Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List: Ten Ways to Manage Your Finances and Avoid Post-Holiday Regrets
The holidays are upon us, bringing all those personal and family images and sensations we cherish. But for many of us, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights (a purse overflowing with credit card receipts) and sounds (the ca-ching! of the cash registers marking our escalating debt). These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially during this less-than-prosperous economic period.
“Overall, the Great Recession brought about a renewed dedication to saving,” says Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition. “Before the recession, our national personal savings rate was close to zero, and now it’s around 3 percent. But it is very important that you not let your holiday spending zap all of the saving progress you made during the year.
“Whether it’s a dedication to the gift-giving tradition, a sense of obligation, or a feeling that the holidays entitle us to have a little more fun than usual, too many of us seem to turn a blind eye to the budget-busting reality of all that spending over just a couple of months,” adds Tyson. “Don’t let excessive holiday spending cause any unnecessary financial stress for you and your family.”
What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday and avoid the financial hangover afterwards? Tyson provides great tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check.
Find an alternative to gift-giving during the holidays. Many people feel they have to give gifts during the holidays, either because it’s a family tradition or because they know their friends and relatives have gotten gifts for them. There are plenty of great ways to trade in this tradition for another one that is even more meaningful, and chances are your family and friends will be happy to save gift-buying dough as well.
If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere as necessary. Perhaps you’d rather dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting for yourself in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. “It doesn’t matter where you make cuts, just that you make them,” says Tyson. “Keeping your other spending under control while you’re out there doing your shopping can be a challenge, but just keep repeating to yourself the importance of not over-spending. That way when it comes time to actually pass out those presents you’ve purchased, you can do it without grimacing as you think about the damage they did to your bank account.”
Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, your new best friends should be your checkbook register, credit card statements, and all of your receipts. It’s easy to get into a spending rhythm when shopping for yourself or others, and that’s why you need to physically write down every purchase you make and make sure you don’t go over your budget. “When you start to add up everything you’re spending, you may be shocked at what all those expenses from this store and that store add up to be,” says Tyson. “And don’t forget about all those ‘necessary’ holiday extras. Most people don’t budget their shopping and don’t realize that by the time you buy all the presents, plus wrapping paper, cards, decorations, etc., it’s added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to will help keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and will help you hone in on the most reasonably priced holiday items.”
Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras! Particularly during the holidays, companies pull out their most appealing packaging in hopes of snagging the eyes of shoppers. That’s why along with your budget, you’re going to want to take an exact list of what you want to buy for your gift recipients. Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy.
Use the season to set a good example for your kids. Your kids learn about money from you. And if they see you spending left and right during the holiday season, the lesson they come away with isn’t going to be a good one. During the holidays, it’s very easy for the “gimmee gimmee gimmee” materialistic attitude to get out of control. After all, kids are bombarded with constant advertisements for toys, clothes, and the latest gadgets you can be guaranteed they’ll want (or at least think they do!).
Watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. Retailers run all sorts of specials to induce consumers to buy now, and the holidays offer these companies easy prey in the form of deal-seeking, cash-strapped consumers. For example, furniture stores frequently offer that if you buy now, you don’t have to pay a thing for a year, and you might even get free delivery. This sort of “push” marketing can make it harder for you to say no.
Leave the plastic at home. Many of us can explain away spending so much on gifts because we simply charge everything and reason that we can pay it off gradually after the holidays. This is a great way to create a never-ending cycle of consumer debt for yourself. It only creates unnecessary financial stress for you after the holidays.
Invest in your kids’ financial futures. It may not seem as exciting to your kids as a new iPod, but a contribution to their financial well-being will be appreciated long after such expensive “toys” are obsolete. “Have the grandparents contribute to a college tuition fund or savings account rather than buy them more stuff they don’t need,” suggests Tyson. “Or make one of your gifts to your kids a stock fund portfolio that can start accruing now. Also, make them aware of the budgets and tools you are using to keep your spending in check. The holidays are a great time for them to truly learn that money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Give the gift of time to your kids. Often, parents buy gifts for their kids with the best of intentions. Either you don’t want to deprive them of the toys and gadgets all of their friends have, or you want to give them the things you didn’t have as a kid.
Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. “Sure, it might be nice to give your mom a brand new TV, but there are other things out there that will be even more meaningful and enjoyable for her—like a photo album with candid shots of the grandkids or something they’ve made for her themselves,” says Tyson. “If you are looking to give a gift that truly means something and that will keep its value for years to come, you are better off looking for nonmaterial gifts to give than for something your gift recipients could get themselves at the local big box store.”
“Money can easily become the focus of the holidays when it should be the last thing you are thinking about,” says Tyson. “By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you start getting those credit card bills in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holiday season. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.”
Eric Tyson is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling personal finance book author, syndicated columnist, and speaker. He has worked with and taught people from all financial situations, so he knows the financial concerns and questions of real folks just like you. Despite being handicapped by an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS in economics and biology from Yale University, Eric remains a master of “keeping it simple.”