5 ways to avoid the holiday spending trap

It’s easy to get caught in the spirit of spending during holiday season.

You walk in a store with a list and the best of intentions and still find yourself defenseless against the many forces designed by retailers to encourage you to spend, spend, spend. But here’s the gotcha — even if you stick to your guns, you may still find yourself shelling out too much because of short-term thinking.

Scott Christian, a wealth management advisor for Merrill Lynch in Alpharetta often sees clients creating short-term budgets that don’t take into account big expenses such as holidays and travel.

“When people budget, they budget based on their monthly spend,” he says. “They get their after tax income and budget it out for a month. When we bring people in for a financial plan, we try to get them down to an annual plan, but it is very hard to get people to think annually.”

If you can force yourself to think about the holidays a year in advance, it can pay off big. There are of course, the things most of us already know — make a list, avoid impulse buys and shop year round for stocking stuffers and the best deals on gifts, but here are a few other strategies to consider now that can help you better plan for next year:

  • Limit holiday spending to 4 or 5 percent of your annual income. Be sure to include expenses such as travel, entertaining, family size and eating out with visiting family members.
  • Consider keeping holiday cash in a separate account. Some of Christian’s clients hold back money into a separate account specifically for holiday spending. Some even have multiple holiday accounts. When the money is gone, that’s it.
  • Another, but less advisable strategy, is to run a credit card debt for a month or two and use work bonus funds from Jan. or Feb. to pay the balance. “We would rather see them hold cash and spend it, but if they do this, at least it is a finite event,” Christian says.
  • Grandparents, aunts and uncles should consider funding children’s college education through a 529 plan. “It won’t get a big wow right then,” Christian says, “but it will be a good gift down the road.” And will definitely help any family members struggling with how to budget for college.
  • Give gifts in the name of charity. The giver gets a return on his or her money down the road and it brings another level of financial stewardship into the equation, Christian says. And of course, you can give at whatever level fits your budget.

How are you reigning in holiday spending this year? How will you plan better next year?

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– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

2 comments Add your comment

mystery poster

December 6th, 2012
1:04 pm

I have a Christmas Club at my credit union. I guess technically it’s just a separate savings account.
A certain amount goes in it from each paycheck, then come Christmas I’m ready.

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