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Shop 'Til We Drop: Keeping Financially Sane and Focused Thoughout the Holidays

The financial naughty and nice of the holiday season


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Shoppers at Indie Made are part of a growing trend of buying not only local, but handmade. - LAURIE PEARMAN
  • Laurie Pearman
  • Shoppers at Indie Made are part of a growing trend of buying not only local, but handmade.

Spending and Saving

The financial naughty and nice of the holiday season

Show of hands: How many of you have finished your holiday shopping and have it all wrapped and ready to go? And how many of you are planning to tackle of all of your shopping in one marathon dawn-til-dusk mall trip this coming weekend?

Some holiday statistics claim that as many as 60 percent of holiday shoppers--some holding out for better deals, some just admitted procrastinators--wait until the very last minute to get most of their holiday shopping done. And while that number may be an accurate head count of people looking for that one last gift, just how many Americans wait until the last two weeks of December to start roaming aisles and combing Internet deals? According to the National Retail Federation, only about 3.5 percent of shoppers.

Four in 10 Americans claim to begin their holiday shopping before Halloween with another 39 percent of Americans waiting until November to start spending money on the naughty and the nice. And while it often follows that the longer you wait to get your shopping done, the more stressed you may be as the holidays approach, what you may not know is that your procrastination may also be negatively affecting your pocketbook.

"The absolute best savers are those who can look at the sales and plan in advance," said Leslie Greenman, financial planner and author.

When BW spoke with Greenman in early December, she said the numbers are clear: People who had already started shopping would spend around $699 this year compared the $950 those who had not started would spend.

And come January, when the credit card bills start showing up in the mailbox, there may be some gender differences when it comes to comparing overall spending totals.

Though women may have a reputation for being the big spenders, the numbers show that reputation may not be backed by actual data.

Men and women both plan to spend about $420 buying gifts this year. However, when it comes to just about every other category--gifts for friends, co-workers and pets, as well as decorations, greeting cards and even things like poinsettias--men outspend women. But as Greenman points out, for women, there is often more to shopping than just buying gifts. And that may lead to higher overall spending totals for women.

"Men are in and out of the stores quicker. They know what they're going to buy and they go and get it," said Greenman. "If I go with my son, we are in and out of that mall within 30 minutes because he's like, 'Mom, let's get out of here now.' But if you go with a friend, it can be a half-a-day experience. You go and have lunch, and so that all adds to the shopping experience. And when you buy a sweater for your sister, you say, 'You know what, I'm just going to get one for myself also.'"

Getting one for yourself is called self-gifting and it's another trend tracked by the National Retail Federation. The good news for retailers is that self-gifting is not only up this year, it's at an all-time high.

"Consumers are expected to spend the most on non-gift items in the survey's 10-year history," reported the NRF. Sixty percent of shoppers are expected to spend an average of almost $140 on themselves this year. At least when it comes to self-gifting, younger adults lead the charge with shoppers 25-34 expected to spend more than $175 on themselves this holiday season.

"It looks like young adults have the 'one for you, two for me' mentality about the holiday season this year, which is surprising given that this is also the age group that typically doesn't have the income or ability to splurge," said Pam Goodfellow, director of BIGinsight Consumer Insights, which conducted annual holiday shopping survey, in a release from the federation.

If money isn't an issue, then by all means wait until the last minute, splurge on yourself, make shopping an all-weekend affair, and pull out that credit card as many times as you like. Retailers will appreciate it. The economy needs it.

But if you're like many Americans who not only have a budget but who need to stick to it, Greenman has some advice.

"Having the plan is what is good," said Greenman.

If you can, start in January, plan all year and watch for sales. If not, get creative.

"What I usually do is save up my credit card points for the whole entire year, and then in December, I redeem them for different gift cards. Then, if you attach something like chocolate chip cookies, it adds a personal element to it," suggested Greenman.

If you're one of those people who thinks giving a gift card is cheating, consider this: That same NRF survey suggests you may want to get over that idea. It found that six in 10 people say the thing they would most like to receive this year is gift cards.

But if you just can't bring yourself to give only a gift card, Greenman has another idea. Get the gift card anyway and use it to buy the gift.

When her sister had Pottery Barn chairs on her Christmas list, Greenman redeemed her credit card points for a gift card to the store and used the card herself to purchase the gift.

Greenman has also been known to advise people not to be afraid of the regift. During the 2011 holiday shopping season, she wrote a piece for NJ Family, saying:

"Take an inventory of regifting possibilities. Are there any gift cards you've never used? Any clothes hanging in your closet with the tags still on them? Any gifts you've received in years past that you've never taken out of the box? If so, think about passing them along to someone else."

And if all else fails--you don't have credit card points, you didn't plan all year round, you have nothing to regift--there is one thing you can do to prevent that tug in your gut come January as you tear open the first of your credit card bills.

"When you walk into a mall this year, please walk in with cash to protect yourself from overspending," said Greenman. You can't spend what you don't have.

For some, the 2013 holiday shopping season will start next week, on Wednesday, Dec. 26, when everything from shoes to leftover wrapping paper goes on sale. Want to save 50 percent on wrapping paper next year? Get it at after-holiday sales and store it until next December. Want to be one of those people who save a few hundred dollars on gifts next year? Get out your notepad and start making a list. Then head to the after-holiday sales, cash in hand. Repeat all year long.