors report that debt problems rise substantially following the holidays. Rebuff credit card and department-store card offers. The holiday deals may be tempting, but you could easily end up spending far more than you save with them during the rest of the year.
- Be creative. Homemade gifts or offers to baby-sit or do something special for someone can be an inexpensive, yet very personal gift.
- Start saving for next year. It never hurts to sock away a little money every month between now and the next holiday season. You'll earn a little interest and when next season rolls around, you'll have the cash to pay for gifts instead of running up debt.