Healthy Spending Habits to Avoid Holiday Stress

Woman doing Christmas shopping

Whether you feel obligated to buy for every distant family member, or you can’t resist the pull of once-a-year-only sales, overspending is not uncommon during the holidays. The sights, smells, and overall jolliness come together in a chorus of, “Tis the season to splurge!” According to results from a 2017 poll by American Consumer Credit Counseling, 63 percent of people reported feeling “a lot” or “some” financial strain over holiday shopping.

This year, follow these tips to help curb the urge to overspend and instead enjoy the season without the stress. 

Woman looking at computer during holidays

Hey, Big Spender
For many, the holidays provide a free pass to splurge, from buying over-the-top gifts for loved ones to picking up a little something special for themselves. Here’s how to change those habits.

  • Set expectations by having conversations with family and friends about your approach to holiday giving. Explain how overspending adds to your holiday stress and this year, you’re making changes to be healthier and happier, while also appreciating the season’s deeper meanings.
  • Plan a budget for overall spending on things like decorations and entertaining, as well as per-person. For example, set a limit for how much you’re going to spend on your child, then keep track of the gifts you purchase to stay within that limit.

Volunteers at a food bank

Gifting Alternatives
Instead of buying an expensive gift for everyone on your list, consider alternatives like the ones listed below. Chances are, when you suggest this to friends and family, they will gladly welcome the opportunity to save money.

  • Spend quality time together. Give more of what matters most by skipping the gifts and coming together for a shared activity, such as volunteering at a food bank, sharing a potluck meal, going ice skating or sledding, or playing board games.
  • Scrap the store-bought gifts. Handmade items, from flavored cooking oils and tasty treats to knitted scarves and photo collages, are more meaningful than trinkets from the mall.
  • Instead of giving to everyone, agree to draw names and buy just one present. Or pool the money your family or friends would have spent on gifts and instead donate to a beloved charity.

Man and woman shopping

Shop Smarter
If you must buy gifts, do so with a plan. By being strategic, you can avoid spending too much on unnecessary impulse purchases. Consider these tips:

  • Know ahead of time which stores you need to go to. You may even want to “pre-screen” them to determine which ones have the things you’re looking for at the best prices.
  • When shopping online, put things in your cart and then step away to think about it. Sometimes, retailers may even notice your full basket and send coupons.
  • Take advantage of after-holiday sales. Make a list of what you’ll need next year and then buy at a discount. Or, decide as a group to do your gift-giving after the holidays. This works especially well for friends and co-workers, as the holidays can be a busy time for family. Coming together after the rush lets you enjoy time together while also saving money on gifts.

There’s an App for That
Holiday shopping smartphone apps can help you create lists of who you are buying for, and assist with budgeting and purchase tracking. Here are some popular choices:

  • Santa’s Bag for iOS is great if you have a lot of people to buy for. It’s list management made easy.
  • Christmas Gift List for Android lets you create a wish list and encourage others to do the same, so there’s no more guessing what anyone wants.
  • The Christmas List for iOs and Android provides a helping hand to create a shopping list and manage your budget.
  • The RAC app gives you the power to make and track your payments, manage your account, get approved, and more with just a few taps on your phone.

Family Christmas dinner

Stay Merry
Don’t think of your holiday budget as a negative. By focusing less on buying gifts that can leave you financially strained, you’re creating an opportunity to focus on what the holidays mean to you and your family. Put the emphasis on what you care about and find new ways to celebrate the season.