Kathi Paradis

Nine tips to avoid the holiday purchase hangover

By Kathi Paradis

A few simple tricks can make your holidays easier and less financially challenging.

It's December and the holiday push is on.

Stores have set up displays, catalogs are stuffing mailboxes, and it's time to start thinking about that dreaded holiday list. Retailers hope we will spend more than ever, that falling gasoline prices and rising consumer confidence will induce us to fill those department-store cash registers.

Big box stores gamble that consumers will cave in to the assault of music, lights, decorations, ideas for holiday gatherings and, of course, glitzy offerings to delight the inner child in the most-hardened Scrooge.

Women and children in the aisle of a crowded store

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But wait, what happens in January when all of those holiday bills come due? That's when the hangover kicks in full force, with unrelenting headaches when opening those credit card bills and the vow to not do it again next year.

Avoid the hangover. Use these simple tricks to make your holidays easier and less financially devastating.

  • Create a holiday budget. Write down every expense you plan to make, from wrapping paper and tape to the holiday turkey. Little things like olives for the holiday gathering and stocking stuffers can add up fast. Watch for specials for holiday necessities.
  • Clip and use coupons only if it makes sense. If you need to buy three of something to save 50 cents, but two of the items will sit on the shelf until the next holiday, that coupon may not be the best choice. Maybe check with a neighbor to see if you can take advantage of lower prices by splitting the large-size baking product.
  • Choose your stores wisely. Stores that sell everything for one set price (like a dollar) may not be as cost effective if the product is substandard or smaller than you can get in another store. Buying a $1 roll of aluminum foil, but needing twice as much to cover that turkey really isn't a savings.
  • Know your limits. If you can't afford to buy for everyone, don't be afraid to speak up. Sometimes families just wait for the first person to speak up and admit that they don't have the resources to buy presents for everyone.
  • Leave the plastic at home and use cash. Or use just one credit card so you can really watch what you've spent. Paying off the holiday expenses within three months is ideal. If it takes you all year, you won't get caught up before its time to spend again.
  • Put a big rubber band around each credit card so that it wraps several times. The time it takes to unravel the band gives you a moment's pause to make sure you really want to make that purchase.
  • Make a game of holiday spending. Try to get quirky, unusual gifts for the lowest amount possible. For example set a $10 limit for everyone on your list and try to get the most unusual gift you can for that amount. Chances are, that gift will make more of an impression than if you spent $100.
  • Some of the best gifts are low-cost or free. These can include time spent with an older family member, a plate of cookies to a neighbor, or maybe volunteering to clean up someone's yard in the spring. Most of us don't need another sweater or tie, but who wouldn't really appreciate a home-cooked dinner with loved ones.
  • Last but not least, remember those old holiday clubs that banks used to have? Very few have them anymore, but you can create your own. Open a savings account and set up an automatic weekly transfer into it. If you start on December 1 and put in $10 a week, by next December 1 you will have $520 toward your holiday expenses. The trick is to not dip into it throughout the year, so try to open it in a financial institution that will require some effort for you to get to it

Remember, life will go on in January whether or not you busted your budget. The memories of happy holidays will linger long after you've put the decorations away and swept up the last cookie crumb. Take time to enjoy more than the checkout line this holiday season.

Kathi Paradis is a Welcome Home Loans Originator at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.

NMLS #469310. Licensed by the New Hampshire Banking Department.