I know it’s only September, but let’s talk holiday shopping. Before chastising me for bringing up the holidays already, you should know it’s Costco’s fault. They’ve had Christmas decorations for sale for weeks now and inspired this post. So, if you’re triggered by the words “holiday shopping,” feel free to reach out to Costco HQ and voice your displeasure.
Okay, that’s a joke. Please don’t contact HQ, please don’t cancel Costco. We love Costco. We NEED Costco.
All joking aside, I have to admit, I was taken aback to see Christmas decorations out already. Halloween decorations? Okay, I guess. But, Christmas? C’mon now.
The reality is the holidays will be here before you know it and that means we’ll soon be departing with a decent chunk of our hard-earned dollars. This isn’t a problem if you keep your spending in check. But for all too many of us, it’s a real problem and we end up spending way too much on “Christmas.” And we do it every single year.
One reason is marketers are relentless and it’s going to be even worse this year with the pandemic. Retailers everywhere will be doing their best to get you to spend as much money as possible even if it means you go into suffocating credit card debt to do so. They don’t care one bit about you or your financial situation. Scoundrels.
Of course, we can’t blame retailers when we overspend. No one is forcing us to turn over our money to them. It is a completely voluntary process.
No, it’s not their fault. It’s not our money’s fault. Which just leaves … us.
Of course, it’s “us.”
Over-spending is always voluntary. No one forces us to spend more than we should.
If we fail to accept this fundamental truth and blame marketers / credit card companies / the “system”, we’ll never fix the problem. Sure, it may make us feel better in the moment, to push aside our own culpability, but the problem doesn’t go away.
Deep down inside, we know this. We know while the causes of overspending come from a variety of sources, the solutions only come from one – ourselves.
Once we take responsibility for our overspending ways, we can take steps to make positive changes to our spending habits and maybe, just maybe, break the cycle of overspending every holiday season.
Here are five ways you can overcome the overspending trap and stay in control of your money. They are simple techniques, but very effective.
1. Set a target spending amount
This is as simple as it sounds. Just decide on a set dollar amount for all of your “holiday” spending.
EXAMPLE: $1,200 for ALL of our gift giving expenses.
This includes kids, spouses, co-workers, parents, siblings, etc. Everything.
If you want to break it down even further, go for it.
EXAMPLE: $600 for spending on the kids, $300 for spending on family and friends, and $300 for food and beverage (at home, going out).
This one super simple act of setting a spending target can set you on the path for financial success this holiday season.
2. Use cash
Another super simple idea. You can’t go into credit card debt if you only use cash, right?
In today’s cash-free society society, the idea of using cash seems so 20th century, but you know what? It works.
With that said, we have a minor struggle with this one in our household. Not so much me, but my wife. She’s not the biggest fan of the idea. Actually, she’s not against using cash, but ONLY using cash.
Her reasoning? “Kohl’s cash.”
She argues for using her “Kohl’s” card as she gets “really awesome discounts” when she does and gets “Kohl’s cash.” The woman loves herself some Kohl’s cash.
She has a point. She does gets additional benefits for using the department store card. But, that’s only part of the equation.
The part that’s missing is she’s not factoring in how much more money she’s spending by using her Kohl’s card.
It is far easier to spend money on a credit card than if you use cash.
Translation: you are far more likely to overspend with a credit card than if you used cash even after those juicy “Kohl’s credit card only” bennies.
Think about it. Why does Kohl’s offer you those benefits in the first place? Because they care about you and want you to save money? Of course not, that’s absurd. They give you those bennies because they know it will get you to spend more money. They know you will spend more than enough to offset your beloved “Kohl’s cash.”
If you want to spend less money, use cash instead of credit. Period.
Real Life: Being completely transparent, this is a financial battle I lose every year. Every year I say my piece about why I don’t like using the Kohl’s card and every year my wife uses her Kohl’s card. Which is okay.
We have a conversation where I voice my overspending concerns, my wife acknowledges my concerns, and then does whatever the hell she feels like doing. Perhaps, not the “best” way to manage our money, but a proven way to manage our marriage. Although, I have to say, there always seems to be a disproportionate amount of holiday spending occurring at Kohl’s even after those precious Kohl’s cash dollars. Just sayin’ …
3. If you can’t “only” use cash, only use one credit card
Actually, you’re better off using a debit card than a credit card so I’d start there. But, if you have to use a credit card, only use one card for all of your holiday expenses.
A key to sticking to your holiday spending target is to know exactly how much you’re spending and in real time. If you’re using multiple credit cards, checks, debit cards, and cash for your holiday spending, you won’t know how much you’re spending which inevitably leads to overspending.
What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get managed. If you don’t measure your spending, you can’t manage how much you spend. This always leads to overspending.
Ask yourself: “When was the last time I spent too little on the holidays?”
4. Turn off all digital marketing
As previously mentioned, marketers are relentless especially during the holidays. And they’re really creepy.
You know what I mean. You do a Google search on “vintage t-shirts” and the next thing you know you’re getting “vintage t-shirt” ads in FB and IG. Creepier still, you just talk about “vintage t-shirts” and you still get ads on vintage t’s. You know your phone’s microphone is always on, right? You know Alexa is always listening!
Now, you can’t stop these types of ads from popping up, but you can stop all of the email ads you get.
Make it a point to “unsubscribe” from every retailer who sends you marketing emails.
Why subject yourself to temptation when you don’t have to? Take away the prompt and remove the temptation.
It’s another super simple yet highly effective solution.
5. Know your Derailers
We all have “Derailers.” You know, the things or people who derail us from reaching our objectives.
EXAMPLE: A spendthrift friend who loves engaging in “retail therapy” and always takes you along for the ride.
Think about who / why / what causes you to overspend at this time of the year.
Perhaps, you find yourself dining out with your girlfriends more often and you’re often dining at places close to your usual shopping haunts. Or, you’re always checking your phone for the latest, greatest sales to drop.
If you’re like most people, you have a list of usual suspects. These are your “Derailers.”
Once you’ve identified what or who they are, have a plan to avoid or overcome them.
Per the examples above:
- Dining out with girlfriends
Solution: Go to restaurants that aren’t close to shopping centers.
This simple act of putting physical space between you and temptation works wonders. It’s a lot harder to stop and “just take a quick look around” when the shopping mall is 20 minutes away.
- Checking for the latest sales / deals
Solution: Unsubscribe from all retailer emails.
Delete shopping apps from your phone. Remove all shortcuts from your computer. Turn off notifications on your phone.
This is the digital equivalent of putting “physical space” between you and temptation. Seems so simple it can’t work, but it’s highly effective.
This holiday season instead of making a “promise” to do better, make a plan.
It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan either. If you took two or three of the ideas above and started working toward them – that’s a plan. But, you can’t simply say, “I’m going to spend less money this year” and expect things to change.
We’re still a good 6-8 weeks away from when the craziness really begins. Use this time to get your plan in place and begin executing it. Don’t wait for the craziness to be upon you before you make these changes. As JFK said, “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”