There’s something magical about the holiday season. Everything twinkles, from tinsel on trees to store displays to…the balance on your credit card statement. With Americans so used to splurging on gifts and travel to close out the year, the holidays can become a source of financial stress.
It’s not uncommon to find families burning the candle at both ends: even as holiday retail spending grows 3 to 4% annually, the average American household carries $5,700 in current debt. To keep you calm and in control of your bank balance, we looked at some ways to save on your holiday spending.
Sidestep impulse purchases by creating a preset list of gifts, decor and groceries for the next few months. Writing out each item helps you keep an eye on your overall costs and makes you consider which items are really the most important to making the holidays enjoyable.
One way to do this is to use the right tools as you shop. For instance, browser extensions that sync up with online retailers can notify you about sales and cashback opportunities for items you designate. The same automated approach that companies use to save time and money can be just as effective for your personal budget.
Wishlists hosted by sites like Amazon are another great way to save, but they also offer ways to connect with others as well. Sharing wishlists with your friends and family can help you set expectations and coordinate to ensure that everyone gets what they want.
If you aren’t used to itemizing holiday expenses, the practice can seem a bit caddish at first. But if the goal of the holidays is about connecting with your loved ones, it makes sense to ensure that your hard-earned money is truly being spent in ways that contribute to that goal.
Closely connected to your holiday lists is the need to set a holiday budget. While this is much easier if you already keep a monthly budget, there’s no wrong time to start. Take a look at your monthly income and expenses so you can set a holiday budget that won’t break your finances.
Your holiday budget can be broken out into different categories, too. You could have separate budgets for travel, gifts, hosting parties and meals. By having your shopping lists in place, you can better estimate how much each holiday spending category will cost. This method benefits you because you quickly see how much everything costs before making a purchase. Simply cross things off if you feel that you have already gone overboard on your holiday budget.
As you establish a budget, you may come to realize what many people never do: that planning your expenses ultimately leads to less stress, not more. A little pain ahead of time can save the potential embarrassment of coming up short in the middle of festivities.
Have a bunch of points sitting in your credit card rewards account? Now’s the time for redeeming those points to cover your travel and gifts. Points let you splurge without compromising your bank balance. With the increasing flexibility of reward programs, you can use points for a variety of purchases from plane tickets to gift cards and shows.
If you haven’t accumulated that many points to use, cashback programs like Ebates offer another way to save as you go. Every time you visit an affiliated retailer website with the Ebates plugin active on your browser, you’ll get a popup indicating the cashback offer. Discounts vary by site, but every percentage point saved means more money in your savings account for more essential needs.
This one’s less of a technical tip and more of a self-motivational trick, but it can be just as important. In a season of intense marketing that lures so many consumers away from their frugal norms, it’s important to remind yourself about long-term priorities. Reducing the balance on your high-interest debt isn’t as fun as buying gifts for your whole family, but it’s probably going to leave everyone a lot happier in the long run.
Does becoming debt free allow you to spend money the way you want? Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t have to make another payment towards your debt. (It is the season to dream, after all.) The more debt you eliminate now, the better off you’ll be for next year’s holiday season—and the next, and the next.
Having debt during the holidays can be discouraging, but there are many ways to celebrate and still meet your obligations. Where holiday spending is concerned, priorities and restraint yield the best gift of all: peace of mind.