While the holidays are supposed to be about the joy of spending time with loved ones, for too many Americans the holidays are really stressful — especially when it comes to finances. Between expectations from others and the pressure many feel to spend on gifts, travel and entertaining, it’s enough to turn the most joyful and merry into Grinches.
A recent Union Bank Holiday Spending Survey found that 77% of U.S. consumers are concerned about over-spending during the holidays, more than being worried about over-eating (75%), over-committing to holiday engagements (58%) and over-imbibing (39%).
So what’s the solution?
“Having a realistic budget and planning ahead are the best ways to control holiday spending,” says Tonya Rapley, millennial money expert, creator of the award-winning site MyFabFinance and Union Bank expert partner.
“Start with creating a budget that works with your holiday plans and wallet,” Rapley recommends. “Write a list of all the people you want to buy for, and include other related holiday expenses such as travel costs, hostess gifts, gift wrap, holiday groceries, etc., and set a dollar amount for each. Also, the earlier you start, the more you can shop around for sales and special deals. It’s important to remain focused and resist temptation to add last-minute impulse items when you’re pressed for time or want to make your gift seem more meaningful.”
But what can you do when your budgeting reveals how limited your funds are?
Focus on the following tips from Rapley to view the holidays a little more creatively.
Problem: You’ve got too many on your list
Solution: Create experiences to savor
Make the holiday season about more than giving, recommends Rapley. Invite a group — or a special someone — to share an experience with you, whether it’s watching movies, baking holiday treats or volunteering to help those in need. Instead of giving items that may be soon forgotten, celebrate by creating shared memories that show how much you love spending time with them.
The holidays don't have to be about the stress of overbuying. Use these tips to make it a season of giving — mostly of your time and yourself — that you'll always remember.
Problem: You’re short on money for travel and entertaining
Solution: Cash in on rewards points
If you’ve been using credit cards or loyalty cards throughout the year, you may have points or rewards you can use, says Rapley. From fast food restaurants you frequent to credit card rewards like cash back or even airline miles, use those rewards over the holiday season.
In the Union Bank Survey, 44% of millennials admit using money as an excuse not to travel home for the holidays. While that may be a legitimate reason, it’s possible you or family members may have airline miles you could use to travel home — if you want to. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Problem: Everything on your gift list is expensive
Solution: Check for coupons or discounts
Before you buy, Rapley recommends searching price comparison sites or coupon aggregator sites to find discounts for the store where you’re shopping. A little digging around could save a lot on items on your list.
Problem: You really want to get Mom that dream gift — but don't want to overuse credit
Solution: Pitch in on a group gift
According to the Union Bank survey, 1 in 5 members of Gen Z plan to spend big bucks on their moms — as well as themselves — possibly adding up to over $500.
Instead of going into debt to splurge on your mom's gift, consider sharing the burden, says Rapley. Ask who else would love the chance to pitch in. Do you have siblings, another parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent who could contribute?
And if you’re excited to treat yourself, take advantage of sales and discounts after the holidays, and cash in those gift cards you may receive.
Problem: You can’t afford many gifts
Solution: Charge it! — Responsibly
Rapley recommends leveraging credit wisely. It’s OK to use your credit cards for holiday purchases, but make sure you have a plan to pay them off promptly to avoid paying interest on those expenses. Most Americans tend to overspend despite having a budget, and it takes about a third of us more than six months to pay off that debt. You might consider shopping around for a credit card with a lower rate and/or better rewards.