Smart Holiday Spending and Debt Repayment

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, boneill@njaes.rutgers.edu

Grouping of holiday gifts bags
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In December, many Personal Financial Managers field questions from military families about holiday shopping and subsequent debt repayment. Below are some tips to share with clients:

Holiday Shopping

  • Level-Set Expectations- Holiday catalogs and ads, not to mention curated social media feeds, often depict lifestyles that many people cannot afford. This makes it difficult to fight the urge to splurge. Acknowledge that FOMO (fear of missing out) is real but stress the need to “spend within your means.”
  • Curb Impulse Shopping– One way to avoid temptation is to limit time spent with “shopaholic” friends in shopping malls. In addition, it may be wise (unless items are in high demand and short supply) to wait at least a day, and up to a week, before purchasing “big ticket” items costing $500+.
  • Think Durability– How long something will last is a key factor in all holiday purchases ranging from a new electronic gadget to an article of clothing. Examine the quality of items for sale and read available product information (e.g., care instructions and the fiber content of clothes).
  • Do Pre-Purchase Homework– Newspaper ads, websites, apps, social media feeds, and online reviews are chock full of product information. Review as many sources as possible and look for money-saving deals such as early morning “doorbuster” sales, online flash sales, and limited time promo codes.

Holiday Debt Repayment

  • Check Billing Statements– Billing errors can occur around the holidays when cashiers are rushed and shoppers make multiple purchases, exchanges, and returns. Make sure that all charges are correct and that all credits for returned/exchanged items have been applied.
  • Lower Interest Rates– One way to do this is to simply contact creditors and negotiate a lower interest rate. Many will do this to keep existing customers who pay their bills on time. Another money-saving strategy is to transfer existing balances to a lower-rate credit card if the interest rate savings exceed transaction fees.
  • Avalanche Debt– This means paying the highest amount possible on the credit card with the highest interest rate while making at least required minimum payments on lower rate accounts until all debts are repaid. A second option is to “snowball” debt by paying the highest amount possible on debts with the smallest balances.
  • Follow the Rules– This means paying bills on time and not exceeding credit limits. Each mistake could cost as much as $30 per month. In addition, many creditors impose high penalty interest rates. If a late payment fee raises a balance over the credit limit, there could be a late fee, an over-the-limit fee, and increased interest.

Once credit cards are paid off, encourage clients to develop a savings plan for 2023 holiday expenses to eliminate holiday credit problems next year.

 

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