For Ryan Decker, getting through the holiday shopping season is all about planning ahead. In fact, if he saw a gift for one of his two young sons in March, he’d buy it instead of scrambling through his shopping list in December.
“It’s a huge relief,” he said, making his December bill more manageable as he spreads the vacation costs over the year.
Without this kind of advance planning, costs can quickly exceed budget this time of year, said Decker, a certified financial planner and director of the Center for Financial Literacy at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. “Inflation is eroding our purchasing power, so once we get into the holiday season, it’s going to be a very stressful time.”
Financial educators like Decker are often busy during the holiday shopping season, sharing with their audience tips on how to avoid debt and save money during the holiday season. We asked five of them how they personally got through the season with their finances intact.
See also: If you’re struggling to pay off debt, take these 3 steps to help make it happen
make a list and stick to it
“I know I’m going to budget so I don’t suffer after the holidays,” says Kristin Whelan, a clinical professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She made a list of who she needed to buy gifts for and assigned a spending cap to each person’s gift.
Part of that strategy, Whelan said, means limiting purchases to what she can comfortably afford from savings, rather than resorting to credit card debt. “One of the ways we can use our limited resources to maximize our well-being is by paying now, rather than receiving a credit card bill in February that can take a toll on our financial and emotional health.”
Give (and Receive) More Creative Gifts
Jerry Graham, co-founder of Atlanta-based KindaFrugal.com, mentioned to his brother that he prefers handmade gifts this year. “He’s talented in art and woodworking, and I told him I wanted a cutting board or something. A DIY gift was more memorable and from the heart,” he says. It often saves money, too, and Graham knew his brother had a limited budget.
Likewise, Felipe Arevalo, a community outreach coordinator at the Center for Financial Literacy in San Diego, collects family photos throughout the year and then creates a photo calendar for family members whenever he sees a promo code pop up. “I got the idea from my wife’s uncle, but no one in my family has done that yet,” he said. Not only does it save money, but it also helps the family stay connected and see how his 4- and 9-year-old sons are developing.
DIY strategies work with kids too. “I encourage my kids to give coupons for physical gifts rather than stuff,” Whelan says. Kids can offer a card when they walk the dog or do other chores, make dinner for the family, even if it’s just pasta or a babysitter. Train kids to think about others instead of spending money on gifts.”
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think about something other than vacation
National Credit Counseling Foundation spokesman Bruce McClary said the holidays are the perfect time to make financial plans for the coming year. “Right now, I’m working on a rough outline of financial goals and priorities for 2023,” he said. Focusing on things like travel plans or savings goals can help put vacation spending in perspective. “You can ignore a lot of sales-related ads and emails,” he says, and instead focus on what’s most important to you.
One of the biggest hurdles to reaching your financial goals is debt, which can easily pile up during the holidays. In fact, NerdWallet’s 2022 Holiday Shopping Report found that nearly a third (31%) of holiday shoppers who used credit cards to buy gifts last year are still paying off their credit card balances.
Given the current economic environment and rising interest rates, McClary said: “It’s probably a better idea than ever to avoid relying on loans and lines of credit to get you through the holidays and spend your money as wisely as possible. You Have.”
read: Last week, “buy now, pay later” revenue jumped 72%. This is a double-edged sword for consumers.
start saving in january
Graham takes a similar approach to planning ahead as Decker, but saves money. “We started saving money in January,” he said. He and his wife, Sara, estimate the cost of the vacation based on the previous year’s spending, divide by 12, and deposit the amount into a dedicated savings account each month using autopay.
“By December, we have enough money to cover holiday expenses, including decorations, food and gifts,” he said. This is especially useful this year as their income fluctuates due to job changes. Tracking this year’s spending will get you started with this approach in 2023 first.
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Kimberly Palmer writes for NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kimberlypalmer.