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Why We Go Crazy at Christmas: 11 Ways to Outsmart the Overspending Impulse

Career and Finance

Why We Go Crazy at Christmas: 11 Ways to Outsmart the Overspending Impulse

The holidays are here, and in addition to festive time spent with family and friends, for most of us it means a small fortune spent on gifts and other non-necessities. Leslie Greenman, a financial advisor and author of the new book Dating Our Money: A Women’s Guide to Confidence with Money & Men explains why we feel so compelled to shop till we drop at Christmas—and how not to do it this year.

Get real about your financials. Before you step out the door to head off to the next great sale, you need to be honest with yourself. Sit down with your spouse and have a heart-to-heart about your financials. Make sure you both understand what the budget will allow for in holiday spending this year.

Don’t let the psychology of the sale get the best of you. Shoppers were out in droves this year on Black Friday in part because they were hammered with promotions on sales that that were just too good to resist. When there’s a great sale, two factors are usually used to justify spending, explains Greenman. First off, we fear that if we don’t take advantage of the sale now we might not be able to get that item later. And secondly, most women love to feel like they’ve gotten a great deal when they’re shopping.

Don’t shop for yourself. According to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the average person will spend $130.43 on themselves while holiday shopping. When you’re making it okay for yourself to do a lot of spending, it can be difficult not to stray off your list and buy a couple of things for yourself.

Don’t shop when you’ve got the holiday blues. This time of year can bring a lot of joy, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful. What’s more, the holidays are filled with grief triggers—sights, sounds and smells that bring back memories of days past when life was better and loved ones hadn’t yet passed on. Those holiday blues, whether we understand why we’re feeling them or not, can pose a pocketbook problem: studies have shown that we are willing to spend more when we’re sad.

Invest in relationships, not in “stuff”. It’s perfectly natural to want to give back to those who give to you. It feels good to watch a friend open the gift you’ve given her or to see your son’s face light up when he sees Santa brought him everything on his list. This satisfies the nurturing instinct in women, in particular. And it also helps us assuage the guilt we often feel for the shortage of time we have to spend with our loved ones. What we need to realize is that what other people really want, kids and adults alike, is our presence (not our presents).

Establish an “Operation Holiday” plan. Once you know what your budget is, start mapping out your shopping plan. Make the gift list and then think about where you’ll need to go to purchase each present. The specificity will override the “vagueness trap” that allows us to fool ourselves about how much we’re really spending.

Set a holiday shopping curfew. You don’t have to go tearing through stores, pushing innocent shoppers from your path (or spraying them with pepper spray as one much-publicized shopper did on Black Friday), but setting a time limit on your shopping will help you keep your spending impulses in check and stay on budget.

Remember, it’s the thought that counts. You might find the perfect gift for someone but then reject it because you don’t think the price is significant enough to be an adequate gift. That’s because we unconsciously equate love with money. Not only is there absolutely no connection between the two, this self-imposed spending minimum can lead us to bypass meaningful gifts in favor of expensive, less meaningful ones (which the recipient may not even remember by Christmas of next year).

Make a list, check it twice, and bring cash! How many times have you walked into a store and immediately found the perfect gift for a friend? Sure, you hadn’t planned on spending that much, but she would love it, so why not? You can just put it on your credit card, right? Wrong, says Greenman. Buying on credit is a trap to be avoided if at all possible—and the best strategy for defeating temptation is to bring a list you don’t veer from and only the cash needed to purchase the items on it.

Don’t shop with a holiday budget saboteur. If you prefer doing your shopping with someone else in tow, choose someone who won’t encourage you to go off budget. In fact, make sure it is someone who will truly hold you accountable. Many people are easily influenced by the behavior of their friends. When they’re with free spenders, they become free spenders. Likewise, when they’re with more disciplined friends, they’re influenced by this positive peer pressure.

Point, click, and save. The benefits of online shopping are obvious. You don’t have to battle holiday traffic, it is practically hassle-free, it’s easier to compare prices, and best of all, it allows you to resist the temptations that come along with being in a store.

Don’t be afraid to regift. Regifting has a stigma attached to it. Many people feel it violates gift-giving etiquette. Maybe they think it makes them feel like an unimaginative gift giver or perhaps like a poor person. But remember, you’re opting out of the herd mentality this year anyway. Take a new look at regifting. When done well it can help you find a home for items that you’re never going to use and make the day of the gift recipient.


About The Author: Leslie Greenman is currently a financial advisor, author, and public speaker. She loves to talk to women and girls about managing money and making wise choices but can adapt a speech to meet the needs of any audience. She encourages people to remember that every decision counts! Buying soda at a restaurant could prevent you from saving thousands of dollars over a lifetime.
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