Wrapping holiday boxes

Avoid These 5 Holiday Shopping Mistakes to Stay on Budget

One of the best things about the holidays is that no two celebrations are the same. Your unique traditions and memories define the holiday season. Perhaps this is the only time of year the entire family is able to gather together, whether it’s due to distance or busy schedules. Enjoying treats like warm eggnog by the fire, building (and eating!) gingerbread houses and indulging in latkes and sufganiyot evoke childhood memories of the holiday season. For some, dressing the whole family in their pajamas and driving around the neighborhood looking at light displays and listening to Christmas music is a favorite tradition.

While we may enjoy the feeling that comes along with the season, it is also a time of financial burden for some. These holiday traditions can be overshadowed by stress, either while shopping in the months before the holiday or come January when the credit card bill arrives … and regret sets in. This year, stress is out and success is in when you avoid these holiday shopping mistakes.

1. You don’t set a budget

You can’t stick to a budget unless you’ve set one. This may seem obvious, but it’s a crucial step and your ability to control your spending is dependent on it. You can avoid the debt you take on during the holiday season easily if you don’t spend more money than you have! It’s not too late to start.

First, take a look at your income and expenses for the months leading up to your holiday celebrations. How much disposable income can you put towards holiday gifts? Next, make a list of people you’d like to give gifts to this year and divvy up the budget among this list. If the numbers don’t work out, you may need to remove a few people from the list. Get creative instead! Your grandmother probably doesn’t need another scarf, but she would love it if you took her out to lunch one day in January.

Setting a budget is the easy part; it’s sticking with it that can be difficult. Keep reading to discover ways to stay on budget.

2. You don’t have a shopping plan

Before you roam around the stores aimlessly, make a shopping plan. Keep a gift list throughout the year, so that come November you have a few ideas for everyone on your list. This keeps you from purchasing a gift for the sake of having something to wrap – which can be a waste of your money and it’s a time saver, too. If you have an idea of what you want to buy and how much you can spend, you’re able to narrow down your search. That means less time in crowded stores with impatient shoppers and more time for watching It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually or a marathon of holiday Hallmark Channel movies.

3. You don’t research prices before shopping

Setting a budget and a maximum spend per person is a great start, but if you’re overpaying for items, you’re missing a huge opportunity to save. Now that you have some gift ideas, get online and find out how much the gift will cost. To help you choose an item, read reviews, research prices at different retailers and be aware of sales. If you can, find the previous year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads to see what types of deals they run. Shopping online is a great way to compare products and pricing, but if you prefer to shop in a store, find out which stores offer price match guarantees and be prepared to show the lower price. If you do your due diligence, you could even come in under budget!

4. You wait too long to shop

Do you get a text from your father on December 23 that says “I’m out shopping. Any ideas for Mom”? No? Ok. Me neither.

We all know someone like this. Perhaps they get a thrill out of the time crunch or the season simply got away from them. In any case, this is a recipe for overspending. Now you’re at the mall trying to finish your shopping and at the same time wondering how you’ll have time to wrap all these gifts, remember to move the Elf, prepare food for your Christmas Eve party and create a holiday music playlist for it.  Not surprisingly, at this point you just want to get home and start the inevitable preparation tasks. You now feel rushed and are just making sure you have something to wrap, instead of focusing on finding a gift that the recipient will enjoy – and that fits within the parameters of your budget.

Giving yourself time to shop and put some thought into a gift will not only make you feel better about the gift you’re giving, but also about how much you spent on it.

5. You’re shopping for yourself, too

It’s easy to grab a few things for yourself while shopping for others; sales tend to be great and you’re in ‘shopping mode’. As we all know, these purchases add up quickly and will blow your budget. If you find an item you absolutely must have, slip it into a conversation with someone who may be looking to purchase a gift for you or wait until after the holidays when you may get an even better deal. There’s a reason you set a budget. Stick to it!

Now that you have the tools you need to stay on budget this holiday season, hopefully you can spend more time enjoying all of the fun activities that come with the season.