It’s not even Halloween and some retailers are already slashing prices on goods from electronics to apparel, which means it’s a good time for consumers to start their holiday shopping.
The 2023 holiday shopping season is expected to bear many of the hallmarks of pre-pandemic seasons, as consumers return to traditional behaviors such as picking out gifts in stores versus online, and retailers are better able to balance inventory levels.
To be sure, inflationary pressures are driving up the prices of goods, leading 42% of consumers to say they plan to spend more this year than last, according to an ICSC Holiday Intentions Survey.
Additionally, 68% of Americans say they are more tempted to spend impulsively during the holiday season than any other, according to a survey from budgeting app YNAB.
‘Tis the season for going into debt
Impulsivity often results in overspending, which leads to regret in January, when consumers’ find themselves in a financial pinch because of holiday bills. The YNAB survey showed that more than half of impulsive spenders have had debt over the past year as a result of the habit.
“So much impulsivity at the end of year is the result of a perfect storm. We have retailers holding sales and doing promotions you don’t want to miss out on, plus peoples’ emotions are heightened with festive displays,” said Ashley Lapato, a YNAB personal finance expert and owner of @TheOrganizedWallet TikTok account.
“That brings a lot of stress, already having money spoken for when you get paid in January and the money goes to things you bought in November,” Lapato added.
Here are some tips for controlling spending around the holidays and avoiding starting the new year in debt.
Set a budget, create a comprehensive list of spending
“Create a holiday budget by listing your planned expenses — gifts, and for whom; travel; decorations, and assign a dollar limit to each,” said Jason Gaughan, head of consumer credit card products at Bank of America.
That list should keep track of all planned spending, including costs associated with gifts, like wrapping paper and shipping costs and other expenses, such as travel and entertaining costs. Also account for expenses such as holiday decorations, greeting cards and year-end tips for teachers and building staff.
“With Christmas lists, our brain goes to gifts first. Creating a more comprehensive list will help with impulsive spending. Add those all to the list so you have full picture of priorities you need to spend on this year,” Lapato said.
As Americans return to pre-pandemic traditions, they can incur increased costs compared to the past couple of years.
“They are not just planning to buy gifts, but to spend on extras like home decor, furnishings and party apparel. We haven’t seen people invest in those categories for the past few years, but we are getting back to normal trends where we are embracing the whole holiday,” said Lupine Skelly, head of retail research for Deloitte.
Track your spending
Devise a tracking system that works best for you, whether it means keeping an envelope full of cash or using a debit or credit card.
“Some people use an envelope system with cash and they spend it down,” said Emily Irwin, senior director of advice for Wells Fargo.
Others prefer to use credit cards and track their spending electronically.
“It allows me to categorize it and I pull it into a spreadsheet and I contrast it against the budget I set,” Irwin said.
Download retailer apps
It can pay to download retailers’ mobile apps, which often alert consumers to discounts and deals before they’re announced to the general public.
“Along with price shopping, take advantage of technology. A lot of different retailers have wish list notifications and price-tracking tools so you can get notified if something goes on sale or comes back in stock,” said Katie Thomas, who leads the Kearney Consumer Institute. “Getting tapped into technology at key retailers will be clutch for consumers.”
Become a loyalist
Joining a retailer’s loyalty program can also help consumers save.
“You can seek out bargains by signing up for loyalty programs, so you’re first to know about deals from retailers, and you’re first to be rewarded with free expedited shipping,” said Adam Davis, managing director of Wells Fargo Commercial Capital. “If you’re not in a position to buy today, keep an eye on items in case prices shift.”
Shop early so you’re not spending to “save”
Leaving holiday shopping to the last minute can easily lead to overspending.
“If you walk into a store under a tight deadline to buy something for an individual, whatever they have available and whatever the price is, that’s what you’re walking out door with. Try to avoid that at all costs,” Wells Fargo’s Irwin said.
If you’re shopping online last-minute, that can lead to extra shipping costs, too. Consumers are tempted to spend more money to qualify for free expedited shipping when purchasing items just days before the holiday.
“That’s what I like about getting started now, we’re not racing the clock to spend more on expedited shipping. We’re not playing mental games with ourselves such as, ‘If I spend on this, I can get free shipping,” Lapato said.
Give a gift card
If you want to spend a set amount on an individual, give them a gift card. That way, they get to choose exactly what they want while you get to stick to your budget.
“That’s a way to avoid upping spending because of inflation,” Skelly said.
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