I love to eat my way through the holiday season. The entire month overflows with delicacies that I won't see for another year -- savory latkes made by one of my best friends, my mother-in-law's whipped-from-scratch eggnog, bubbly champagne on New Year's Eve, and home-baked cookies in all shapes and sizes all month long.
Every year, I enter the month of December with a little trepidation. I always fear I will completely lose control when faced with so many temptations. In the end, I overindulge occasionally and feel my waistband tighten a little, but I have yet to hide from the guests in order to wolf down the rest of the pecan pie and wash it down with the remnants of several bottles of wine. (You'll have to check with me in January to see if this remains true this year.)
It's no different with our holiday shopping. As a nation of gift buyers, we promise ourselves every year that we will hold back and keep the holiday spending in check. That resolve starts to fade when we're faced with mountains of toys, sweaters, and electronics, leading to a little extra spending here and there. While we may not be headed for bankruptcy, our bank accounts definitely end up feeling a little lighter.
A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports revealed that this year was no different. Holiday shoppers made big plans for fiscal prudence before Thanksgiving, and the discipline started to crumble almost as quickly as the shopping began.
Before Black Friday, 51% percent of shoppers said they would spend less on gifts this year. Just after Black Friday, that number fell to 44%. The number who said they plan to spend more on gifts this year increased from 18% before Thanksgiving to 22% after Thanksgiving.
But the same polling firm found that only a hyper-organized 12% of us have finished our holiday shopping, so there's still time to regain some control over our wallets. Here are some ideas for reining in the urge to spend before you're too panicked about getting everything done to even notice the price of the gifts you're buying.
Make a list (and check it twice).
Write down all the gifts you've already purchased. Now, write down the approximate cost of each of those gifts. Go get yourself a glass of eggnog. Now, get out the calculator and add up the amount you've already spent. Refill your glass of eggnog if necessary. Lastly, make a list of everyone on your gift list who still needs a present. If you have a gift in mind, write it down with the approximate cost.
From this list, you can probably tell already whether you're on a path to overindulgence this year. But all is not lost. You still have time to prevent a big holiday hangover in January. Now's the time to think carefully about how much you want to spend in total on holiday gifts. Divide up your remaining budget among the gifts you have yet to purchase.
Take small bites.
This is also good advice when trying to stuff an entire slice of fruitcake in your mouth at one time, but we're here to talk about money. Spend a couple minutes every day thinking about holiday gifts. This does not mean you have to go shopping every day. There's an entire World Wide Web full of ideas that will appear at your fingertips. While you're looking around, do some comparison shopping for gifts you already have in mind.
It's much easier to get the brain working creatively on gift ideas that won't break the budget if you're not in a full-fledged holiday panic. I think it might actually be impossible to purchase a dozen gifts on Dec. 24 and have any notion of how much money you've spent. (I'm almost certain there's a scientist somewhere who has a lab rat to prove that.)
Pass on dessert.
With credit cards, it's very easy to have your cake and eat it, too. You get to purchase all these fabulous gifts and feel no pinch in the wallet! No pinch, that is, until January, when the statement arrives in the mail, without so much as a pretty bow or special gift tag. Instead, buy as many gifts as you can the old-fashioned way -- with cash, check or debit card. (This is not good advice if you're shopping on the Internet, where a credit card can protect you from fraud and allow you to dispute unauthorized charges.)
Avoiding credit cards will force you to make some other adjustments in December's budget to compensate for the spending. The gift you'll get in return is the pleasant surprise that January's credit card bill isn't nearly as high as it was last year. Unfortunately, it will do nothing to help you fit into your skinny jeans after the holidays.