While the changing weather, holiday music and media ads indicate that the holidays are soon approaching, the rush and bustle of this week’s pre-Thanksgiving preparation instills a strong sense that the season is here! The promise of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deep discounts can stimulate excitement in even the most conservative shoppers. However, you can still score a few good deals while being a smart consumer by avoiding the easy trap of holiday excess. To help guide your spending decisions, consider this simple three-step strategy: “Plan, Look, and Execute.” Smaller steps are included in each action plan.
- Decide on a pre-determined amount of money that will be used for holiday shopping. This should be an amount that will not cause a hardship on the individual or family budget. Use a paper or budget app like GoodBudget to get this process started, or speak with a financial counselor at your local Fleet and Family Support Center or Military OneSource.
- Start with a conservative estimate and increase that number if it agrees with the end goal of avoiding holiday excess. If you find yourself dipping into earmarked family funds to carry out your holiday shopping desires, step back and rethink the short and long term impact of your decisions. Consider how and when that money will be replaced.
- Make a list of gift recipients, items and costs—and check it twice! Ensure that there are no overwhelming or unreasonable expectations from gift receivers. You may decide to be up front by mentioning that you’ve reined in your spending this year in an effort to plan for a better financial present and future. To avoid the allure of purchasing the unnecessary “bright shiny object” during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, double-check your list against your priorities in spending and gift-giving to those most important to you.
- Understand that you may not need to stand in line for hours to get the best deals. Research stores’ holiday hours, online savings days, promotional periods and product availability to save time and minimize stress!
- Compare promotions to determine whether you’re really getting a good deal. Technology will be your best ally in this step! Use store or retail savings apps and websites to help you track retailer offers and promotions, track sales, price drops and free shipping.
- Read the fine print of each offer, paying special attention to cut-off dates and other conditions. Avoid low price offers that require opening high-interest store credit cards/accounts, unless the present and long term benefits greatly outweigh any short term gains. If you have already established a store credit card, charge your purchases to take advantage of promotions only if you presently have the money set aside to pay off your purchase.
- Know retailer policies about price adjustments, price matching and discounts. In the event that you purchase an item before a lower holiday price is advertised, or find an item for a lower price than advertised at your favorite store, some retailers may make adjustments to credit you the price difference. Note that many retailers will enforce a time frame for price adjustments and price matching during the holidays. Additionally, when taking advantage of promotions coupled with coupons, some retailers may limit the amount of offers you can apply on a single transaction. Compare already reduced prices to military discounts and additional coupons to determine the best deal.
- Go back to your list of items and costs as your first frame of reference for your personal budget before making a purchase. Your pre-determined holiday shopping boundaries will matter most and need to be adhered to, even when faced with an alluring “deal” on an item you want but didn’t plan for. Remember your initial goals of getting through tempestuous Black Friday and Cyber Monday temptations!
- Use a strategy of delayed gratification when you have the urge to make an impulse purchase. Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday may not be the best times to buy certain items, as many stores offer promotions after the holidays. Create a timeline that gives you a chance to assess the success of your budget adherence after the holidays and allows for additional spending once you’ve been able to balance overages and eliminate any unplanned debts. You’ll enjoy your purchase more when you know you’re not sacrificing needs for immediate wants!
- Post your spending receipts, budget and progress in a visible place where you can reflect on your spending activities. Write a short sentence or key words that clearly restate your goals. Doing this creates a point of personal accountability and serves as a reminder of your initial intentions. It’s easy to forget amidst the holiday craze.
If you find that you don’t have excess funds to comfortably participate in shopping activities, know that this is ok – you are not alone! Applaud yourself for recognizing your limitations and consider alternative gift-giving involving your time and talents to make thoughtful items instead. The holidays are a wonderful and important time to connect with our friends, families and acquaintances. We don’t have to overextend ourselves financially to feel that connectedness or prove a point. Think of the above three-step strategy as one small act toward your financial security and peace of mind.
For additional tools and tricks during your holiday shopping, check out:
www.PriceBlink.com (Retail price adjustment alerts)
www.theblackfriday.com (Lists Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers from major retailers)
Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced financial counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy. Appearance of external links does not constitute endorsement by U.S. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch. All links are included for convenience and informational purposes only.