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Updated on Tuesday, November 24, 2015
It’s easy to overexert ourselves financially at this time of year, when all we want to do is say yes to every single party, buy something new to wear to each one, and shower our friends and family with gifts to show them we appreciate them.
Making time to take notice of our finances around the holidays is less about resolutions and more about making sound financial choices that will guide us safely into the New Year and beyond. Here are five common financial missteps that tend to happen around this time of year, and how you can avoid them.
1. You do all your shopping on Black Friday
According to a new survey, 63% of respondents said that Black Friday actually does not provide the best deals of the year.
What to do instead: Black Friday may be a thing of the past, with many retailers opting instead to offer better savings throughout the year to dedicated customers, or at least days or hours before the clock actually strikes Friday. Be sure to sign up for newsletters from your favorite companies, as well as follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Many companies are using social media to offer savings to their customers at times other than Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so stay vigilant to score those deals. Then again, you probably already knew this — after all, another new survey from the National Retail Federation found that 57% of holiday shoppers have already started shopping … so good for you!
2. You’re still carrying debt from last year’s holiday season
If the thought of everything you have to pay for this season is stressing you out mostly because you’re still paying off last year’s stuff, it’s time to dig yourself out of that dilemma.
What to do: Instead of paying a ton of interest on a balance that’s left over on your credit cards from last year, consider signing up for a 0% APR credit card and making a balance transfer (check out the best ones of the year right here). This move is threefold: 1) You’ll be able to divvy up your remaining balance into however many months your card gives you before you start paying interest (usually about 12 months) and pay it off interest free, 2) You’ll decrease your utilization percentage, which will improve your overall credit score, and 3) You’ll enter the season with the knowledge that you’re starting with a blank slate on last year’s debt. Now, don’t overdo it this year!
3. You’re not haggling for online goods
Online shopping offers a lot of added incentives like shopping from the comfort of your own home, searching online for free shipping and discount codes and having items delivered directly to your door (sometimes even gift wrapped). Of course the one thing you probably think you miss out on when it comes to online shopping is the art of haggling over a price … but should you?
What to do instead: Some companies are so eager to score your business, they’d be willing to offer you all kinds of discounts, if only they knew you were interested. The next time you’re shopping online for something, consider filling your cart up with goods — then leaving it for a while. Online retailers have the ability to see your full cart, and if you’ve registered with your email address, they may be inclined to shoot you an email with discount codes to incentivize you to complete your purchase. (It’s definitely happened to this writer on more than one occasion!)
4. You aren’t using your credit card to pay for stuff
Maybe there’s a good reason that you’re wary of using credit cards, and that’s fine, but if you’re a savvy spender, using a credit card to pay for all your holiday accoutrement is a great way to really rack up the rewards.
What to do: Check out this piece for the credit cards that offer the best rewards based on category, and this one for the ones with the best cash back rewards, specifically. If rewards alone don’t convince you, check out this story about the differences between debit and credit cards, particularly when it comes to fraud protection. (Hint: credit cards offer much better protection!)
5. You haven’t started thinking about next year’s holiday season
We know, we know — you’re not even done shopping for this year, yet. Still, if you didn’t plan out how you would afford gifts this year, you’re probably feeling the sting right now, which makes it the perfect time to start thinking about next year.
What to do: Open up a brand new savings account right now (check out this piece for the savings accounts that offer the best incentives) and label it ‘Holiday Spending’. At the end of this season, tally up how much you’ve spent on everything (parties, food, gifts, transportation, etc.), and divide that number by 11. Then throughout the year, set up an automatic savings transfer from your checking each month so that come next December, it’ll be smooth sailing.