The Worst Holiday Shopping Mistakes
It’s getting close that time of year again: festive parties, family get-togethers, the mad rush of shopping … and stress.
Let’s face it, as much as we’d like to enjoy the splendor of the season, it’s usually eclipsed by the frenzy of shopping and budget worries. In fact, most Americans rank holiday shopping as more stressful than traveling or spending time with extended family, according to a survey from e-commerce platform Needle.
Not only that, but the holiday season keeps getting longer every year, which can make shopping and bargain hunting start to feel like a part-time job. There’s a reason why we’re starting to see Christmas decorations around Halloween. More than a third of people start their holiday shopping well before Thanksgiving rolls around, according to a CPC Strategy survey, and retailers are responding to that trend by putting up their displays earlier every year.
But an even longer shopping season means even less time to unwind. So how can you cut back on the hustle and bustle and ensure that the holidays are merry and bright? Before you hit the malls — or your desktop or phone — read on for the top holiday shopping mistakes you should avoid.
Not Setting a Budget
It’s easy to let your holiday spending quickly spiral out of control. Gifts, cards, decorations, and travel expenses swiftly add up. If you’re not careful, your November and December credit card bills can easily outpace your monthly mortgage or rental payment.
Determine how much you think you’ll be able to set aside for holiday spending this year. Then, set a budget, and stick with it. Make a list of all your holiday expenses, and don’t limit it to gifts. Include even the small purchases you’ll be making such as wrapping paper or cocktail napkins.
If you find that you’re exceeding your budget, take a look at where you can pare back on gifts, which are typically the greatest expense. You don’t need to buy a present for everyone. Sometimes a heartfelt card will go just as far as yet another purchased trinket.
Doing All Your Shopping at the Mall
If you’re racking your brain about what to get a certain someone, sometimes it can be helpful to peruse store shelves. But a lot of times, the stress that comes with the holidays is tied to jostling crowds and standing in long lines — not to mention the nasty attitudes of other stressed-out shoppers. A fun-filled shopping excursion can in no time turn into a war zone.
Avoid the worst pitfalls of holiday shopping by doing the bulk of it online. Be sure to always choose sites with free shipping since extra mailing costs will often negate any great deals you find online. Most online stores will offer free shipping as a perk in the lead-up to the holidays.
If you’re not yet an Amazon Prime member, for instance, now might be a good time to sign up. You can always cancel the membership later.
Forgetting That Handmade Gifts Sometimes Make the Best Gifts
Not everyone knows how to knit scarves or make felted ornaments, but you don’t have to be craftsy to come up with a heartfelt gift. It’s relatively easy to make homemade bath salts or throw together a batch of fudge. Check out Pinterest and Etsy for ideas on handmade gifts that are easy to make.
Another option is to take a class that will teach you something new, like soap making or home brewing. The amount you’ll save by cutting back on shopping sprees will more than make up for the cost of the class and supplies.
Putting Everything on Your Credit Card
It’s tempting to put all of your expenses on your credit cards during the holidays. But the problem is that it’s easy to spend now and put the payment off until later. That could give you an unpleasant surprise — and months’ worth of debt — when your next credit card bill rolls around.
Instead, consider using cash or your debit card from time to time to help you stay on top of how much you’re spending. That will also limit your impulse buys.
If you do use your credit card, be sure to take advantage of rewards points, particularly if there’s a cash-back option.
Waiting Until the Last Minute
As you inch closer to the holidays, prices — and the cost of shipping — inevitably go up. To avoid the worst prices, be sure to get a head start on your shopping. That can be hard to do since a lot of people associate holiday shopping with the period from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. But it’s a habit that’s becoming less of a trend with younger generations.
Yes Lifecycle Marketing found that 25 percent of Millennials shop year-round for holiday gifts. And even Gen Xers and baby boomers are starting to shop differently, with many of them doing the majority of their holiday shopping between September and November.
