The holiday season is upon us, and for the millions of us who have trouble limiting our spending, this time of year can be especially difficult. Seems like everyone is going shopping: on lunch breaks, after work, over the weekend. It can be a lot of fun, especially if you are out with friends, but it can also lead to a whopping post-holiday hangover.
How can you participate without going overboard? It’s hard to limit yourself when you want to get everyone something really nice, but if you can’t afford the gifts you buy, you could end up looking at a bleak stack of New Year’s bills you can’t pay and that’s anything but a gift to yourself.
A couple of traps result from not planning your holiday shopping. Without a plan, you can end up with a dozen purchases for one person or with a desperation purchase that’s far too extravagant. You can also get caught up in the whirlwind of shopping and buy too many sale items or buy something you really can’t afford just because the bargain price is so much lower than the originally-listed sales price.
Take heart! Avoiding overspending doesn’t have to be grim.
A basic and extremely helpful tool that’s often overlooked is a basic shopping list/spending plan. Create your list at home, far away from the sparkle and glitter of store decorations, the lure of an almost overwhelming number of product choices, and the maddening crowds. Note who you are buying for, what you want to get, how much you can comfortably afford, and how much time you want to spend looking. Be sure to add up the cost column to see if you are committing to more than you really want to spend. If you are, make the necessary changes before leaving home. With a list and a spending plan, overspending can be nipped in the bud. Make sure you carry it with you…and that you keep referring to it while you’re shopping!
The new shopping apps available for smart phones can help you with your list and your budget. These apps let you “shop” from home, comparing prices all over town. One new app lets you shop for all sorts of items (clothing to electronics) using your phone, sorting the information by price and location and highlighting nearby sales. Another app lets you enter a particular item you especially want to buy and tracks that item until a sale drops the price into your range. Other apps let you accumulate shopping points you can redeem. Still others text you coupons. If you use these apps wisely, not to justify purchases you can’t afford, they can help you stay within your spending plan and save time as well. We’ve created a post that describes some of the most popular shopping apps and lays out the pros and the cons of each, as we see them, including the relative riskiness of each for someone with overspending tendencies. To read that, click here .
To keep you on track, why not team up with a friend? Each of you can serve as the other’s shopping support buddy. For more on shopping support buddies, look at the Friends and Family section of this blog. Make out your lists together, enjoying a couple of evenings at home using your apps to find the items on your list. Then head out to the stores, making a game out of seeing how little you can spend and still give to everyone on your list. The winner treats her buddy to a movie—research shows that the money you spend on experiences is much more satisfying–both of you enjoy a conscious treasure hunt, and both of you go home satisfied.
Shopping with a carefully thought out plan, using shopping apps that will help you adhere to that plan, and teaming up with a shopping support buddy; employ these three strategies and enjoy the holiday with no threat of a money hangover.
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.