Consumer Comeback Blog

Avoiding overspending during the holidays

The holiday season is well under way, and with it the shopping bug is going around. In the time of year that focuses so much on gift giving and excess spending, it’s really easy to get carried away. So with many families still struggling to pay their bills, we thought now would be a good time to come up with a few tips to help make sure that getting “carried away” won’t come back to bite you.

Figure out what you can afford before you start

This is the first and most important step, especially for those with tight budgets this holiday season. Come up with a realistic amount for what you can afford to spend on holiday gifts this year and stick to it. If you’re already struggling to pay the bills the WORST thing you can do is overspend on gift giving. You shouldn’t assume you’ll eventually be able to pay for things you know you can’t. It may mean making personal sacrifices to be able to pay for gifts, or even admitting you can’t afford anything at all. That’s OK. Just be honest and realistic with yourself.

Make a list, check it twice

Make a list of ALL the people you are going to buy gifts for before you start shopping. Then double check that list to make sure you didn’t miss anyone. More often than not, when I spend more on holiday gifts than I planned to it’s because I failed to account for someone who should have been on my list (OOPS). Once you have the completed list and an overall budget, you’ll have a better idea of how much to spend on each person. So not only will this help you keep from spending too much, it will also help focus your shopping by gift price and help you keep track of your budget and shopping.

Shop for sales

Just because Black Friday and Cyber-Monday have come and gone doesn’t mean you can’t find terrific sales out there. Avoid impulse purchases as you might be able to get a better deal at another store or (perhaps) online. I realize that holiday shopping can be hectic and frustrating and the last thing most people want to do is go back to a store they’ve already been to just to save a few bucks. But those who don’t have the patience for it will always pay for it.

Consider bulk purchases

If you’re like me, the list of people to buy gifts for is quite long and seems to grow longer each year. One year, I found an item that I thought would make a great gift for a number of people on my list, especially acquaintances that I don’t know quite as intimately as say, close family members. So not only did a single purchase take care of a good chunk of my holiday shopping, but I got a decent discount for buying in bulk. Now, it must be understood that this is not always possible or an option for everyone. But it serves as a decent starting point for me every year and helps guide my shopping.

Collaborate on big purchases

My siblings and I do this a lot. When one of us, or our parents asks for something that’s beyond our per-person budget, we usually go in on the purchase together. That way the recipient gets what they want and the rest of us don’t have to go over budget to get it for them – it’s another win-win. Again, this isn’t always an option (it helps to have a large family, I suppose). But don’t be afraid to ask for help with a gift from a person who you know will be getting something for the same person anyways. They might even appreciate you saving them a trip and help with the idea.

Stop spending on yourself

One of the more frustrating parts of doing holiday shopping is finding a great deals on something you want for yourself. No that doesn’t make you selfish…even if you cave to that impulse. But just remember that people are probably looking for ideas for gifts for you and if it can wait ’till Christmas/Hanukah/Etc. then you probably should. But even if you already know you won’t be getting this item as a gift this season, it’s probably not a good idea considering the amount you’re already spending on others.

Beyond gifts, however, it’s probably a good idea to cut back on self-indulgent expenses like eating out during the holidays. And I’m not suggesting that everyone become a home-body this year. Instead, find inexpensive or free activities, like going to see Christmas lights, or a locally produced Christmas pageant. Or perhaps you could replace your normal “Saturday at the spa” by volunteering at a local soup kitchen. The point is, there’s plenty to do during the holidays that doesn’t cost a lot of money, so getting in the “holiday spirit” could both save you some money while giving you a nice change of pace for once.

Be most frugal with those holiday “extras”

One of my biggest pet peeves in the holidays is those who spend more on the wrapping paper than a gift it covers. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t how much people spent on me for my gifts. That makes me sound materialistic. I just don’t understand why someone would shop at the dollar store for a gift that they put in a gift bag that costs $1.50. Instead, it makes more sense shop at the dollar store for wrapping paper, save and re-use bags from last year’s gifts, and/or find other frugal ways to dress up your gifts.

That doesn’t just go for wrapping paper, either. Other holiday “extras” like decorations, candies, “stocking stuffers”, etc. are easy so find on the cheap that it makes so much more sense to be frugal there so you can save more for more appropriate expenses.

Beware of Credit Card debt

If you do it right, it can actually pay to use credit cards for your holiday shopping. Not only can you receive cash back and rewards for your purchases (that you wouldn’t get by paying cash), it can also be a great way to keep track of your holiday spending. The pitfall, of course is those who let their spending get out of hand leaving them with high interest credit card debt. So if you don’t have the discipline to stay within your means by using a credit card, simply don’t use one. Otherwise, tread very carefully.

Good luck and have a Happy Holidays!