Before the holidays are over, many consumers will charge an extra $600, $800, even $1,000 to their credit cards. Most shoppers don’t plan for this—it just happens. Department stores tempt them with offers of retail store credit cards, two-for-ones, and big discounts …
But by the time January rolls around, they have giant credit-card-debt hangovers that leave them wondering how they can preserve their finances when they have migraine-headache-sized debt looming over them.
Though they are supposed to be joy-filled, the holidays represent a giant danger to your credit score and your pocketbook. Come the New Year, you will have to battle with your credit card bills as well as increasing interest rates. Remember that when your credit card debt increases, your credit score decreases, which translates to growing interest rates.
But this year can be your breakthrough year. Here are a few of my 10 Holiday Shopping Rules.
1. First and foremost, plan in advance.
This means that before you head to the department stores:
- Make a budget.
- Prioritize your gift list.
- Assign a dollar value to each person on your list.
2. Then, play with cash, and leave your credit cards at home using the “envelope system.”
“I’ll just put it on my credit card, and I’ll pay it off when the bill comes.”
How many times have you said this? The problem is that life tends to get in the way by the time the bills come.
Even to the most disciplined shopper, credit cards are a little like Monopoly money, but if you use cash only, you will limit your spending to the cash in hand.
Before heading to the stores, review your budget and create envelopes with the names of each person you are going to purchase a present for (Son, Mom, Dad, etc.). Within each envelope, place the appropriate amount of money you have budgeted for this person— no more and no less. Each of these envelopes represents the wallet you have for each person on your list.
Though you might want to bring a small amount of cash for parking and lunch, leave all credit cards at home, including your debit cards. When you purchase a present, use the money from the appropriate “wallet.”
This method will create a psychological barrier to impulse shopping. If you are tempted to splurge on a gift, you will be dissuaded when you consider whose wallet you will withdraw money from in order to cover the impulse shopping.
3. Buy your most important presents first.
If you have budgeted appropriately, you will not run out of money, but let’s face it: Money does not go as far as it used to.
When shopping, buy the gifts at the top of the priority list first and, if you go over budget, find substitutes for those people on the bottom of your list. (Your sister would probably love a framed picture as much as a $75 sweater.)
If you buy your most important gifts first, you will be less tempted to charge things to your credit card. But if you save your most important gifts for last, you might find yourself turning to credit cards when all your cash has been spent on less-important gifts.
Finally, never get the credit-card discount.
4. Finally, never get the credit-card discount.
That 10 percent discount you get for signing up for a store credit card might seem like a great deal, but think again. It’s a giant scam because it pales in comparison to the damage this will do to your credit score.
Think about it: If you sign up for a retail store account, you are:
- Inviting an inquiry into your credit score. The retail store will run your credit report, which will hurt your score. Inquiries account for 10 percent of your score.
- Increasing the number of credit cards you have. Credit-scoring bureaus respond more favorably to people with three to five major credit cards (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa).
- Incurring interest, unless you pay the account in full. This interest will compound so that the 10 percent savings ends up costing you 20, 30, 50, even 100 percent more than you had intended to spend!