The holidays are upon us, which means that Americans will soon be putting themselves at risk of racking up costly debt and wrecking their finances in the process. And while part of that stems from not being strategic when shopping, much of it comes down to overly aggressive advertising and other folks' expectations. In fact, 49% of Americans say they're feeling the pressure to spend more than they can afford this holiday season, according to new data from SunTrust Banks.
If you'd rather not close out the holiday season deep in the hole, there are steps you can take to keep your spending in check. Here are a few to start with.
1. Map out a spending budget
Many folks approach their holiday shopping with reckless abandon rather than take the time to figure out how much they actually need to spend or can afford to spend. A better bet? Make yourself a holiday budget. Figure out how many gifts you'll need to buy, how much travel you're looking at, and what parties you'll need to contribute to or host. Then, estimate what each of those items will cost and total up those figures. If you have enough money in a savings account, or from your paychecks, to cover it, then you're all set. If not, you'll need to cut some corners to ensure that you don't get in over your head.
2. Research big-ticket items before you buy them
The holidays can be a great time to score awesome deals on big-ticket items like furniture and electronics, but buying those items blindly can cause you to spend more money than necessary. If you have your eyes on a major purchase, take the time to research it in advance. Figure out what model number is best for you and then compare prices at various retailers to see which is the most competitive, keeping in mind that free extras like extended warranties can add value as well.
Furthermore, make sure you're doing a true apples-to-apples comparison. You might see what looks like the same 65-inch TV offered at two different stores for varying prices, but if the model numbers are different, it could be that the cheaper unit is made with inferior components that cause it to wear out sooner.
3. Don't shop sales for the sake of getting a bargain
Sales only save you money on items you were already planning on buying. Or, to put it another way, if you see a $150 food processor on sale for $80 but you already have a fully functional food processor at home, buying that item for the sake of snagging a deal won't save you money. Rather, it will cost you $70 for no good reason. Before you buy something with a sale tag slapped on it, ask yourself whether you intended to purchase it in the first place, and move on if not.
4. Ditch the plastic
There are several benefits to shopping with credit cards, like the rewards points you'll collect for making purchases. But there's a danger to carrying credit cards around, and it's the leeway to spend more money than you were initially planning on. If you're serious about limiting your spending this holiday season, ditch your credit cards. Instead, make a shopping list for each store you visit, figure out how much your purchases there will cost, and bring only enough money to cover those specific items. After all, if you can't physically pay for extra stuff, you'll eliminate the option to buy it.
Overspending during the holidays can turn an otherwise joyous season into a period of stress. So don't give into the pressure to spend too much. Instead, stay disciplined and be strategic when hitting the stores. You'll be thankful you did when you start the new year with a clean financial slate.