Big retail is already well into holiday shopping season mode. Deals began on Nov. 1, and the pressure to get shoppers to buy will only increase in the coming weeks.
You can escape the holidays with your finances intact, but doing that involves making smart financial choices and avoiding temptation.
It's not going to be easy. Retailers want your money and will make every effort to get it. But it's possible if you have a plan and avoid these four big mistakes.
1. Don't buy without a plan
Special limited-time offers have already started, and that makes it tempting to buy before you miss out. You should not make any purchases until you put together a holiday shopping budget. You need to know both what you can afford and what areas you need to allocate money in.
You have to factor in all your expenses. Gifts may make up a big piece of your budget, but you also have to factor in travel, entertainment, and anything else you may want to spend on. If you plan to take your family on a trip, that may mean less money for gifts. It's a balance, and you can move priorities around, but you need to keep an eye on the bottom line.
2. Don't fall for deals you didn't already want
If a big-screen television costs 50% less than it usually does, that's only a good deal if you planned to buy one in the first place. Be careful about getting sucked into purchases because the price is right. If you spend $30 on something that usually costs $50, you spent $30 -- you didn't save $20.
3. Don't fail to check prices
Most Americans have smartphones and that makes it really easy to do price comparisons. Before you buy anything, check on that item's cost from at least two other sources. Ideally, you should check prices on any big purchases before you even leave the house.
Look for the retailer offering the best deal -- that may factor in more than cost. Sometimes, for bigger purchases, two retailers may offer similar prices, but one may throw in valuable extras. Look at the whole cost and make an informed decision.
4. Don't give in to your kids
Every parent wants to deliver a memorable holiday season for their child or children. That could mean buying them everything they want. But for many parents, that's unrealistic.
The holiday season can be a teaching opportunity, where you balance making your children happy with financial reality. Most people don't get everything they want, and parents can show their kids how choices are made. Kids need to learn how to deal with some level of disappointment. That should, of course, be mixed with happiness, but happiness does not have to mean getting everything you want.
Joy is about more than money
Big retail wants the holiday season to be about consumption, but you don't have to define your happiness that way. Have a budget and buy meaningful items. That may mean gifts, but it could also be gas money for travel or plane tickets to be with loved ones.
Remember that debt stays with you and can derail your long-term financial plans. Balance your holiday budget with your longer-term goals. It's possible to have a happy holiday season without spending a lot of money. Focus on the people who you want to spend time with, and making the most of the money you can actually afford to spend.