Home > Personal Finance > 11 Things You Can Do Now to Avoid Holiday Debt

Comments 0 Comments

If you were aghast at how much you spent on holiday gifts when the credit card bills arrived last January, now is the time to start thinking about how to avoid a repeat performance. Even though it may feel shockingly early to begin thinking about the holidays, starting now will give you plenty of time to plan, budget, and build a shopping fund so after New Year’s, you’ll hardly have a bill to pay. Below, financial experts share their favorite tips for emerging from the holidays virtually debt-free.

1. Look Back

It’s an ideal time to set a budget for your holiday shopping, but where to begin? Roshni Chowdhry, innovation and product development lead at SafetyNet, recommends looking at your past spending history. “We have a tendency to underestimate how much we will spend on gifts each holiday season,” she says. “Make a list of what you bought last year and note what was necessary and what wasn’t—then eliminate the latter. This will give you a realistic measure of how much you should plan to spend.” 

2. Make a Gift List

Making a list of whom you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend per person is an effective way to stay organized. Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for background-check service BeenVerified, says, “You can save yourself a lot by shopping from a list. This can prevent impulse buying, and thus, limit overspending.”

Before you finalize the list, Catey Hill, author of The 30-Minute Money Plan for Moms: How to Maximize Your Family Budget in Minimal Time, recommends asking yourself if you’re giving gifts to people you’re no longer connected to. “For people you don’t chat a lot with during the year, consider sending a card rather than a physical gift,” she says.

3. Change It Up

If you can’t get to a comfortable budget with your current list of recipients, Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement at Principal Financial Group, suggests that holding a family gift exchange or white elephant party—instead of buying many individual gifts—can be a fun way for everyone to celebrate and save money. “Set a spending limit that everyone is comfortable with to keep things fair and affordable,” he suggests. 

4. Build a Holiday Fund

Chowdhry advocates for having a specific fund for holiday shopping rather than drawing from any savings you already have. “Withdraw whatever you can afford to stash away each payday, whether it’s $20 or $200,” she advises. “When it comes time to do your shopping, use your saved cash first so you know exactly what you’re spending and can avoid pulling from your more important savings account.” 

5. Turn Pennies into Presents

Patterson suggests saving even more money by saving all your spare change. He says, “At the end of each day, make an effort to throw your extra cash and spare change into a jar. If you start now and commit to regularly adding to the pot, these small contributions can add up before the holiday shopping season begins.”

6. Eliminate Excess Spending

Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch likes to save by cutting back on extras for a few months. “Review your spending over the past several months and identify areas where you can cut back,” she says. “Whether it’s weekly takeout, weekend spa appointments, or too many morning lattes, there is always room in your budget to cut back and boost your holiday savings.”

She suggests putting that money into a savings program at your bank or local credit union or using a site like SmartyPig.com, a free service that helps you stash cash for any purpose.

7. Play It Smart with Credit Cards

While you’re shopping, Steve Hasbrooke, the VP controller at Mission Federal Credit Union, recommends limiting your spending to one credit card, preferably the card with the lowest interest rate. “This will save you money by paying less interest while you pay off your holiday purchases,” he says.

And try to avoid the lure of opening a new store credit card while you’re out shopping. According to Dana Vas Nunes, senior manager of deposit products at Alliant Credit Union, “Retailers are incentivized to push them during the holiday season, and they often offer perks like a 15% discount if you open a card that day. But that discount can actually come at a steep cost. Most store cards have higher fees/costs than traditional credit card providers; it’s how they offset the discounts.” If you do decide to open a new card, do your research ahead of time and consider one of these recommended store credit cards. 

8. Reap the Rewards

Speaking of credit cards, remember to let your credit cards work for you. Woroch suggests that between social events, back-to-school shopping, and family getaways, you likely racked up quite a few points on your credit card over the summer. “Use those points to offset your holiday spending by turning them into gift cards,” she says. “You can give these cards as gifts or use them to pay for gifts.” 

9. Get Started Now

Giving yourself a few months to shop for holiday gifts allows plenty of time to find the perfect present and the best prices. Hasbrooke says, “If you’re like me, you have probably found yourself scrambling for a last-minute gift. This often leads to spontaneous purchases of items that may not be exactly what you would have chosen if you had more time to consider the purchase. It can also lead to spending more on that item than you budgeted for.”

10. Consider Layaway

Lavelle suggests that layaway can be a helpful tool to spread your spending out over a few months. He explains, “It is a concept from the past, but many stores are bringing it back, especially for toys and household items. The store will keep the item and allow you to make small payments toward the purchase price until you have it paid off.” 

11. Get Creative

Save money on holiday gifts by making some of them yourself, which is something that Certified Financial Consultant Jim Szakacs of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, recommends. “Consider giving gifts that you’ve made with your own two hands,” he says. “Nothing communicates more personally during the holidays than opening a gift that you know someone has spent time not only thinking about, but actually making for you.”

By following these tips now, you can avoid the shock of those post-holiday bills a few months down the road. Plan ahead to make sure you can enjoy your holidays without financial stress.

Image: Martin Dimitrov

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other sponsored content on Credit.com are Partners with Credit.com. Credit.com receives compensation if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any financial products or cards offered.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.



Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team