Most of us spend too much during the holidays, and most of us finish them feeling more stressed than we went into them. We tell ourselves it’s inevitable, but it’s really not. Being aware of why we over-spend can be the first step towards sticking to a sensible holiday budget.
Here are ten reasons we tend to spend more than we need to, as soon as holiday madness hits.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all those other pre-holiday sales
There’s a reason pre-holiday sales are so popular with merchants. They know that if the average consumer has a tendency to overspend on their holiday shopping, a consumer in a competitive sale environment has a tendency to go budget-blowing crazy. The secret to sensible budgeting is planning, and you can’t plan if you don’t know in advance what will be on sale.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday also work on the principle of scarcity, with a limited number of each item on sale, so you’re more likely than ever to impulse buy. I stayed home on Black Friday last year, and off the shopping sites on Cyber Monday, and I spent (a lot) less overall than many of my sale-obsessed friends. Not one person on my list went without a gift on Christmas morning, and I know for a fact that some of the Black Friday obsessives I know kept a big chunk of their haul for themselves. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but I’m a dedicated minimalist, and more stuff is the opposite of what I’m aiming for in my life.
Pride and expectations
During the holidays we spend time with family we don’t see very often, and sadly there’s sometimes a reason we don’t see them more. Perhaps they’re people we feel competitive with, or who have unrealistic expectations, so we buy them a high-end gift for all the wrong reasons. Instead of an overly pricey present, try putting in the time in to find a less expensive but truly thoughtful or appropriate gift. That can be just as impressive. Or stop caring what they think (more effective long-term, but harder to do).
Perfect parent pressure
The pressure to parent perfectly is there year round, but during the holiday season you’ll be exposed to even more perfect parents with their adorable families, smiling down from billboards or out of TV commercials.
Whether you have a toddler you want to bless with every toy in the store or a teenager who needs the latest gadget, think before you buy. If you know your small child will spend more time playing with the wrapping, rein in the amount you spend. Suggest to your teenagers that they ask for cash or appropriate gift cards to put towards their own gadgets. Remind them the holiday season is a great time to get some part-time work in retail, or pick up some extra babysitting jobs to help towards their new purchases. Then remind them a few more times. They have very selective hearing.
The convenience of online shopping is a huge advantage for most of us, allowing to shop from our own homes, late at night, in pajamas. It also makes it easy to overspend, especially as we’re using credit cards or PayPal, which don’t feel like real money.
If you shop online, use the technology to help you stick to your budget. Many sites will let you search by price range or filter search results, starting with the lowest price.
Shopping under the influence
A small but perhaps significant issue with online holiday shopping, is that it may take place (as mentioned above) late at night, in the holiday season. At least some of us will probably have experienced overspending simply because we mixed holiday shopping with a glass of wine or two. No? Just me then. I hereby vow not to drink and browse this holiday season.
Stores know a lot about using psychological tricks to get you to overspend, and during the holiday season they go into overdrive. Everything from the pricing schemes to the colors in the holiday themed display encourages you spend more. Be aware of their cheap tricks and resist them if you can.
If we waste food at other times of the year (and we do), it gets worse over the holiday season: that huge turkey, all the trimmings, and enough side dishes to break the dining table (even though half the guests are children who won’t eat more than the spoonful of vegetables their parents insist on). If you can’t be more realistic about what’s needed, at least have a plan and system ready to freeze or re-use the leftovers.
Falling for party season propaganda
You’ve probably noticed that articles in magazines this time of year assume we all need new outfits, and, depending on gender, maybe make-up and full body makeovers. Local beauty salons and spas are already insisting I need to prep up to ‘bare all this party season’. I really don’t. I live in a four-season climate. It’s cold. I won’t be baring anything. I have more than enough outfits for the few parties I’ll be invited to. My regular make-up and grooming products will suffice.
It’s easy to overspend when it seems like the whole of humanity is setting a bad example. Purchases extravagant enough to make us feel guilty at any other time slip by because everybody’s doing it. We even justify our spending by telling ourselves we might as well all be broke by the New Year because none of our friends will have any money to go out in January anyway. Focus on what the holidays really mean (to you) to distance yourself from the consumerism.
With all of us overspending on ourselves and our families, it’s not surprising that every charity in the world uses the holidays to remind us of those less fortunate. Giving to charity is a great thing to do, but it should be part of your planned budget like anything else. Give what you can afford during the holiday season, just as you would any other time.