Controlling Holiday Debt

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time for costumes and trick or treating. And after that it’s only a few short weeks until Thanksgiving and the “official” beginning to the holiday season. While a season of so many good things, such as spending time with family, religious holidays, and time off work, it can also be a season of financial stress. This is especially true when the credit card bill for the Holiday’s comes around in early January. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to try to keep the levels of financial stress to a minimum as the official beginning of the holiday season draws closer.

Believe it or not, there is a lot of psychology and biology that is involved in shopping. By understanding how your brain and body work you will be more able to prepare against its ill effects when it comes to shopping habits. Starting the day off right with a full breakfast and a good night’s sleep can lead to a more controlled shopping experience. It may sound odd but humans tend to make rash decisions when they are not rested or hungry. The body subconsciously prioritizes things such as resting and eating more than the shopping at hand. Additionally, separating your shopping into two main trips, smaller items and high ticket items, can be useful as well. Again this may sound odd, but after buying a $1,000 TV, that $100 pair of shoes for yourself seems like a steal. Separating the items into two shopping trips alleviates this problem. Finally, it is a good idea to remind yourself of long-term goals before shopping. Examples of this are looking at your retirement goals or how much your child’s college cost for the past semester. Looking at long term goals such as these can help prime the brain to keep costs and savings in mind.

Examining what gifts you are going to be giving can also be a way to cut down on post-holiday financial stress. The first step is making a budget and a list. Figuring out what you can realistically spend on gifts this year will keep your gift ideas realistic. Then making lists of gifts you plan to buy will keep you on track to stay within that budget. It is also important to keep in mind that the money spent on the gift is not as important as the thought behind it. Often people get caught up in how much they “need” to spend on others. What is more important is finding gift ideas that are not only meaningful but the receiver will actually enjoy. One great strategy for this is to join with others to get really memorable and meaningful gifts for loved ones. This allows you to find a great gift for someone, but share the cost among several people. Making things yourself or giving gift certificates for doing something nice for someone are other great ways to give gifts that are still meaningful, but will not break the bank come January.

There are tons of tricks and habits out there to help you control holiday spending. What is important is that you realize that you have a budget you want to keep and that you are willing to find ways to stay on that budget. The key is finding what works for you personally and what will keep you from financial stress come the New Year.

Tip: A holiday fund can help you save all year for seasonal gifts. Otherwise, you may be tempted to entertain risky funding options such as holiday tax loans, consumer finance loans or maxing out your credit cards.

Stephen Padgett

Stephen Padgett

Stephen Padgett is a current junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is working toward a BA in Economics and Political Science and plans on graduating early in December of 2012. Although he does not know what he wants to do for his career, he is looking forward to an opportunity with Credit Suisse’s Operations Team this summer in Raleigh.

Financially Stephen grew up in a family that preached saving and living below your means. That, in part, translated to his interest in Economics, especially how economics can affect individuals’ financial lives. Through his financial markets class in the fall of 2011, he furthered this interest by analyzing macroeconomic events. Stephen believes that finance, personal finance in particular, is a subject severely left out when it comes to public schooling in this country, and it is a problem that has manifested itself and contributed to many of the problems seen today. He also believes that education is the key to improvement and hopes that through his writings he will be able help people learn about finance, macroeconomics, and how to be financially savvy for the future.

In his free time Stephen enjoys playing and watching sports, wakeboarding, sailing, and country music. At UNC he has participated in Strive for College, UNC Dance Marathon, and UNC Relay for Life.
Stephen Padgett

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