Nearly a quarter of shoppers went over their 2016 holiday budget, and 27 percent didn’t have a budget to begin with, a recent survey says.
For many Americans, the joy of choosing holiday gifts, attending seasonal events, and the temptation of major retail sales comes with a stubborn shadow of financial stress; especially if you didn’t save ahead for all of the holiday cheer.
More than half of consumers who shopped during the 2016 holiday season incurred credit card debt, according to NerdWallet’s second Consumer Holiday Shopping Report. The same report also found that nearly a quarter of shoppers went over their holiday budget and 27 percent didn’t have a budget to begin with.
To make sure your holiday spending doesn’t take over the more joyful aspects of the season, it helps to plan ahead, according to Stacey Black, a financial educator at BECU.
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Create a budget and check it twice
First things first: set your holiday budget. “If you have a hard time tracking daily expenditures, you can use an app like BECU’s Money Manager,” says Black. Then, make sure you identify the big-ticket items on your shopping list, how much they’ll cost and where you can cut your spending to make room for those purchases. “If you’re debating between a big-ticket or less expensive item, put the larger item on hold,” says Black. “That will allow time for you to determine if it fits into your holiday spending budget vs. making an impulse purchase.”
Take advantage of prime-time holiday sales
While most American holiday shoppers plan out their purchases ahead of time, they often don’t take advantage of the best sales, according to the NerdWallet Consumer Holiday Shopping Report. The period between Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is typically the most affordable time to shop, but many people delay their shopping until the very last minute. This year, consider taking advantage of those sale-filled days to get the most out of your holiday spending.
Additionally, Black mentions that you may be able to find holiday savings through your own financial institution. “At BECU, members receive discounts on everything from local sporting events, concerts and food festivals, to national discounts at theme parks.” Finding savings wherever you can, especially on things you’re planning to buy anyways, will make it that much easier to stick within your budget.
Consider cash over credit
Racking up credit card debt is remarkably common with 61 percent of adults having some form of credit card debt in the past 12 months, according to the NFCC Consumer Financial Literacy Survey sponsored by BECU. If you can help it, Black recommends minimizing your use of credit cards over the holiday shopping season. She says, “It can be tempting to put your credit card balance out of your head when shopping for holiday gifts. However, nothing brings on post-holiday stress like receiving a credit card statement with an amount higher than you expected.”
To stop yourself from reaching for that credit card when making a purchase, consider factoring in the interest you’ll likely pay to the final amount of the item you’re buying. To avoid overspending, take out the amount of cash you anticipate spending on gifts this entire holiday season and only pay for them using that stash. “You’ll not only know exactly how much you have to spend, but you’ll prevent any future debt too,” says Black.
If something unexpected comes into your budget and you absolutely need to use a credit card to finish that holiday shopping, Black suggests using a credit option with a low APR to reduce the amount of interest you’ll end up paying down the line.
Get started on next year’s holiday account
Want to give yourself a gift for the next holiday season? Try a surefire way to not blow your holiday shopping budget by planning early. Black recommends opening up a savings account now dedicated solely to holiday spending in preparation for next year. “You can even name it ‘holiday account’ for additional motivation,” she says. To ensure you have enough money saved for next year’s holiday season, set aside a certain amount of money each week or month by using automatic transfers or deposits. “Treat it like a bill and you’ll be sure to put yourself in a good position for spending during next year’s holiday season,” Black says.
As a member-owned credit union, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial health of its members and communities through better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education.