Candy canes, ornaments and twinkling lights popping up in stores can only mean one thing — get your wallet ready because the most wonderful time of year is fast approaching.
More than 60 percent of people confessed to feeling pressure to overspend during the holiday shopping season, according to the 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting survey.
Mark Foster, director of education for Credit Counseling of Arkansas, is here to help with five tips to avoid a holiday spending hangover.
Know how much you can afford to spend
Foster’s number one piece of advice is to create a plan before stepping foot into the store or tapping on your favorite shopping app.
Remember that holiday spending is not just gifts, but also decorations, food and events, he said.
Thinking it out beforehand, “whether you set a budgeted amount and say, ‘Okay I can spend whatever, a total of $500 on Christmas’ or say ‘For the rest of the year, I can afford $50 per paycheck that I can spend.’ Sometimes people find it easier to do it that way,” Foster said.
“I’ll hear from people who sometimes say, ‘Well, I don’t use credit cards’ … What happens is those people might spend their rent money or their utility money or car payment money and they spend it on this fun stuff for presents … and then later find out ‘Oh gosh, how am I going to pay that that’s due on Tuesday.'”
Using cash over card can also be helpful, as you see the money you are directly spending.
“Studies have shown that it is more difficult for us to part with cash … than it is to use a card,” Foster said. Having “something tangible, we’ve got the cash there in our hands, in our purse, in our wallet … it just generally makes people more thoughtful about their spending.”
However, beware of the temptation to pull out your card to cover overspending.
A good deal may not be good for your wallet
Eager for Black Friday, shoppers have already begun to hunt down the best deals. When looking for sales and gift ideas, remember to keep an eye on your budget.
For instance, someone may buy a $5,000 TV on sale for $2,000, Foster said.
“Was that a great sale? Well, yes, but if you can’t afford the $2,000, it doesn’t matter that it was discounted … if it was too much and you can only afford a $600 TV … that’s something that can trip folks up.”
No interest, no payment programs are also a popular way to draw shoppers in.
“People ask if that’s a good deal, is that a bad deal and the answer is yes. It can be both,” Foster said.
“Ask yourself, ‘Can I afford to pay this off during the six months, nine months, 12 months, however long they give me to take full advantage of that free interest?”
If you decide to wait, watch out for retroactive interest. “The way it works … at the end of that time period … the company goes back to your purchase date and retroactively hits you with interest for every single one of those months,” Foster said. “They don’t go out of their way to tell you that. That’s buried in the small print.”
Beware of overspending out of love
Even the best gifts can cause heartache if someone ignores the price tag.
“A lot of people look forward to giving gifts, and people have a big heart … we can overdo that if we’re not careful and spend more than we can afford to,” Foster said.
“It’s easy to overspend out of love … but again it comes back to how much can I afford to spend and what within that budgeted range can I find for the person looking for?”
Missing layaway options? Create your own
In September, Walmart announced it was doing away with its annual layaway option this year, which many families used for their holiday gifts.
If you are missing this option, Foster suggests creating your own system through “buying that store’s gift cards and saving them up toward a large purchase.”
When he was looking to buy a new fridge, Foster purchased a series of gift cards from Lowe’s in a four to five-month period.
“Then, when I went in to buy the refrigerator, instead of having to fork over $800 all at once for the fridge, I had these gift cards that totaled whatever they may have totaled. Let’s say $400. After that, I only had to come up with $400 for the remainder of the fridge.”
“Now, yes, you do have to treat it like cash,” he said. “You don’t want to lose your gift cards. Put it in a safe place.”
Rethink your gift ideas
If you cannot afford the latest and greatest device or toy, rethink ways to connect with your loved ones through unique gifts.
“Why don’t you pick the movie you want to see and we’ll go out to eat, depending upon the budget … if that’s too much money, coffee or dessert,” Foster said. “You’re giving the gift of an experience and spending time together with someone … and also, you are investing in that relationship with someone, so you get that, too.”
One year, Foster’s wife made a personalized gift for her dad with a CD of family photos. The gift showed Foster how personalized items can go a long way in making a loved one feel special.
“It took a little time to do that, but the cost was a dollar roughly for the photo CD to burn and create it that we did here at home,” he said. “That’s a great example of how it was absolutely priceless to him. This is like a John Wayne kind of guy … but when he was looking through all these photos … he actually had tears in his eyes.”
Set financial goals for the new year
Following the holidays, start looking at the goals you would like to set for 2022.
“It’s a really good time to assess your financial picture and where you want to go for that year,” Foster said.
To set up a free budgeting or financial counseling appointment with Credit Counseling of Arkansas, call 479-521-8877 or visit www.ccoacares.com.
Appointments can be made in person, online or over the phone. The Credit Counseling of Arkansas Fort Smith office is located at 2301 South 56th Street, Suite 103.
Catherine Nolte is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Southwest Times Record and Report for America are working to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations across the country. Will you support this effort today?