How to stay out of debt this holiday season
The holidays are at the same time every year, but they still have a way of creeping up on your wallet. Gift giving and other holiday splendours can become increasingly difficult when faced with financial challenges due to the pandemic or economic downturn. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a Scrooge.
There are many ways to accomplish your goals without breaking your budget. You just need a smart holiday budget planner—and to stick to it. So if you’re asking yourself, “How can I avoid debt during the holidays?”—these seven tips can help you avoid overspending so you can focus on enjoying this special time of year:
1. Budget for gifts all year long
Many people typically spend more on gifts during the holidays, but you’ll likely also be buying gifts throughout the year. It’s important to consider how much you’re spending every month so you don’t go over budget.
“It’s really tempting to blow your budget at Christmas and overspend if you don’t consider things like, ‘one of my kids has a birthday in January, then it’s a milestone anniversary for my parents, then it’s valentine’s day, and so on,’ ” says Jackie Porter, a Certified Financial Planner. “Zero in on how much you earn, what your goals are for your savings, and what you can afford to spend on gifts. Thinking about your spending over the year instead of just in the moment can be a game-changer.”
Using the whole-year approach can help you prevent holiday debt and get you thinking about your finances year-round.
2. Take advantage of special savings events
Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, the list goes on… Some of these online savings events may be more popular in the United States, but Canadian retailers are now taking part in many of them—and big discounts can be had. So have your list ready early and jump on these deals.
You’ll also want to pay attention to any other specials throughout the year, as well. For example, some retailers offer bonus redemption events where you can get additional value for your points. Also, after the holidays affords an opportunity for some of the deepest discounts of the year. Consider post-Christmas sales if you plan to see friends and loved ones after the new year.
3. Avoid credit card debt
In an ideal world, you’ll avoid racking up any debt on your credit cards. Only using money you have available in your spending and savings accounts will help ensure that you stay on budget.
That said, there are times when you may need to dip into credit. Prioritize your debt repayment by minimizing the amount of interest you pay. “Having a single-digit interest rate on a line of credit or credit card will make it easier to climb out of any holiday spending hangover,” says Porter. “After you have paid off the debt, make a promise to yourself that you will get clear on where your money is going to not repeat it next year.”
4. Comparison shop
Regardless of the time of the year, you should always price compare, so you’re not paying more than you have to. One easy way to do this is to use an app. Reebee allows you to browse the flyers of all the stores near you so you can quickly see what’s on sale. In addition, you can search for specific items and the app will tell you which store has the lower price. There’s also an app called RedFlagDeals, which is a forum where the public submits all the best deals they’ve found.
It’s also worth looking into the price matching policy that stores have. Some of them will not only match a competitor, but they’ll beat it, too.
5. Use a cash-back website
As you look for tactics on how to minimize holiday debt, shop online for the most creative savings. Look into cash-back websites like Rakuten, Great Canadian Rebates, and Shopper Army. Just log in to the cash-back website. Once there, click the link to the partner retailer you are plan on making a purchase from. Qualifying purchases will then be tracked to your account, where you’ll earn cash back.
6. Be particular with your points
As you continue to work to minimize your debt this holiday season, be sure to use the current points you have, which are often overlooked. Cash in on any store loyalty or credit card points associated with your existing programs and see if you can redeem them for discounts, merchandise, or gift cards.
Note that the value of your points may differ depending on what you’re redeeming them for. For example, if you have travel points, the best value will probably come from redeeming them for travel bookings. Gift cards may still be worth it, but your points may go further when used for something else.
7. Be ready for unplanned expenses
When the holidays roll around, there are many additional expenses. You’re home more so you may have higher utilities and indoor heating bills. You also might travel or host and end up spending more on gas, gifts, and food. Two possible ways to mitigate costs—plan ahead and lay low: “People feel spread thin at this time of the year with their time and money. So, it’s important to think about extra expenses you will have throughout the year, not just during the holidays,” says Porter. “Consider what you will spend on these activities and what will you need to set aside so that you won’t need to go into debt to pay for it.”
In light of this, adequately pad your December budget’s line items. For the additional expense of gifting, figure out what you can afford as a lump sum, calculate specific costs for individual recipients, and divide what’s left among the remaining recipients. Then stay within those parameters.
Good habits beyond the holidays
Now that you have the insights you need to create a smart holiday budget plan, reinforce it by using a budgeting and money tracking tool. It’s a free resource that can keep you on track not just during the holidays—but throughout the year.
For an even healthier holiday habit, put what you save into a high-interest savings account, which is a good short-term or temporary place to deposit your savings. Then you can easily access the cash to help reach your goals for the following year.
For more valuable budgeting and investing ideas, visit the Coast Capital blog.