5 Financial Mistakes to Avoid This Holiday Season

As another holiday shopping season rolls around, many Americans are still feeling the effects of last year’s shopping.

In fact, according to a recent survey by WalletHub, approximately 35 million Americans are still holding onto consumer debt that was racked up in 2018.

The National Retail Federation reports that consumers are planning to spend an average of $1,007.83 on gifts and other items this season, up 4% from last year. Between gifts, office parties, travel, and other obligations that come up this time of year, it’s easy to let your spending run amok.

Here are five common money mistakes to avoid this holiday season so you don’t start 2020 with any financial regrets.

1. Not setting a maximum gift budget

Have you ever started shopping for the first couple of people on your list, only to realize after buying the first few gifts that…this might cost a lot more than you expected?

We’ve all been there:

A $100 gift here, a $50 gift there, tack on a couple $25 gifts, and just like that you’ve already spent $200. (Oh, and you still have over 10 people on your list to buy gifts for.)

And of course, some of the closest people to you on your list will likely be receiving more than one gift from you. It all adds up — fast.


1. Before buying any gifts, make a list of everyone that you plan to buy presents for.

2. Set a maximum Christmas budget for your total gift giving. While there is no “right” answer here, try to use your best judgement.

3. From that total, start roughly allocating a budget to each individual person. It doesn’t need to be perfect; this is meant to be a ballpark figure.

4. Start researching gifts online for each person that fall within their price ranges.


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A post shared by DollarSprout Personal Finance (@dollarsprout) on Oct 15, 2019 at 3:26pm PDT

2. Using loans or credit cards to buy gifts

If you haven’t saved anything for your holiday shopping — or if you haven’t been able to save — it may be tempting to take out a personal loan or charge your shopping on credit cards to get you through the season.

While this is sometimes unavoidable, often times consumers are too quick to take on this extra financial burden. Using a personal loan, cash advance, payday loan, or racking up more credit card debt can be a costly mistake.

Between exorbitantly high interest rates, fees, and a solid hit to your credit score, you should make a serious effort to exhaust all other money -saving options before taking on more debt for the holidays.

Chart showing alarming consumer debt statistics for Americans during holiday shopping season.


1. Get creative with your gifts. Handmade gifts, “coupon” vouchers for fun (and free) experiences together, and other sentimental gift ideas can mean much more to someone than a gift you buy from a store.

2. If you do take on debt, make a goal to pay it all off by the end of January. The longer you let your debt linger, the more interest charges will accrue on your balance.

3. Plan ahead so this doesn’t happen again next year (see below).

3. Not saving up for gifts throughout the year

Credit Karma reported in a 2018 survey that nearly 80% of Americans stress out about overspending during the holidays.

To alleviate some of that stress, consider making holiday spending a regular line item in your budget for all 12 months of the year. That means setting aside a certain amount of money each month that is specifically meant to be used for year-end holiday spending.

For example, let’s say you want to spend $1,000 on gifts next year. Instead of scrambling to make it work once December comes around, set $83.33 aside each month (preferably somewhere you won’t touch it, like a high-yield savings bucket specifically for holiday spending).

Chart showing sinking fund example for Christmas spending


1. Determine how much you plan on spending during the holidays for next year.

2. Divide by 12 months to determine how much you need to save each month throughout the year.

3. Set up an automatic monthly draft from your checking account to the savings or money market you are holding your “spending fund” in.

4. Splurging a little too much on yourself

According to a 2017 survey from market research group Mintel, 22% of Americans reported that they end up buying themselves gifts over the holidays. If you are out shopping and see something you like, it can be tough to say no to yourself.

After spending your hard-earned money on friends and loved ones, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we “deserve” a little something special for ourselves.

Be careful, though. A simple misstep like this one can easily lead to more self-indulgent spending and can bust even the most well planned holiday budget.


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A post shared by DollarSprout Personal Finance (@dollarsprout) on Oct 2, 2019 at 11:17am PDT


1. Practice the “Seven Day Rule”. If you see something you like, don’t make a purchasing decision for at least seven days. In most cases, you’ll find that your desire for that thing has gone away.

2. If you still want it, make an honest assessment if you can afford it with your current budget (and not take money your separate gift shopping funds).

3. If not, set up a savings plan to accumulate the funds you need.

5. Jumping at every “great deal” you see

It seems to happen every time we step outside the door (or open up the laptop).

A sale.

Maybe it’s 25% off sign for a cute handbag, or a buy one get one free deal at Starbucks. It’s always something, and we often feel like we just can’t pass it up. While everyone loves a good bargain, companies are very skilled at taking advantage of human psychology to pressure us to buy things we don’t need (and sometimes buy things don’t even want).


Before you buy something that is on sale, stop and ask yourself the following:

1. If this wasn’t on sale, would I still want it?

2. Where will I put it? (Or when will I wear it, use it, etc.?)

3. How will I pay for it?

4. Is there a better way to use the money I’m about to spend on this?

Remember your long term financial goals

The holidays shouldn’t be about money. There are so much more important things to focus on, like spending time with family and friends, and creating memories that will last for years.

The biggest gift you can offer anyone is your love, time, and friendship. No material gifts are worth paying interest for, and they certainly aren’t worth derailing your long term financial goals.


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