Holidays can be an expensive time of year. Spending on gifts, travel, meal preparation, and year-end tips for the mail carrier, pet sitter and other service providers can add up quickly if you're not paying attention. Let's face it, most of us have a bit of a competitive streak and enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with thinking we're getting a great deal. The onslaught of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other retail-designed "shopping holidays" can work against our better judgment. This can lead us to spending more than we should or can really afford. Not to mention that racking up credit card debt can negatively impact your credit score if you use up too much of your available credit or miss payments, for example.
Here are five simple ways to ensure you're making smart purchases and starting 2014 on solid footing.
1. Be realistic about what you can spend -- If you overspent last year, set a goal for yourself and keep track of your spending along the way on a piece of paper or notepad app on your phone. Another strategy is to write down any credit card purchases in your checkbook right away and subtract them from the account balance. This way, you know you will have the funds available when the bills come in.
2. Make a list; check it twice -- They say not to go grocery shopping without a list or on an empty stomach. Similarly, be sure to create a gift list ahead of time. Next, write down one or two specific gift ideas for each person on your list before you go shopping, keeping in mind the estimated cost of the item and how that will fit into your overall budget. To shorten the list even further, see if there are ways to narrow it down by suggesting family members pull names from a hat rather than buying for everyone, or by proposing a gift swap for close friends
3. Price shop -- Once you have a pretty good idea of what you need to buy, do a little research online not only to compare prices, but to see if there is a lower cost alternative product or service that has similar features and quality. This is a particularly helpful strategy for electronics purchases such as tablet computers, for example, where they are plenty of good products to choose from and a wide array of price ranges. Try using a shopping app such as RedLaser or Amazon's PriceCheck to get immediate price comparisons while you shop.
4. Spend only what you have -- Carrying around a lot of cash is never advisable, but if you want to avoid credit card debt, use your debit card when making purchases. This way, the money is coming right out of your bank account and you can't spend more than what you have in the account. Be careful, however, not to drain your account to the point that you don't have enough money to pay your regular monthly bills.
5. Time your purchase right -- For items on your list that are not on the consumer "hot" list, you might be better off avoiding the after-Thanksgiving rush and waiting until the first two weeks of December to get the best deals. Stores start slashing prices in an effort to reduce inventory around this time.
Taking these steps can help you stave off that debt hangover and have a financially guilt-free Thanksgiving -- letting you focus on losing some of those extra holiday pounds.