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Keep Your Money in Your Pocket This Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and the pressure and the temptation to start spending and charging is becoming stronger.  Every year between October and December, retail sales on home decorations, food and gifts increase and so does the amount people owe on their credit cards.  This year, keep your money in your pocket by going on a spending diet.

Just like a food diet that helps you watch what you eat, a spending diet helps you manage what you spend. This year, the National Retail Federation estimates that Americans plan on spending an average of $983 on Christmas gifts.  However, intentions are not the same as actions. In evaluating the difference between what people said they were going to spend and what they actually spent, Catherine Rampell, Economics Editor for the New York Times, said, “Consumers may say they’re going to spend less [this year], but they buckle when they actually hit the mall.”

So how can you make a reasonable shopping budget and stick to it? Below are some actions you can take on your spending diet which will make this holiday season more enjoyable and less expensive.

Get organized

First create your own budget and see how much money you have available to spend on holiday shopping. It may not be very much and that is okay. Having an enjoyable holiday season does not mean it has to be an expensive one. What do you enjoy about the holiday season? Visiting with friends and family, singing carols or holiday songs, enjoying a good meal? Some people spend an evening driving or walking around their neighborhood looking at the decorations. 

Make a list of everything you want to buy this season; decorations for all the upcoming holidays, gifts, costumes and special foods. Now review your list and find items where you may be able to cut back. If you plan on having a dinner party at your house, could you make it a potluck instead? Could your children make decorations rather than purchasing new ones from the store? Really evaluate whether or not the items in your list are necessary for enjoying the holidays.

Impulse spending

Leave your credit cards at home and pay cash when you go shopping. Credit cards make it easier to spend more than you budgeted. According to research conducted by Dunn and Bradstreet, people spend, “on average, 12 – 18% more when making a purchase with a credit card as opposed to cash.” When the cash is gone you are done shopping.

Stick to your list. If you have trouble saying no to sales or “good buys”, avoid going to the store without a list or a reminder of what you know you can afford. If only certain stores cause temptation, try to avoid those completely.  Finally, take a notebook with you when you shop. Jot down the items you purchase and the amount of money you have spent. This will help you stay within the limits of your holiday budget.

Reduce the obligations

If you typically purchase gifts for extended family and friends, think about ways to change that tradition. Talk to them about limits on spending, drawing names, simply exchanging cards, or having a get-together instead. Chances are they would like to reduce their spending as well and would appreciate the suggestions.   

Be realistic

Many people feel the need to spend a lot of money on gifts for their children in order to show them that they love them. Others worry that telling kids there is a limit to the amount of money spent on gifts or that they need to scale back the holidays will cause the child to worry about the family’s financial situation. In reality, parents are a child’s primary financial teacher and holidays are a perfect opportunity for learning about budgeting.  However, rather than explaining that they’ll receive less gifts this year due to money constraints, let them know that you’d like to have a simpler holiday. Emphasize being together as a family and creating new, fun memories.  Perhaps spend an evening together baking holiday treats as gifts for friends and neighbors.

Finally, remember, you do not have to accept every invitation to a party, or buy the biggest and the best gift to show someone you care about them. Just like eating a well balanced meal will keep you healthy, a well balanced budget will keep you in solid financial shape.

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Published Nov 25, 2016.