How to overcome the post-holiday shopping financial hangover
It’s the most wonderful time of the year—time to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. But that also means having to buy a wealth of gifts. And, especially around the holidays, people find themselves making some financial mistakes when it comes to shopping, whether that means overspending, waiting until the last minute to purchase gifts or not doing their homework on prices. And all of these can take a toll on your wallet, bank account and even credit card debt.
“There’s nothing you can buy that will give your family more pleasure than a happy you,” says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University. “And you’re not happy when you’re in debt.”
Don’t fret. There are a number of ways to avoid these common gift shopping blunders and help keep your spending down. Here’s how to shop smarter this holiday season.
Start early - By beginning your gift shopping as early as possible, you avoid spending a large lump sum on the gifts all at once, which can burn a hole in your wallet fast. When you spread it out, you reduce the chance of a big year-end credit card bill, not to mention it allows you more time to really put thought into your gifts. With that time also comes the opportunity to scope out sales and deals throughout the year. Sometimes it even pays to start shopping for next year right after the holidays are over—that way all the holiday-themed products are discounted.
Make a list - Many times, consumers head to the mall, only to get sidetracked by products that people on their gift list might not even want, so they buy and buy and buy without realizing how many items they bought—when they could’ve stuck to just one. Making a focused list (asking your loved ones what they wish for in advance helps) helps you stay on track and also helps you avoid forgetting anyone.
“The purpose of the holidays is to show your appreciation and celebration, not to prove you spent the most money,” says April Masini, a money and relationship expert.
Do your research - Have you ever bought a gift at a store and then found out it was listed for half the price online? If it’s a popular item you’re buying, chances are it will be selling for different prices at various retailers, and it’s up to you to find the best price. While shopping online sometimes incurs shipping costs, many times retailers offer deals for free shipping around the holidays, and you can also take advantage of sites such as Ebates.com, which gives you back a percentage of money spent, by shopping online.
Be wary of using a credit card - Especially if you plan to pay off the balance over the course of a few months. Even if you buy the item on sale, credit cards don’t always pay off in the end.
“Don’t fool yourself: Purchasing a gift at 20 percent off and then paying for it over several months wipes out any savings you may have enjoyed,” says the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s Gail Cunningham. In addition, there have been several studies that have found that consumers who pay for items with a credit card tend to spend more than do those who pay with cash.
Set a budget - Perhaps the simplest way to be smart about holiday shopping is to make a realistic budget—and stick to it.
“When you have something real and static to look [for], you can’t kid yourself about what you had in mind,” says Lynn Ballou, a managing partner with Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors. Determine how much money you feel is a respectable amount to pay for each loved one you’re buying gifts for (e.g., $50 for Mom, $50 for Dad), and then search for items within that budget.
By following these steps, you can guarantee you’ll make smart holiday gift financial choices this year. Happy shopping—and happy holidays.
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