Festive store displays mean the holiday shopping season is in full swing. While a recent survey by the National Retail Federation is estimating that consumer spending will be conservative this year, the group predicts that the average shopper is planning to dole out $421.82 on family members, $75.13 on friends and $23.48 on co-workers.
“The holidays bring on a feeling of consumption on the part of individuals to provide gifts to families and friends,” said Charles W. Miller, associate professor of finance at Marymount University in Arlington. “Often, when monies are not available, people turn to the path of least resistance which is the credit card.”
While the holidays mean increased spending for many, financial setbacks can be avoided. Local money experts offer strategies for those determined to emerge from the season with minimal or no debt.
McLean-based financial advisor Kristan Anderson said, “Avoiding holiday debt is all about setting a budget and being creative about gifting options,” she said. “The budget should be an amount that does not require the additional use of credit cards for short-term financing.”
Potomac, Md. resident Linda Berg-Cross, a researcher and professor of psychology at Howard University suggests, “Avoid developing a consuming style based on what the media is selling. Media literacy is critical for financial savvy in today's world.”
Berg-Cross recommends that consumers use money-saving tactics like “holiday shopping at resale stores, waiting for sales, cutting coupons, and [internet] surfing to comparison shop.”
Theresia Wansi, Ph.D., professor of finance at Marymount University adds, “You can go to a store like Bloomingdales and look around and then go to a discount store and find the same items at a much lower price.”
“Avoiding holiday debt is all about setting a budget and being creative about gifting options,”
Kristan Anderson, McLean-based financial advisor
Anderson says avoid waiting until the last minute to purchase gifts. “Starting early…allows you to spread the costs out over a few months or more,” she said. “Some stores are offering layaway, which is another option that avoids increasing credit card debt.
Steve Pillof, Ph.D., assistant professor of finance at George Mason University advises consumers against going shopping without a methodical plan. “Stores have colorful displays and holiday lights that lure shoppers,” he said. “Before going shopping you have to sit down and decide how much money you are going to spend on each person. Make a list and take it with you to help resist overspending. Don’t charge more on credit cards than you can afford to pay off easily in three months.”
For those having financial difficulties Anderson says, “It is worth having a discussion with family members and opting to not exchange gifts outside the immediate family. Or just have a simple gift exchange where each person has only one person to buy a gift for. Don't underestimate the value of a homemade gift, either.”