Shah: 7 tips to avoid holiday overspending

The holiday season is the most profitable time of year for retailers, generating nearly 20 percent of their total annual sales.  That means these months are the costliest for consumers. 

According to the accounting firm of Deloitte US, the average American will spend $1,226 this year on holiday gifts – and that number almost doubles to $2,226 per person in households earning $100,000 or more. 

These amounts are only for gifts – they don’t include spending for holiday travel, food, decorations and entertainment.  In fact, Americans spend nine times more money shopping during the end-of-year holidays than they do during the second-highest spending period, which is the “Back To School” season.     

So how can you keep your holiday spending under control and avoid starting 2018 under uncomfortable financial – and emotional – stress?  Here are seven tips to keep your spending from overtaking your wallet.

  1. Set a budget for yourself – establish the amount of money that you can realistically afford to spend per person and per category, such as for travel or for decorations.  Then force yourself to stay within the limits.  If you splurge on one expense, cut back somewhere else.  Avoid spending on yourself.      
  2. Set expectations with othersfamily and friends typically don’t expect you to suffer financially so you can impress them with extravagant gifts.  If necessary, discuss gift strategy with certain people on your gift list early in the holiday season so both of you have the same understanding about the coming gift exchange and can match expectations, without any hard feelings or disappointments.  For example, with some people you may choose to set a dollar limit for gifts and with others you may eliminate gift-giving completely.  
  3. Track your spending – it’s easy to set-up a spreadsheet on your computer.  Or you can arrange with your credit card company to alert you with an e-mail or text message when you reach a certain pre-determined spending limit – that will be your signal to stop buying.  If you prefer a harder “stop” sign, use cash – you’ll know immediately when you have run out of money.
    Two additional cautions: (1) beware of credit cards because getting credit adjustments can be difficult and take time, and (2) notify your credit card company if you intend to travel out of the country, so you can make purchases more conveniently with less chance of automatic decline.
  4. Cut costs – to make room for holiday spending, eliminate some of your usual discretionary or “convenience” expenses, such as those high-priced coffee drinks, last-minute pizza orders, or after-work drinks with colleagues.  These little amounts can turn into big savings in just a few weeks.
  5. Get a seasonal job – there is a strong demand for part-time workers during the holidays at retail stores and restaurants, both of which typically offer discounts to employees and that can be an additional source of savings.  You can also generate extra cash with “handy work” in your community such as putting up decorations or being a personal gift-shopper.
    Check the internet using keywords such as “seasonal,” “holiday” or “temporary.”  There are even job-search apps that specialize in temporary seasonal jobs.  Of course, the more hours you work, the less time you’ll have available to spend.         
  6. Compare prices – the internet makes it easy and convenient for you to look for deals and to make smarter buying decisions.  For products, use sites such as NexTag, Bizrate or PriceGrabber.  For travel, get instant price alerts from sites such as Airfarewatchdog and FareCompare.
    Always pay for high-priced items, especially electronics and travel, by credit card because it will be much easier to resolve problems and get adjustments, if necessary.  For electronics, carefully evaluate any extended service contracts that are offered – the cost of replacing the item is often more reasonable than the cost of the service contract.         
  7. Consider alternate gifts – save money with homemade gifts, such as food items that feature unique or “family secret” recipes.  Or get together with others to pool funds for a gift, which puts less strain on each person’s individual budget.
    And don’t overlook the value of your time – consider giving your services to baby sit, to do chores, or to deliver a home-cooked meal.  Finally, re-gift – if you receive gifts or gift cards that you cannot put to good use, pass them along to someone who can properly appreciate them. 

It’s easy to over-indulge during the holiday season, not just in shopping but also in food and drink.  Stay within your limits for all these activities and you’ll be healthier, both physically and fiscally – all without cutting back on your fun or on enjoying the season. 

Most importantly, your self-discipline when shopping in December will certainly make you happier when paying bills in January.   

Navin Shah is Chairman of Royal Hotel Investments, which owns and operates two hotels in Covington and one in Conyers.  He is also Vice Chairman of Embassy National Bank, a community bank in Lawrenceville that he helped establish in 2007 and has become one of the leading SBA lenders in the southeast.