Holiday Prep: Five Tips for the Season of Spending

The holiday shopping season is officially in full swing — and it’s going to be a busy one. Holiday retail sales are expected to reach anywhere from $678 to $682 billion this year, potentially a four percent increase from holiday sales in 2016. Forecasts show that an increase in consumer confidence, coupled with a longer shopping season, will deliver strong results for retailers in 2017.

Whether you’ve got your shopping strategy all mapped out or have barely started making a gift list, these tips will help you make the most of the season while protecting your financial fitness.

1. Set a budget. It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and lose track of how much money is going out the door. Before you start shopping, take time to review your bank statements and pay off any outstanding bills. Once you’re able to create a realistic budget, make sure you stick to it by tracking your purchases and using online banking to monitor your accounts.

It’s also important to use a payment method that works for you. If you tend to overspend, try only using cash when making purchases at brick-and-mortar stores. Looking to make your spending pay off? Consider using a rewards credit card for your holiday purchases.

Shoppers will spend an average of $967.13 on holiday shopping this year, a 3.4 percent boost from 2016. Avoid busting your budget by planning ahead.

2. Start Early. If there’s one thing you can count on during the holiday season, it’s how fast the time flies by. Between family gatherings and holiday decorating, it can be hard to get shopping done — and then before you know it, it’s the end of December. 

Shopping earlier in the season can help you take advantage of pre-holiday deals and relieve some of the pressure that comes with hunting down items at the last minute. This year, more shoppers are kicking off their holiday shopping ahead of schedule. In fact, roughly 30 percent of consumers plan to start shopping during Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a significant shift considering that in the years prior to 2014, that number only ranged from 12 to 16 percent.

Now is the time to get your shopping plans in order. Try making a list of the items you want to purchase early on, and that way you can keep an eye out for sales or deals throughout the holiday season. 

3. Do your research. You have all of the information needed to make informed shopping decisions right at your fingertips. From expert reviews to price comparison apps, don’t be afraid to use online resources to your advantage. There are plenty of sites where you can find user reviews and ratings. Or check out unbiased product reviews from sites like Consumer Reports or CNET.

Once you know exactly which items you want to buy, make sure you’re getting the right price. Whether you’re planning to buy in-store or online, check out a variety of retailers to see who has the lowest price and identify if merchants have price-match policies that can help you get a better deal. While it may be tempting to hold out until Black Friday to make purchases, more retailers are offering deals before the annual shopping day. Before splurging on what may seem like a good deal, do your homework to make sure it’s worth it.

4. Stay organized. In the flurry of the holiday season, it’s easy for things to get overlooked. When it comes to shopping during the holidays, a little bit of organization can go a long way in alleviating stress and keeping your spending on track. Start by creating a detailed holiday shopping list — and check it twice. Include gifts you’d like to purchase for family and friends, as well as a few small presents just in case you have any holiday gift exchanges, last-minute parties or surprise visitors.

Make sure to put your shopping list in writing and keep it handy whether you’re shopping online or venturing out to face the crowds. Having a specific list to refer back to can help give you accountability to stick with the items you’ve planned to purchase and avoid those tempting impulse buys. But staying organized doesn’t end with your shopping list. Save all receipts and order confirmations as you’re making purchases, and don’t forget to ask about return policies. This can save you a lot of headache when returns and exchanges start piling up after the new year.

5. Get crafty. Sometimes it really is the thought that counts. Opting to gift homemade items can be a great way to show how much you care without breaking the bank. Take a look at your gift list and identify those who may appreciate a more thoughtful gift, such as decorating photos for grandparents or baking holiday treats for your neighbor. Since creating a DIY gift may take a little more time and effort, plan ahead to make sure your gift is ready in time.

Running low on inspiration? Use sites like Pinterest and YouTube to help get your creative juices flowing. From mason jar candles and hot cocoa kits, to photo ornaments and themed gift baskets, there are DIY ideas to suit every budget and skill level. 

Before the shopping craze begins, make sure you’ve properly prepared. With the tips outlined above, you can keep stressing out over holiday purchases off your list.

About the author 

Christopher Tracy is President, Financial Wellness at Mvelopes by Finicity, a direct-to-consumer budgeting tool and financial wellness platform. Christopher knows that money, and the way you manage it, is the great equalizer for people of all ages and lifestyles, and his passion for helping consumers better manage their finances drives him forward. Christopher graduated from Cal Poly before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School.

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