The holiday season is right around the corner, a time for festivities, cheer, and reunions with family and friends. But as we deck the halls or spin the dreidel, many of us will have something else on our mind: money. In fact, more than three in four Americans overspend during the holiday season, with the average household adding nearly $1,000 in debt. While it may seem like a fact of life, going into gift-purchase debt is not inevitable. In today’s post, we’ll offer four key tips to stress-free holiday spending, allowing you to devote yourself to some worry-free celebrating.
1. Make a Budget
A good rule of thumb from financial advisors is to spend no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income on holiday expenses. If you earn $65,000 a year, for example, your holiday budget should top out at $975. Once you’ve established your maximum, you can then then make a list of potential spending – on gifts, food, entertaining, travel – and see what might need to be modified or cut. To prevent yourself from scrambling to save right before the holidays, it’s a good idea to establish a holiday fund ahead of time. For instance, if you start at the beginning of the year and tuck away 10 percent of your budget each month, you’ll roll into the holidays with the money you need and a spending limit to keep you in check.
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2. Be Smart with Credit
When used wisely, credit cards can be your friend: many of them offer special offers like reward points and travel miles, leveraging your everyday purchases to bring that perfect gift or special holiday trip within reach. And with purchase protection, you’ll be protected for losses in a way you may not be if you pay in cash. So how to enjoy the benefits of credit cards without the dangers? First, choose a credit card that allows you to repay purchases over time, without interest. Second, make sure you pay the balance due in full and on time – every single month.
3. Know Your Limits
If your finances don’t allow you to buy everyone on your list a gift, be honest with yourself about it. There are plenty of other ways to show people that you care: by spending time with them, sharing a plate of cookies or treats, making your own gifts, or choosing a small, personalized present instead of a larger, expensive one. Another popular idea is getting everyone in your circle of family or friends to draw one name to give a gift to, with the recipient having to guess who their gift-giver was. Getting creative helps you spread holiday cheer without inadvertently bouncing checks or racking up overdraft fees, which could hurt your ability to obtain credit from your bank in the future, or even, if left unattended, reduce your overall credit score.
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4. Secure Your Information
With each passing year, more holiday shoppers opt to avoid the lines and crowds by purchasing their gifts online. But however convenient and comfortable, online shopping is not risk-free: according to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research, 16.7 million US customers were the victims of identity fraud in 2017, with a total of $16.8 billion stolen. Fortunately, there are some basic steps you can take to protect your information, such as monitoring your accounts, securing your devices, and placing security freezes on your credit reports. And, of course, if you are the victim of identity theft, it is important to respond rapidly. Learn how to keep yourself data safe with our short identity protection video.
In today’s world, holiday stress might feel as American as apple pie – but it doesn’t have to! With a budget, a holiday spending fund, smart use of credit, honest limits, and protected information, you can make your holiday season more like a Hallmark special and less like National Lampoon’s. To find out more about stress-free holiday shopping and about smart finances in general, check out our online financial education program here!
This article was developed in part by EVERFI, Inc., a resource of Bank Five Nine.