WASHINGTON — As the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, the American Bankers Association has identified seven habits that shoppers should embrace to minimize their holiday spending debt.
“It’s incredibly easy to go overboard buying gifts for loved ones during the holidays, but spending within your means will help keep your holidays merry and your finances bright,” said Corey Carlisle, executive director of the ABA Foundation. “There are simple things you can do to avoid a holiday spending hangover, like setting a budget in advance and avoiding impulse buys.”
Below are seven spending habits Americans should consider to help relieve the financial stress of the holidays:
- Plan ahead. Before you start shopping, develop a realistic budget for holiday expenses. Figure out your bottom-line number and set aside holiday cash in increments throughout the year. If you need to use your credit card, think about what you can afford to pay back in January.
- Keep track of other costs. Don’t forget costs beyond gifts, like postage, gift wrap, decorations, greeting cards, food, travel and charitable contributions. Keep in mind the end of the year is a time when large annual or semi-annual costs like car insurance, life insurance and property taxes arise.
- Make and list and check it twice. Keep your gift list limited to family and close friends, noting how much you want to spend on each. If you’re donating to charities, factor in the total amount you plan to donate and how much each charity will receive.
- Shop early and space out purchases. Avoid shopping while rushed or under pressure, which can lead to overspending. Make sure to comparison shop online first, or download an app that lets you compare prices before you buy anything in a store. Before you head to the cashier (or online checkout), make sure your purchase is within the budget you set.
- Avoid impulsive spending decisions. Finding a spectacular sale on something you’ve been wanting can easily throw you off course. Stay strong and stick to your budget. Don’t be blinded by limited-time incentives geared toward getting you to spend more.
- Use credit wisely. Limit the use of credit for holiday spending. If you must use credit, use only one card—preferably the one with the lowest interest rate—and leave the rest at home. Pick a date when you can pay off your holiday credit card bills, and commit to paying off the balance by that time. Be sure to check statements for unauthorized charges and report them immediately.
- Save your receipts. Not only will you need them for possible returns, you’ll need them to keep track of what you’ve spent and to compare with your credit card statement. Knowing how much you spent will help you plan for next year, too. Keeping receipts for charitable donations will help you receive tax deductions in the spring.