Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love It or Leave It - Holiday Shopping Tips

Shop, Save, Celebrate

by Frances Rahaim, Ph.D.
aka "The Money Doctor" 

Have you ever pushed a cart full of "must haves" to the cash register, and incredulously squawked to the cashier, "How much?"

Of course. We all have. But paying with plastic adds another level of danger to holiday shopping woes. It’s not the obvious high interest rates, and long payback timelines I’m referring to, but a much less talked about phenomenon that creeps up and bites us when the holidays are over.

Since you won't see the credit card bill until the new year, if you don’t keep a careful tally, you may find it difficult to pay in full. This short holiday shopping spree could take you years to pay off, or even cause late mortgage or other payments in some cases.

We all know this, but despite the fact, we don't seem to have a solution, and we do it year after year.

While I don't claim to have the only solution to the problem, I do have some helpful shopping tips that can be used year round.

1.  Give it a ride in your cart. This is a bit like choosing a color in your home. You put a sample on the wall, and live with it before committing to painting the whole room. When you see an item that you just can't leave on the shelf in case someone else buys it, put it in your cart. BUT, reserve your buying decision until you are at the back of the store where there is no pressure on you, no line of customers pushing you through the check out, and no feeling of responsibility to the cashier to purchase. Now, at your leisure, take time to add up your potential purchases and began the sorting process in step two.

2. You MUST love it or leave it.
Time constraints, or The goal of getting something for everyone, can cause your cart to magically fill with items which may not really be what you want, but allow you to check off your list.
Ask yourself, "Do I really love this?” Or if it's a gift, "Am I genuinely satisfied with this choice, and will they love it?" If your answer is anything short of a resounding yes, put it back and try again.

3. Put yourself in the receiver shoes. Would you rather have a trinket you may never use, or perhaps some quality time spent with someone you care for, or a donation made in your name. It may sound trite, but time truly is our most valuable asset. Remember, it doesn't have to have a bow to be a gift.

4. Beware of impulse buys, and rationalizations. Your impulse buy antenna should go up when you see end caps, and checkout displays.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't purchase these items, but refer back to step one.

5. Stick to the list. Somehow it seems easy for things you “Never knew you always wanted” to jump off the shelf and into your cart. Our shopping psychology justifies purchases sneakily. We tell ourselves "We deserve it, someone we love ‘needs’ it, or the easy-to-justify "It's for the home." We see these purchases as if they don’t count, but they still have to be paid for the long run.

5. Reality rules. Visualize taking cash out of your wallet to pay for each item. There's something very tangible and accountable about removing paper money vs plastic.

6. Conserve your cash. “They’ll keep it at the store for me.” This could be the conversation you have with yourself when you want an item, but don’t really need it yet. Try and leave below your means.

5. Shop small.
With gas prices at an all-time high, shopping locally makes more sense than ever. You help your community, and the people in it. And remember, your local shops are the same stores other people are traveling a distance to shop.

6. Of course no financial blog would be complete without telling you to pay your credit card bill in full if you decide to use one, but I am a realist, and know that when the holidays are done many people will have racked up credit card debt they cannot pay in full. If it happens to you, perhaps the new year is the right time to review your money management, and debt management plan. For now, I wish you happy decision-making, happy shopping, and happy, healthy holidays!

For more information about managing money wisely, visit

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