Classic Christmas movies like to depict the holidays as a time of cheer, warmth, and blissed-out festivities with loved ones.
But the reality? Holiday blues can emerge full-throttle. Plus, awkward scenarios with the fam and the stress of travel and last-minute shopping can up the anxiety levels. And when it comes to your pocketbook, the holidays can be a season of utmost terror. In 2017, Americans racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt, according to a survey.
What’s worse, only half of those surveyed said they planned to pay down their debt in less than three months. The rest? They expected that debt to linger for five months or more. Frightening? You betcha.
But there’s a silver lining: By being mindful of common culprits that devour your money, you can avoid the plunging depths of holiday debt hangover (HDH).
Here are 6 budget breakers to beware of – and how you can avoid them.
Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Oh, these autumn treats are so-very-delicious, yet dangerous to thee pocketbook. Whether it’s a Jack Skellington Latte, apple cider donuts, or pumpkin scones, these seasonal favorite drinks and goodies can really do you in financially. Even five bucks a day during the week for two months adds up to $200.
We get it. The colder climes may send you into cozy nesting mode, making it even more tempting to splurge on sugary, warm libations. Plus, since you’re donning heavier coats and oversized sweaters, who will even notice that bit of extra padding around your waistline?
How to Avoid HDH: While it’s unrealistic to deny yourself a pumpkin spice latte during the season, set limits. For instance, commit to just one drink a week. Or load up a gift card to your favorite coffee shop, and indulge in seasonal goodies until you’re out of funds.
If you’re afraid of overdoing it, turn on notifications for transactions you make on your Chime debit card. This will keep you in check.
Impromptu Holiday Gatherings
A company holiday party is one thing, but those last-minute happy hour hangs and spur-of-the-moment gatherings with out-of-town friends can really add up. And it’s not just your food and drinks that can be pricey. Because you’re in the giving spirit, you may treat folks to rounds of drinks you may not be able to afford. Plus, to look your festive best, you may want to buy new garb for those holiday soirees.
How to Avoid HDH: Be selective in the gatherings you attend. We all experience bouts of FOMO, but make sure you won’t be paying for that nice dinner six months later. And there’s nothing wrong with suggesting a cheaper alternative, such as lunch instead of dinner, or a happy hour.
And when it comes to your attire? Sure, you want to look awesome for the gram. But take it from someone who wore the same four dollar sale dress as a maid of honor and officiant for two weddings. Most people won’t notice if you dust off an outfit.
Another option: Try mixing and matching an outfit that’s already in your closet with inexpensive accessories like a fun tie, cuff links, or perhaps a glittery wrap or stand-out neckpiece. There’s no shortage of discount retailers, from Poshmark to eBay to Nordstrom Rack. And you can also find stylish finds at a thrift store or consignment shop.
Yes, I am one of those nerdy people who creates a spreadsheet for holiday gifts. But guess what? It comes in super handy when you’re trying to stick to a holiday spending plan. My spreadsheet includes gift ideas, added costs like shipping, and the amount I can spend for each giftee. So, for a last-minute gift, I first check to make sure I can afford it. If not, I can make adjustments in my current list and free up the cash that way.
How to Avoid HDH: Check that list, and see where you can consolidate. For instance, instead of buying a gift for your Aunt Jenie, Uncle Fred, and three kids, would it be appropo to buy a single gift for the entire fam bam? And instead of getting something for each of your co-workers, what about baking goodies for the entire office to share?
Another way to cut down on your holiday gift-giving is to come up with a no-gift pact. Over the years I’ve done this with my friends and some family members. It prevents any hard feelings, and we can all breathe a shared sigh of relief. My extended family also has a no-gift policy for adults. We just give gifts for the kids.
We all have people that we feel like we have to buy gifts for. It may be that aunt we see only once a year. Or that cousin we secretly dislike. But if we don’t get them gifts for the holidays? We might be met with awkward silence or “how could you” glares from family members on Christmas morning.
How to Avoid HDH: See if you can skirt around it by suggesting a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange among the adults. Or give yourself permission to send that distant relative a card. If you’re still feeling a tinge of guilt, then consider spending a bit less than you planned to. Or if you’ve racked up a bunch of rewards points on a credit card, consider redeeming them for a gift card.
Impulse Buys for Yourself
We’ve all done it. During the manic of Black Friday or Cyber Monday, we may trick ourselves into believing we’re purely buying stuff for others. But in fact, we add a few items here and there for ourselves. How can you resist a killer deal, right?
How to Avoid HDH: Set limits. Remember: the best way to save money is not to spend any in the first place. And, once again, set alerts on your banking app for transactions you make with your debit or credit cards.
Those little overlooked expenses, such as Lyft rides to and from parties, buying gift wrap and bows at the last minute, and babysitting or pet sitting costs can sneak up on you.
How to Avoid HDH: When putting together your holiday budget, don’t forget to include these little expenses. Also, look for pockets of money you may have forgotten about. For instance, don’t forget about that jar of spare change in your closet. Or money you forgot you had in your Venmo or savings account. You can use that spare cash toward these expenses.
Tis the Season to Watch Your Spending
You know full well it’s far too easy to go overboard during the holidays. But, by minding these 6 budget breakers, you can avoid falling into debt. Your 2019 self will thank you.