Many of us are familiar with that hollow feeling that comes after the holidays. All the fun is over, and there’s nothing more to look forward to. Not only do we feel empty, but we often find our pockets are empty as well.
When you’re caught up in the holiday spirit, it’s dangerously easy to overspend and be tricked by retailers into paying more than you have to. According to Psychology Today, even retail experts make the same shopping blunders we do. So how can we, the laypeople, hope to avoid falling prey to promotions this holiday season? If you avoid these seven deadly holiday shopping sins, you’ll emerge in January with your finances intact.
1. Not Setting a Budget
Not setting a budget ahead of time is one of the biggest holiday shopping mistakes you can make. If you start shopping without setting limits for yourself, it becomes easy to overspend and lose track of how much you’ve spent.
Even worse, you may be tempted to rely too heavily on credit cards. Keep in mind that credit cards are not magic money, and you will have to pay them back! To keep your post-holiday season less stressful, take the time to sit down and set a shopping budget, and make sure you stick to it. Don’t forget to include travel and party hosting expenses in your budget – they can add up surprisingly fast.
2. Not Comparison Shopping
Eureka! You’ve found it! The perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for friend. That’s great, but hold it right there: don’t just buy it the first time you see it! It may be convenient and you may be excited to have found something that’s just right, but chances are you can get a better deal on the same item if you take the time to shop around.
It’s easy to compare prices at sites like PriceGrabber.com and Google Shopping. They’ll show you the online and in-store prices of the item you want at various stores. Check out the discounts available on the item you want, and then buy it at the store that offers the best deal.
3. Last-Minute Shopping
Ever since we had to study for our first-grade spelling quizzes, people have been telling us: Don’t wait until the last minute! But somehow, years later, we all still have the tendency to wait until the last possible moment to get things done.
Break free of the pattern this year, and get your holiday shopping done early. If you fall into the trap and shop at the last minute, not only will you be more stressed about it, you’re also likely to miss out on the good deals and will end up spending more money than you have to.
4. Not Making a List
Santa makes a list, so why don’t we? When the holiday season rolls around, it’s easy to start shopping willy-nilly whenever you see something that someone might like. But this is a recipe for overspending, and it can leave you with a pile of gifts for one person and nothing for someone else.
It’s entirely worth your time to make a list of everyone you want to buy a gift for. Including how much you expect to spend on each person will help you stick to your budget. Once you purchase a gift for someone, don’t forget to write it down on your list. I can’t count the number of times I’ve opened a gift from my mother and heard her say, “Oh! I don’t remember getting that!”
You don’t have to organize all your holiday shopping yourself, either – there’s an app for that. Apps like Gift Plan and mGifts let you keep track of events, people you want to get gifts for, and your budget. You can also record gift ideas, things they like, and their clothing sizes.
5. Shopping to Impress
Even if you have plenty of extra cash to spend, don’t buy a gift for someone just because it is expensive and showy. Buying a gift to impress is even worse if you don’thave the extra cash to spend. It’s not worth it to end up broke just for a garish gift. People can always tell when genuine thought and care went into the gift you gave them, and sometimes those truly caring gifts aren’t expensive at all. Consider giving homemade gifts whenever possible, because it makes your gift that much more special. Like they say, it’s the thought that really counts.
6. Neglecting Internet Safety
These days, a lot of us opt out of the crazy holiday shopping crowds and instead do our shopping on the Internet. If there is an option between staying in pajamas and getting dressed, I always choose to stay in pajamas! But despite its convenience, online shopping does have its hazards.
First of all, make sure the sites you’re shopping on have secure web addresses. You can tell a website is secure by looking at the URL. It should say “https://” at the beginning (on Google Chrome it will be green). Don’t shop at a site unless it’s secure. With most mainstream shopping websites, this shouldn’t be a problem. Also, make sure that the network you’re using for internet access is private. It’s not a good idea to input your credit card information on a site, even if it is secure, if you’re using a public WiFi network. The solution? Stay comfy, and do your online shopping at home!
7. Paying for Shipping
Stores offer so many free shipping deals during the holidays that paying for shipping at this time of year ends up being a waste of money. You could be using those dollars to pay for other gifts, to throw a party, or to pay for your plane ticket home for the holidays.
To start with, make smart decisions about which gifts to buy online and which to buy in-store. In general, especially large or heavy items are better purchased in-store, as well as items that are so small or cheap that it’s not even worth ordering them online. Most online stores will offer free shipping at some point during the holiday season, though sometimes for only a day or two at a time. Stay on top of free shipping offers by signing up for email newsletters from your favorite stores.
The holidays are really supposed to be about enjoying time with friends and family, so don’t spend the season stressing about your bank account. Just shop with a plan in hand and avoid these mistakes, and you’ll get through your holiday shopping like a pro.