If you think it’s hard to keep from overspending over the holidays, imagine being a mom: In addition to gifting every extended family member, she's usually the one responsible for making or breaking the kiddos’ Santa list. And all those presents add up, fast.
A survey by MagnifyMoney found that the average consumer racked up more than $1,000 in new debt over the holidays last year.
But savvy moms know how to avoid the post-holiday spending hangover. How? They strategize *before* they hit the mall.
1. Set — And Stick to — an All-Inclusive Holiday Budget
For most of us, our holiday budget is actually just a gift list of family members and the dollar amount we plan to spend on each.
But then of course, there’s everything else — the sparkly lights, the festive lawn ornaments, the ugly Christmas sweaters for the annual party. The average consumer shells out $314 for “non-gift spending,” including decorations and clothing, and nearly $500 in “experiences,” such as traveling and socializing, according to Deloitte’s 2017 holiday retail survey.
So take an evening to list out all the categories you think you’ll spend money on in a simple spreadsheet, recommends Karen Hoxmeier, founder of deal site MyBargainBuddy and mom of three kids, ages 18, 20 and 22. (And remember to include your partner in the planning so you’re both on board.) Don’t forget about often-overlooked costs like postage for holiday cards or small hostess gifts you bring to parties.
Once all is accounted for, is the total more than you can afford? Then weigh which costs are important and make some trade-offs.
2. Set Gift Expectations
We long to give good gifts — and lots of them — but that can spiral out of control quickly, says Cherie Lowe, who runs personal finance blog Queen of Free and is mom to two daughters, 15 and 9. So it may be a good idea to manage your children’s expectations on the number and types of gifts they’ll be receiving. Lowe’s family has a tradition of giving three gifts: one book, one piece of clothing and one “big” gift, whether it’s a toy, electronic gadget or an experience. Plus, they each get a stocking full of practical but fun goodies.
If you go this route, “consistency is key,” says entrepreneur Nicole Myles Brook, who has two kids, ages 4 and 12. For instance, “if Santa brought an Xbox last year and this year he leaves a book, your child might be confused about expectations year to year, and feel either over-joyous or deflated based on a benchmark set in previous years.”
3. Don’t Shop With the Kids in Tow
Nothing can bust your budget faster than when your little “elves” help themselves to every new toy or gadget on the way to check out. Your best bet? Going it solo. “Shopping alone allows you to take the time to carefully consider prices and weigh your options,” Brook says. If you don’t want to pay a sitter, see if you can swap childcare with a friend.
4. Find a Steal? Get More Than One
Does your favorite store have BOGO deal on an awesome winter coat? Are DVDs of your family’s favorite films cheaper if you get them in packs of five? Then figure out if you can please more than one person on your gift list with bargain finds. “There's no rule that says you have to give everyone different gifts,” Hoxmeier says — especially if they come with a sweet price tag.
5. Take Advantage of Gift Cards
Got unused gift cards lying around? Use up what you already have to prevent more money from flying out of your wallet, Lowe says.
But on top of that, get strategic about how you purchase gift cards; in many cases, you may be able to get the gift card you want at a discount. Sites like GiftCardGranny and Cardpool aggregate discounted gift cards so you can search for what you want by brand. Hoxmeier likes to buy cards to use for her own gift shopping at Raise, which allows you to filter your search by biggest discount. If you’re looking to give cards as gifts, she also recommends checking out PayPal gift cards on eBay. “They regularly offer unused gift cards for less than face value and deliver them via email — super handy for a last-minute gift,” she says.
The author's sons receiving T-shirts as gifts that were actually clues leading up to their bigger gift, an Xbox.
6. Amp Up the Unwrapping Experience
Remember when your kids were babies and were just as thrilled by unwrapping a box as they were by what was inside it? As they get older, they become more interested in what’s inside the box. But with a little imagination, even the older kids may enjoy the opening ritual as much as the gift — which could save you a few bucks.
For instance, in my own family, one year we teased our big gift, an Xbox Kinect, by first giving our sons promotional Kinect T-shirts. They thought they were just receiving boring clothes, but eventually figured out that the Xbox was waiting for them. You could also unbundle a new gaming system and wrap each controller and cord in its own box, then create a scavenger hunt that will take them all over the house to where the console is hidden at the end.
Another one of the “big” gifts for our kids each year is the reveal of our family summer vacation. We’ll individually wrap different clues to the destination (for example, tea bags and baseballs for Boston) or have them unscramble letters and guess the city. Teasing the gifts helps build excitement, and avoids needing smaller filler gifts that can add up.
7. Start Saving for Next Year (No, Really)
It’s pretty puzzling how we get caught off guard around the holidays, considering they roll around each year. Make a New Year’s resolution to establish a holiday savings account and add to it all year, Lowe suggests. “Even if it’s only a couple of bucks at a time, you’ll be delighted at how much you’ve amassed in advance of the spending season,” she says.
You’ll also have cash at the ready throughout the year if you come across a great deal for something you know a loved one will want come December. “Chipping away at your shopping a little bit at a time,” Hoxmeier says, “can help keep you on track and prevent last-minute overspending.”