Eggnog isn’t the only thing that causes headaches and nausea during the holiday season, folks. In fact, the biggest hangover I’ve ever had wasn’t even alcohol related … I believe it was caused entirely by my MasterCard (or my inability to keep it in my wallet). Damn you, Nordstrom Rack and your delectable deals!
Many health-conscious people think of the holidays as a time to hold tightly to dietary and weight-loss goals to stop progress from flying out the window like so many chocolate-covered turtledoves. But financial health is something that is equally painstaking to achieve and, unfortunately, even easier to destroy. One day of frenzied shopping (I’m looking at you, Black Friday) can dismantle months of goal setting and saving, leaving you with nothing to do but cry into your trunk full of “treasures.”
Even if your bank account survives Black Friday, you’ll still face the gauntlet of holiday shopping trips wrought with sale flyers, people spraying perfume in your face and big, colorful posters promising HUGE savings and low interest rates. The retail world knows they’ve got you right where they want you as Christmas approaches. After all, you HAVE to buy gifts, don’t you?
Even the savviest shopper can end up with a basket full of things she never intended to buy, shelling out the “emergency” credit card for a grip of sale items that she “couldn’t live without.” Online shopping is no different, with high-limit coupon codes (get 25 percent off your order of $150 or more!) and pop up windows with purchase suggestions (other customers who ordered ski pants ALSO ordered 600 accessory items!). No matter where you go for holiday shopping, if you want to preserve your financial health you are going to need a plan.
- Make a budget and stick to it … to the death. This may sound like a no-brainer but there’s more to it than coming up with a mental spending goal. Making a budget means going through your finances with a fine-tooth comb, considering bills, upcoming expenses such as oil changes and holiday travel costs and preserving an emergency fund in case you encounter an unexpected expense. After you consider everything, come up with a number you are comfortable spending on holiday gifts and take it out in cash. CASH. If you plan to do online shopping write the number on a sheet of paper and keep track of spending during your online shopping trip. Show your subtraction on paper as place each item into your “cart” and DO NOT put anything into your cart that you can’t afford.
- Make your list and check the math twice. The almighty Christmas list will make or break your budget goals this holiday. Itemize the list in whatever way you see fit but be sure you include a price ceiling on each person or item. Add all of the amounts together and make sure it comes in at or below your budget number. This list is final. You will stick to it at all costs no matter what awesome deals you encounter once you get out to the store. If you budgeted little Timmy at $30, that is all he gets. Period. Make sure you consider sales tax, too. If you buy Timmy a gift that costs $29.99, you will be over budget at the checkout stand.
- Take all cards out of your wallet. This is important and required. Take all debit and credit cards out of your wallet. If you keep a checkbook with you, take that out, too. Put your cash (along with your I.D. in case you need it) in your wallet or coin purse. This is all you will take with you to the store. You now have no choice but to stick to budget.
- Grab your list and your calculator. You can also use your phone as a calculator but no fair using apple pay or any other digital, phone-related payment system! Head to the store. Keep track of the cost of what is in your cart using your calculator as you check off items on your list. Remember, you have tunnel vision. You are a shopping robot. You are unaffected by all the tricks, flashing lights and pretty packaging. You are a holiday-shopping warrior.
- Celebrate your success. I’m not saying this is going to be easy. It will be hard and you’ll want to cheat. That’s why it’s imperative to leave all other payment options at home. If there are items you REALLY want to buy but are not in your budget, take photos of them with your phone or write down the SKU numbers, names and prices on the back of your Christmas list. Once you get home, celebrate your success and your beautiful, full bank account. Think about how priceless financial security is. Wait 24 hours. Then look up those extra items online and see if 1) you still can’t live without them and 2) if you can find them cheaper anywhere.
I wish you luck and success in your shopping adventures this year! Do you have any tips to add? Leave them in comments. Lord knows we can all use as much help as we can get!