Todd Christensen Profile Picture
Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

Use these 7 holiday spending tips to avoid credit card debt this season.

Whether you love or hate Christmas shopping (or fall somewhere in between), there are ways to make your experience better. Saving money, time and energy can make just about any experience more enjoyable and less painful.

How do you Prepare for Holiday Shopping if You Hate Holiday Shopping?

Negative feelings toward the holiday shopping season often result from the stress generated by the combination of unrealistic expectations and imperfect outcomes. Minimizing the amount of money, time and energy you spend on shopping during the Christmas shopping season, while focusing on the people involved, leads to a greater sense of accomplishment and higher satisfaction with the holiday experience.

Here are seven tips for your consideration that can reduce the stresses of the season while also increasing your appreciation and enjoyment of what the holidays have to offer:

  1. Give with a purpose
  2. Limit your spending but not your heart
  3. Shop with a plan
  4. Celebrate with people, not possessions
  5. Get involved in your community
  6. Stay open to new traditions
  7. Model your motive for holiday giving

How to turn Holiday Shopping from a Negative Experience to a Positive One

Taking out of the equation the possibility you might dislike holiday spending because of your personal faith or a traumatic experience with the holiday, there are generally ways to minimize the stress of the season while also increasing the power of generosity it brings to households and communities.

Stress arises in the form of the fear that a future reality will not match current expectations. That being the case, the way to reduce or even eliminate stress is to either improve the chances of a future reality taking shape or changing our current expectations. Of course, doing both is another possibility. The following sections can help you achieve any or all three of these possibilities, leading to lower levels of negative stress during the holiday season.

Give with a purpose

Many who dislike the holiday season and its commercial takeover of this time of year point particularly to “mindless spending.” Mindless spending is purchasing a gift for someone just because it is expected or because others are doing so.

Instead, ponder the purpose of your gift giving activities. Positive reasons people give are outlined below.

Identifying people of personal importance to us is a critical first step in making holiday shopping meaningful. If you make a list of anyone who you appreciate as part of your life, you might feel overwhelmed if you were to take on the goal of giving each a holiday gift. Obviously, most households cannot afford such an undertaking.

Make a List

Instead, make a written list of those who have positively impacted your life this year. Align them by columns, starting with Family, then Friends, Neighbors, Coworkers/Colleagues and Others. Next, as you think about those on the list, some may bring to mind an obvious expression of gratitude. For example, a gag gift with an old college buddy or a gift based on conversations and experiences you have had with neighbors.

Express love and closeness

Most likely, you will find a wish to express your love and closeness to those on your list that come under family and friends, although some neighbors and coworkers may also generate similar feelings of kinship.

Express appreciation

For most on the list, a card, letter or even an email with a sincere expression of appreciation will be more meaningful than a gift card or a store-bought item. After all, how can you top the words, “I appreciate you in my life.” They literally speak for themselves.

Expression of faith

To ignore the component of faith in the holiday season is to ignore the reality of its shared history and development. While there has been an element of commercialism in Christmas since the early 19th century when it first began to take the shape of a family- and community-based celebration of hope, joy and goodwill as we know it today, Christmas has long been a time to celebrate one’s faith as well.

If you are a person of faith during the holidays, you may feel the desire to express such to most, if not all, on your list. Such expressions can certainly come in the form of cards and letters and emails, but they may also come in the form of social media posts, invitations to concerts and even shared visits to places of worship.

Steer Clear of Inappropriate Reasons for Gift Giving

On the flip side of gift giving, you will likely find that giving for the following reasons can lead to negative feelings and even financially destructive behaviors that can also ruin relationships.

Giving as a Reward

Few parents of toddlers have kept themselves above using Santa’s nice and naughty list as an incentive for better behavior during the holidays. Unfortunately, such behavior on the part of parents can lead to anxiety in the children which can, in turn, lead to the very behaviors the parents are hoping to prevent.

When tempted to use this approach to gift giving, consider the similar approach to allowance promoted by many financial experts. Gift giving, like an allowance, can be considered the reward for simply being part of the family. After all, having to earn a gift takes away the generosity of the giver and turns it into recognition of a past achievement rather than a present.

Habit or expectation

If your only motivation for giving a gift is due to the expectation that you are supposed to give a gift or because “that is the way it has always been done,” you may be missing the joy of giving that springs from the spirit of generosity and thoughtfulness. Instead, revisit your list and your thoughts about giving. Commit to give out of kindness and thoughtfulness, even if this means reducing the number of gifts or the amount of money you spend on them at this time of the year.

Inflated sense of importance

Finally, if you ever feel that giving to others can build your sense of importance, that it can build your reputation among your family and friends as a generous and giving person, you might be treading on the line between generosity and egotism.

