Budgeting: Keeping holiday spending in check
“It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of holiday shopping, but it’s not always as easy to foot the bill,” said Sarah Skidmore Sell in the Associated Press. The average consumer plans to spend $936 on holiday shopping this year, the second-highest level ever, according to the National Retail Federation. Whether that feels like “a little or a lot for you,” it’s critical to set and stick to a holiday budget. “The first part is easy: Figure out how much you want to spend and keep track of your expenses as you go.” The second part—avoiding purchases and behavior that will bust your best intentions—is more difficult. That’s especially true if it means saying no to some traditions, like getting everything on a child’s wish list. But just remember: “It will be even harder to dig yourself out of a financial hole.”
“The No. 1 rule for holiday shopping should be to stay out of debt,” said Jonnelle Marte in The Washington Post. Don’t feel bad if you have to cross some people off your list because money is tight. For spouses and significant others, “the amount you spend doesn’t matter as much as the arrangement you have agreed on.” If you agreed not to exchange gifts, don’t. Similarly, families and groups of friends who decide to do a group gift exchange should settle on a spending limit, “say in the $20 or $50 range.” “Step back from the idea of how much to spend, and think about why you’re giving a gift,” said Debbie Carlson in the Chicago Tribune. Not only that, but tell the person “why you chose it.” A backstory makes a gift more meaningful, both to the person giving and the person receiving it, regardless of the price tag.
Don’t forget to include all your holiday expenses in your spending plan, such as family meals, decorations, gifts to teachers, and end-of-year tips, said Susan Tompor in the Detroit Free Press. “We all know we’re not just pulling out our wallets in November and December only for sweaters and video games.” And consider whether you can set some other ground rules that will help you stay on track. “Maybe it means you won’t put more than $100 or $200 on your credit card this holiday. Maybe it means you’ll only spend cash.” Finally, don’t forget about the other, nonholiday bills that are weighing you down. If you are already struggling with debt, perhaps you can’t afford to play “Super Santa” this year. Mindlessly chasing after so-called deals and the latest hot toys could put you in even more of a “financial squeeze in 2017 when the bill comes due.”