Even the best of us can make a money mistake—especially during the Christmas season, when stress and busyness combine to make bad money choices more likely. Here are the biggest financial mistakes and how to avoid them, so you can have a happier holiday.
Mistake 1: Not having a budget
If you don’t set an amount you want to spend on holiday gifts, it’s easy to get carried away and overspend significantly. Plus, the holidays are full of unexpected expenses that even the savviest shopper can forget about: trees and décor, gift wrap, postage for cards, drinks out with your friends, or the office Secret Santa exchange.
Solution: Make a list and check it twice
Before you enter December, start making a list of your projected expenses for the season. Try to include everything, then assign a rough cost to each item. Add it up—if it’s a lot more than you expected, prioritize a bit on what you’d like to do or give most. Then, make sure that the adjusted total is in line with how much money you really have to spend.
Mistake 2: Giving in to sale madness
Every year the hype around Black Friday and Cyber Monday gets bigger and lasts longer. Your email inbox overflows with deals and it feels like you’re losing money by not shopping. However, buying things you don’t actually want or need at a lower price doesn’t mean you’re getting a deal; it means you’re buying something you don’t want or need—wasting your money.
Solution: Don’t buy something unless it’s already on your list
If the $150 tablet that was on your master gift list is on sale for $75 on Cyber Monday, then by all means, buy it! But if it’s not on your list and not in your budget, don’t give in to sale madness. (A tip if you don’t want to be tempted at all by sales: Unsubscribe now from store emails.)
Mistake 3: Opening a store credit card
It’s tempting to take advantage of a great offer and open a store card. But interest rates on these credit cards are generally very high, and any inquiry can affect your credit score. Plus, a new line of credit can feel like “free” money, tempting you to overspend.
Solution: Try to avoid spending on credit at all during the holidays
Definitely avoid opening a store credit card. But try to totally avoid spending on credit for your holiday shopping. It’s too easy to overspend and promise you’ll pay yourself back in January—but in reality, it takes most Americans at least two months to pay off their holiday credit card bills.
Mistake 4: Taking money away from your other financial goals
If you have an emergency fund, it’s tempting to pull money from it to cover holiday expenses. But buying gifts for people isn’t an emergency! Don’t touch the funds that are there for a rainy day, or you may not have them when it’s a true emergency. And definitely don’t touch the money in your retirement fund.
Solution: Get creative
If your budget is extra tight this year, think about other ways to celebrate: If you usually buy a gift for every member of your extended family, ask about doing a Yankee swap or a white elephant gift instead. If you need a lot of teacher gifts, a handwritten card can be far more meaningful than something more lavish. Bake cookies for your coworkers instead of getting stocking stuffers. Get creative!
The biggest mistake of all: Thinking that you need to buy something to show your love
Companies have entire marketing departments working year-round to convince you that the “perfect” holiday gift is lavish and extraordinary. Don’t fall for it. Your loved ones will still love you even if they don’t get a diamond necklace or a new car.
Solution: Be honest
Tell your loved ones if money is limited. Be open that you can’t do as much but that you love them all the same. Plan to spend quality time together doing something you all enjoy—solving a puzzle, watching a holiday movie, taking a winter walk—and focus on making memories instead of buying things. After all, memories are truly priceless.