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Can You Afford to Spend a Month's Rent on Holiday Shopping?

By Maurie Backman - Updated Nov 28, 2018 at 1:02PM

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The average American is spending close to a month's rent in the stores this season. And frankly, that's madness.

We all know that the holidays are an expensive time of year. But this season, a large number of Americans are on the verge of going overboard. The average consumer plans to spend $1,327 on his or her 2018 holiday shopping haul, according to GOBankingRates. That's close to the national median rent of $1,445, and it's also a massive amount to be spending, especially when we consider that 58% of U.S. adults have less than $1,000 in savings.

Further compounding the issue is the fact that more than 25% of Americans admit they've racked up debt in the course of their holiday shopping. Last season, in fact, the average consumer came out over $1,000 in the hole.

Woman holding shopping bags and wine glass

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

If you'd rather not wreck your finances this holiday season, you'll need to plan appropriately and shop wisely. Here are a few tips that can help you survive the coming month without blowing too much money you can't afford to spend.

1. Set a spending budget

Just as it's a good idea to set a budget for your monthly expenses, so too it is wise to examine your available resources and figure out how much you can actually afford to spend when shopping this year. So rather than wing it, take a look at your savings account balance and see how much money you have available (keeping in mind that you should, ideally, always have three months of living expenses in the bank, which means you don't want to dip below that threshold). Then, add in whatever spare cash you expect your paychecks to provide in the coming weeks, and come up with a total.

Then, work backward from there. If you see that you'll have, say, $200 at your disposal from incoming earnings and another $500 from savings, that's $700 to spend. Avoid surpassing that amount, and you won't wind up in debt.

2. Establish priorities

Sometimes, overspending during the holidays comes from a place of good intentions. You want to be generous with everyone on your list, so you hit the stores in the hopes of finding the best possible gift for each important person in your life, cost be damned.

The problem with this approach, though, is that it can land you in debt if you aren't careful, so rather than take that risk, make a list of the people you want to buy gifts for, and order those folks by level of priority. (Hint: Your mom should probably top that list, while that old college roommate you see twice a year might fall toward the bottom.) Once you have your hierarchy, divvy up your available cash so that you're allocating a fair amount to the people you want to splurge on, and leaving just enough left over to buy something respectable for those folks whose gifts are more obligatory than anything else.

3. Shop only with cash

When you walk into just about any given retailer during the holidays, you're apt to get smacked with a series of "sale" signs that cause you to ignore your initial shopping lists in favor of snagging deals. A good way to avoid needless impulse purchases, and the debt they tend to drive people into, is to shop only with cash. If you make a list of the items you're seeking to buy and take only enough money with you to purchase those things, you'll take the option to overspend off the table. And while that may not be a particularly fun way to shop, it's a savvy one that'll save you money throughout the season.

Given the number of Americans who struggle to keep up with their everyday bills, spending well over $1,000 on holiday shopping makes little sense for many of us. So don't become a victim to debt this year. Plan appropriately, shop smartly, and start 2019 off on a healthier financial note.

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