The holidays are filled with delicious food, time spent with loved ones and making memories you will cherish for years to come. But this joyous time includes lots of gift giving, which can make a big dent in our wallets. It is important to head into the holiday season with a budget, but it is even more important to stick to it and avoid many of the common holiday financial pitfalls. Let me walk you through the top ten financial mistakes most people make (and how you can avoid them).
1. Not actually sticking to your holiday budget
So, you sat down, you calculated it out, and you decided on this year’s holiday budget – great! (Here is a guide to building a budget if you’re looking for some additional tips). But for some of us, this holiday budget goes right out the window the minute we step into a store or start shopping online. We are bombarded by the “best” holiday deals with the “perfect” holiday gift for all of the loved ones in our life. In these situations, it is crucial you stick to your budget. You made your budget for a reason: helping you stay on track to meet your long-term financial goals. Don’t let an unexpected bargain get in the way of your financial dreams.
2. Letting guilt break your budget
Not everyone in our lives shares our same financial position, which can lead to a feeling of guilt when exchanging gifts. If your budget isn’t as big, your presents may seem insignificant when compared to those others give. This can entice people to spend more money on gifts just so they don’t feel guilty about giving less than others. Do not fall into this trap. If your budget is tight this year, do not ditch your well-planned budget in a misguided attempt to keep up with the spending of others. It truly is the thought that counts!
3. Not properly managing your credit
One of the most common mistakes I see people make during the holidays is not properly monitoring their credit card charges. It can be easy to get carried away, charging everything to a credit card, because dealing with those expenses can be deferred to another time. But credit card debt can grow quickly and it is best to avoid relying on your credit card during the holidays for that exact reason. Make a plan so you know which purchases you will make with your credit cards verses your debit card or paying with cash. Learn more about how to manage your credit during the holiday season here.
4. Forgetting about other holiday expenses
When making your holiday budget, you need to account for those holiday expenses that aren’t always top of mind. Many of us travel to see family during the holidays, and if we don’t factor in expenses for flights, hotels, or gas, our holiday spending plan can go down the drain quickly. If you’re not traveling for the holidays but have loved ones coming to stay with you, you may also need to factor in additional food and entertainment expenses. Be sure you consider all potential expenses when planning for this holiday season.
5. Counting on a holiday bonus
Many employers give out holiday bonuses as an appreciation for hard work throughout the year. Even if your employer has a reputation for giving out holiday bonuses, do not rely on that money when making your holiday spending budget. If you don’t get the bonus you expect, you might find yourself in a financial mess. Make a holiday spending budget that is realistic based on your current monthly financial situation. This will lead to a healthier financial new year. And, if you get that bonus, try to invest the extra money or use it to pay off any debt.
6. Adding last-minute gifts to your shopping list
When making your holiday budget, you need to plan around the exact people you want to give gifts to. As the season progresses, you might feel the need to give additional people in your life gifts: coworkers, the babysitter, or your friend from long ago. It is one thing if you forgot to put Uncle Todd on the list, but do not add someone who is not family or a close friend. Last-minute gifts can add up quickly, no matter how small they may seem at the time.
7. Not making the most of holiday sales
Not planning ahead for big sales or discounts can be detrimental to staying within your holiday budget. Taking time to plan your holiday shopping can save you a lot of money in the long run. Check your local paper, search online and talk to friends to find the best holiday deals for everyone on your list.
8. Waiting until the last minute to start shopping
This common pitfall goes hand-in-hand with mistake number seven: not planning your shopping ahead of time can hurt not only your budget but can also mean not getting the perfect gifts. If you wait until the last minute, you may be forced to purchase more expensive presents that aren’t quite right for your budget or your loved ones. Create a holiday shopping plan ahead of time to ensure you get the best holiday deals on the gifts on your list before everything sells out.
9. Thinking spending equals holiday cheer
Sometimes we get too caught up in the gift-giving aspect of the holidays and I often see people begin to equate spending more with increased holiday joy. That just simply isn’t the case! Some of the best holiday memories are made drinking hot cocoa with loved ones, going sledding, or walking through a neighborhood decorated with twinkling lights. Don’t think that spending extra money on exciting holiday activities will bring you and your loved ones more joy. It is the time you spend together that truly matters.
10. Spending like there’s no January
First it’s Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the New Year! The holiday season is a blur of spending time with family and friends and celebrating. But with such a busy season filled with gift giving, food and travel, it can be easy to lose sight of what is just on the other side of all of it: a new year. A new year filled with expenses and opportunities that require money. Don’t get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and forget about your long-term financial goals to come during the New Year.
The holiday season can be a stressful time for many, trying to find the right gift for everyone on their list and stick to their budget. Follow these ten holiday budgeting tips to make the most of this happy time of the year (and make sure you don’t suffer from a spending hangover in the New Year).