When it comes to the holidays, it’s not uncommon to indulge in one too many drinks and wake up with a pounding headache — but pop a painkiller, rehydrate and you’re usually good to go. When it comes to one too many spontaneous purchases, however, the resulting hangover can feel much, much worse.
Whether you’re buying the perfect gift for a loved one, or if you’ve happened upon the perfect outfit for this year’s holiday party, it can be easy to convince yourself to pull out your credit card… “one last time.”
Famous last words.
Look, nobody’s telling you to be a Scrooge, but keeping your holiday spending under control is the best way to avoid a financial hangover come January. Easier said than done, we know. But if this year proves to be anything like last year, Canadians are looking at spending upwards of $1,507 — each — on holiday spending, which is even more than their US neighbours.
So if you want to avoid credit card debt that can lead to some serious January blues, arm yourself against a financial hangover with these 11 tips…
- Create a holiday budget. Ready to hit the mall? First, consider how much you want to spend on holiday shopping, then think about how much you actually can spend without going into debt — two very different numbers, ammirite? Try to find some middle ground that allows you some flexibility, then write that number down. Next figure out who you’ll be buying for and do some simple math: Divide your grand total by the number of people who are on your ‘nice’ list’ and voila! You’ve got yourself a budget for individual gifts. If you’re not great at sticking to a budget, download a free money management app, like Mint, to keep you on track.
- Make a list and check it twice. Speaking of that ‘nice list,’ who’s on it? And — at the risk of sounding like the Grinch — do they really need to be? (Yes, it’s okay to be a little cutthroat during the holiday season.) Now that you’ve whittled it down a little, make sure your list also notes what you plan to buy, and remember, a small gift from the heart is more meaningful than a pricey one you didn’t put any thought into.
- Plan a Secret Santa with friends and family. The older we get, the more friends we collect. That can make for a pretty huge ‘nice list,’ which can make it virtually impossible to stick to our budget. So consider organizing a Secret Santa with your besties, your pals at work and even your family members. Not only does it make for a fun twist on the traditional, it’s a great way for both you and your loved ones to save money.
- Shop solo. Holiday shopping is a big job that takes a lot of mental energy — especially if you’re serious about sticking to your budget. That means you need to focus, and shopping companions can be a huge distraction. You definitely don’t need the kids by your side, begging for a new toy at every turn. And remember that shopping with your partner can mean coming home with double the gifts, since you will each have an opinion on what the “perfect gift” means to you.
- Save while you spend. Sound counter-intuitive? With apps like Acorns and Digit, it’s not. What we love about these apps is that they do the work for you. Here’s how: Pay with a card and these apps will round up what you owe, then invest the extra money on your behalf. Now if only these apps were available outside of the US… (Sorry, Canada!).
- Or set up an automatic (holiday) savings account. Some banks offer a similar plan, automatically rounding up your amount owing and moving the leftover cash to a dedicated savings account. If you do this year-round, you’ll be surprised to see a nice little nest holiday egg when December rolls around.
- Use cash, or pay off credit cards in full. Possibly the simplest way to avoid credit card debt? Pay with cash, or — if that’s too old-school for you — use your debit card. (Just be sure to have overdraft turned off!) If you don’t have enough cash to pay up front, make it a New Year’s resolution to start paying off your credit cards in full. Not only will you not be paying for holiday shopping (+ everything that came before), but you won’t have to think about how much extra you are paying towards interest. (Have you ever done the math to see how quickly it adds up? It’s not pretty.)
- Earn rewards, points and cash. If you’re going to use credit cards for purchases, make sure to use the right ones — you know the cards that will help you earn rewards, collect points and even get you some cash back. The key here is to use your card responsibly. Just remember to put any cash you get back towards your credit card debt in January. The extra money should not be an incentive to buy more. And speaking of rewards, what better time than now to join the League Healthy Rewards “Grow Your Savings” 21-Day Challenge? Learn to build healthy financial habits, like spending intentionally instead of spontaneously, all the while earning League credit you can use towards eligible products and services in the marketplace! Winning.
- Host a potluck. If it’s your turn to organize the holiday party, why not change things up this year and host a potluck? This way, you’ll be sharing what will end up being a rather large expense with all your guests. Make it fun by asking each of your friends to bring a traditional holiday food from their culture. Most people will be so excited to share their customs that they won’t be focusing on the fact that you aren’t taking care of it all yourself.
- Look for ways to reduce your travel costs. If you live far away from your family, making your way home can be another large expense. If you’re flying, try to buy your tickets as early as possible (preferably before October), or try Hopper, a free app that will predict the best travel deals up to one year in advance.
- Hire a financial consultant. If this is all feeling too overwhelming, consider hiring an expert. Consultants can help you make a financial plan and, just as importantly, stick to it. Not sure where to start? League members can find financial consultants in the League Marketplace under “Financial Education Services” and get some advice at a discounted price. Or, if you can’t afford a financial planner, try KOHO or YNAB, free apps that give users real-time insights into their spending, making your finances that much easier to manage.
May your shopping be merry!