Not Making a List
Are you worried you’ll forget to buy a gift for someone and have to make a last-minute dash to the mall? It’s a common concern — and it certainly adds to the stress of the holidays. Be sure to come up with a detailed list ahead of time, and carry it with you when you go shopping. Keep tabs on each item you buy for each person, and cross off a name once you’ve found the perfect gift.
Remember that your list shouldn’t comprise just family members. Be sure to include the names of teachers, co-workers, and anyone else you’d like to show appreciation for.
Getting Caught Up in the Black Friday Frenzy
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are considered to be the biggest shopping days of the year, but they’ve also trained people to hold off on their shopping in the hopes of scoring the best deals.
Nevertheless, you’ll find that the best prices can be had by getting a head start on your shopping and keeping an eye out for deals well in advance. After all, a lot of retailers are now launching their Black Friday campaigns in advance and drawing them out.
Not waiting until the retail holidays will also limit your impulse buys, which will end up saving you money in the long run. Plus, who wouldn’t prefer to avoid the mayhem and the early morning lines of the Black Friday crowds?
Not Being Able to Say No
Sometimes parents feel guilty if they don’t give their child everything that’s on his or her list. But saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re a Grinch. If you can’t afford the latest game console or the trendiest hoverboard, it’s okay to put your foot down. Kids need to learn that they can’t have everything they want — and that the holidays aren’t all about spending money.
Don’t beat yourself up for not having an enormous pile of colorful parcels under the tree. The joy that kids get out of toys is short-lived, whereas the memories they’ll have of making a gingerbread house or ice skating with you will last forever.
Not Tracking How Much You’re Spending
Not only should you set a budget for holiday spending, but once you do, be sure to keep track of every expense you make. Put together a spreadsheet that lists all of your holiday expenses, not just gifts. Be sure to include travel expenses, food, and small items such as stocking stuffers.
Stephanie Kibler, founder of money management site Poorer Than You, suggests setting up separate savings accounts for holiday gifts and charities.
“I put a set amount into each fund every month,” she explained. “And then when I go to buy a gift or donate to something, I do a quick check of how much is in the account (and take from the other if one has run out) and then reimburse my checking account with the amount from the account after I've spent the money (on a rewards credit card, of course!)”
Not Comparison Shopping
Once you’ve perused your list and decided on who gets what, be sure to scout around for the best deals. That’s easiest to do if you’re doing the majority of your shopping online since you can quickly check multiple websites. But you should also do your research before you head to a brick-and-mortar retailer by checking for discounts and coupons ahead of time.
Use coupon sites like Coupon.com and RetailMeNot to help you find the latest deals for both online and brick-and-mortar stores. To find the best prices for a specific item, use comparison sites such as Google Shopping and PriceGrabber, which will let you filter categories and compare products from multiple retailers.
Not Being Wary of Online Scams
The busy shopping season is prime time for scammers. As online shopping skyrockets, cybercriminals are working overtime to steal your money and your identity. While online shopping is a lot easier than hitting the stores, it increases your chances of getting scammed. Identity theft hit an all-time high last year, affecting 16.7 million U.S. consumers, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.
Be on the lookout for phony look-alike websites, e-cards from unknown senders, fake charities, false shipping notifications, and free gift cards. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Update your passwords frequently, and use a password manager to help you keep track of them. Don’t click on any links or email attachments unless you’re sure of the source and can confirm that they’re not malicious. Use two-step authentication whenever possible, and regularly monitor your credit reports.
Letting Your Stress Ruin the Season
Don’t let the frenzy of shopping overtake the joy of the holidays. Before you let frantic bargain shopping overwhelm you, take a breath, unwind, and give yourself some “me time.” Pour yourself a cup of tea, unplug your electronics, and sit back with a good book. If that means cutting back on the amount of shopping you do, so be it. Your blood pressure and your wallet will thank you later.
Some families have boycotted presents altogether for the holidays — and for good reason. We can end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need. Rather than worry about a long list of gifts and how much you’re spending, consider focusing on experiences. It might be tough to get friends and family onboard at first, but they may quickly realize that sharing a meaningful moment is worth more than yet another present.