Americans certainly don't seem to shy away from getting into the holiday spirit. From toys to gadgets to clothing, the average shopper spends over $900 on gifts. But while it's nice to be generous and spread some much-needed joy, there comes a point when all that spending can really mess up our finances.
That's why it's critical to create a holiday budget to help yourself stay on track. And the good news is that holiday budgets are rather common, with nearly two-thirds of the population taking the time to create them. There's just one problem -- most of those same folks end up exceeding them. In fact, 77% of Americans say they're planning to go over their holiday budgets, according to a Coinstar study.
Of course, that raises the question: What's the point of creating a budget if you're not going to follow it? But for some people, having that budget is crucial, because without it, who knows how far over the limit they'd actually go?
Think about it: You create a budget that allows for $500 in purchases, and wind up spending $600. It's not a great situation, but had you not known that your limit was $500, you could've easily come away having spent $800 or more.
But while exceeding a budget is, in theory, better than shopping blindly without guideline at all, it's still not a good idea. For one thing, the more you overspend, the more likely you are to land in debt. Not only could that end up costing you more money, but it could also wreck your credit. Furthermore, debt can be a major source of financial anxiety, and that's just not what you need during the holidays. A better approach, therefore, is to not only create that budget but to follow it closely. Here are a few tips to ensure that you don't get led astray.
1. Put your shopping list in writing and take it with you everywhere
It's hard to walk away when good deals seem to abound wherever you go. But here's a news flash: It's easy enough to slap a "sale" sticker on something and market it as a bargain, but if you end up buying items on sale that you never needed in the first place, you won't wind up saving a dime. Rather, you'll end up spending more money than necessary. Once you've mapped out your holiday budget, make a list of the specific things it'll buy you and stick to it, no matter what sort of tempting offers land in your lap after the fact. Furthermore, put that list in writing (as opposed to just keeping it in your head) because that'll give you more accountability, which can lead you to make smarter decisions.
2. Only shop with cash
There are plenty of good reasons to use a credit card for your holiday shopping. Not only might you snag free reward dollars, but you'll also enjoy perks like purchase protection and price rewind programs that virtually guarantee you the best possible deals. But if you tend to abuse your credit card and historically have not exercised self-control while shopping for the holidays, then you may be better off ditching your credit card in favor of cash. If you make a list of the things you need and only bring enough money to purchase them, you'll eliminate the option to overspend.
3. Be mindful of the best times to shop
Planning to snag the bulk of your purchases on Black Friday? You'd better rethink that approach. According to The Wall Street Journal, Black Friday is by no means the best day to shop if you want to get the best deals, and additional research confirms that many deals peak the week before Thanksgiving, as opposed to the day after it. If your goal is to get the most bang for your buck (which, clearly, it should be), do your research rather than sit back and wait for popular sale days. Figure out which items you need to buy and track them at various retailers. The less you spend on gifts and the like, the more wiggle room you'll have for the other holiday expenses that inevitably creep up.
Overspending during the holidays could lead to a needlessly stressful start to 2018. Before you do your shopping this year, figure out how much you can afford to spend, and make a point not to exceed that figure. Better yet, aim to come in under budget and give yourself the gift of financial flexibility going into the new year.
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