Generosity is the act of giving without the expectation of receiving a benefit in return. Otherwise, it is an exchange. Gift exchanges can be fun but hoping for a better gift than you give will lead more often than not to disappointment. Joy is in the giving, not the receiving.

Limit your spending but not your heart

With the list mentioned above, you now have a blueprint for your gift giving. The list identifies the most important people in your life. This list becomes your version of Santa’s list of those you want to give gifts to. You will still likely need to prioritize for whom you will purchase gifts and to whom you will send expressions of gratitude.

That said, do not limit yourself to giving to those you know and appreciate. One of the treasures of the holiday season is the great good done by strangers for strangers. Consider finding a cause, a charity or a church to which you might donate goods, services or moneys for the good they do in your area. Making our communities a better place to live, even if just for one person at a time, will ultimately benefit all of us.

Set a spending limit for each person on your list and for the list as a whole. Consider your current savings and avoid using credit cards, stores cards, lines of credit, etc. that will put you into more debt. After all, no one wants to receive a gift they know was purchased using debt.

Shop with a plan

List in hand and budget in place, you now have the basis for your holiday shopping plan. Start brainstorming gift ideas for each person on your list, refining your ideas until each prioritized individual has an affordable gift idea attached. Confirm with yourself the gift is both affordable and will appropriately express your personal appreciation.

Next, start as early as possible to research the cost. Do whatever you can to avoid walking into a store without a spending plan or spending limit. If your plan is to buy a gift for someone, look online for where you can find the gift and what a reasonable price is. Then, decide whether you want to purchase from a national retailer or find a local store to supply your gifts. Finally, if you shop in person, take only the cash amount you have budgeted with you, leaving your credit cards, debit cards and checkbook at home to minimize the likelihood of overspending.

Celebrate with people, not possessions

Since your list is all about relationships, you may consider other ways to celebrate the people you care about rather than giving them things. Hosting holiday dinners and seasonal parties are just a couple of ways to do this. Inviting someone you care about to lunch or dinner is another way. Taking them to a holiday concert or play, whether professional or at a local school, can create long-term memories that each of you will treasure.

Get involved in your community

Although opportunities are available year-round, volunteering is a great way to give to your community. Sites like VolunteerMatch.org, JustServe.org and AllForGood.org list many one-time and ongoing volunteer opportunities for individuals and for families. Even a blood donation at the Red Cross can be a way to make a life-saving difference in your community.

If you or your family members enjoy singing, you may even contact a nearby retirement home or senior center to set up a time to go caroling. Few things will generate as many smiles as wishing others a happy holiday to the merry tunes of the season.

Stay open to new traditions

Traditions make up the central experiences of the holidays. They can generate heart-warming feelings of anticipation for months prior to the start of the season. However, traditions should also be meaningful to you and to your family while being reasonable to your bank account.

You may be among those who worry about the approaching holidays because they bring with them expensive family or neighborhood traditions. Yes, some neighbors can spend thousands of dollars a year on Christmas lights and yard decorations, but such friendly competitions should never lead to financial stress.

Some families take advantage of school holiday breaks to go on vacation, getting away from the stresses of holiday dinners and parties. If your family has done this for two or more years in a row, it is now a tradition. Unless you have discussed the options with the others who generally join you on such travel, they are likely expecting it again this year. Be realistic in your financial considerations, and be open and honest with your family members.

Whatever your traditions, find a way to honor them and, if necessary, build upon them in a more affordable way.

Model your motive for holiday giving

Whichever methods you choose for celebrating the season, remember to be genuine about it. If you truly want to participate in the generosity of the season, focus on that generosity and make it central to your experiences. If your focus is on time with family and friends, be honest about it. Celebrating your reason for the season will relieve the stress of trying to be all things to everybody at this time of year.

If you have young children, nieces, nephews, grandkids or neighbors, involve them in your celebrations, whether in volunteering, giving of time, or generosity of resources. As they experience your joy of sincere appreciation for the holiday season, they will be more likely to avoid holiday-related stresses of their own as they grow.

Related Questions

How much should you budget for your Christmas gifts? While the average household may spend $800 or more this year, you should not measure your spending against the norm. Measure your spending against what you have available. If you struggle to save throughout the year, take 10% of your monthly grocery budget, 10% of your normal dining out expenses, and 10% of your entertainment spending. This can add up to a couple hundred dollars for many households. You may also consider side gigs for a month, such as food delivery, blog writing, and other side hustles to augment your gift giving budget.

When should you start Christmas shopping? Whether you decorate your home or just wrap your gifts to others, head to the stores the morning after Christmas in order to snag the 50% to 90% discounts on decorations, ornaments, gift bags and wrapping paper rolls. Then, automatically transfer a budgeted amount (e.g. $50 per month) into a savings account specifically for Christmas spending. As you hear of great deals throughout the year, use the money in this account to take advantage of opportunities to spend less on next year’s gifts.

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