11 surefire ways to waste money during the holidays

Best Ways To Keep Your Holiday Spending In Check

Retailers use "can't miss" sales, dazzling displays, sweet holiday scents and music to entice people to spend more money during the holiday season than at any other time of year. And it works. Holiday sales are expected to reach $630.5 billion in 2015, a 3.7 percent increase over last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF also predicts that shoppers will spend an average of $805 per person.

If you've taken steps to save money and stay frugal during the holidays, you still might be habitually wasting money without knowing it. Here are 11 ways you're overspending and how to stop.

1. Hosting a holiday feast.

Christmas usually becomes Thanksgiving Part II, with a banquet-sized dinner big enough to feed a family 10 times the size of your own. The hundreds of dollars spent at the grocery store, plus preparation and cooking time – and that Pinterest-inspired table decor – isn't always worth the effort for a grand meal.

Save yourself some money and energy by turning your dinner gathering into a potluck instead. Invite relatives and guests to bring their favorite dishes so the cost of your holiday meal is spread out evenly over everyone who comes to the table. Bonus: You won't have to loan out your containers for leftovers either, because everyone will have brought their own.

2. Shopping without a strategy.

Having a clear-cut budget for gifts is a great start, but it can quickly go to waste if you don't have a shopping plan in place. Saunter through your local mall, and you'll likely have a hard time resisting the temptation to buy impulsively for your kids, spouse or yourself. Indulge, and you might be paying more than if you compared prices online or in other stores beforehand.

You might even be shopping at the wrong time. If you buy because you happened to wander into a certain store, you could be paying full price for a boatload of toys that will go on sale the next day. Your best course of action is to outline a budget and shopping wish list, compare prices, look for discounts or coupons, and adjust your shopping list to fit within your budget. That way, you'll have your finances set, and you'll have a strategy to get exactly what you need at the right time.

3. Putting everything on a credit card.

It's possible to stay within your budget yet overspend at the same time if you exclusively use your credit cards for your Black Friday-to-Christmas Eve shopping. If you don't pay off your balance on time, the penalty interest you'll be hit with will cancel out all your efforts to save money during the Yuletide season.

Rely too much on your plastic, and it'll show up on your credit report, too. Your credit score might even take a hit if your debt-to-credit ratio is too high. Like reminding yourself not to drink too much egg nog this year, use credit in moderation. Opt instead for your debit card or cash if you need help staying disciplined.

4. Going overboard with Christmas lights.

Don't try to compete with those houses with the massive light displays set to music that you've seen in viral videos. Lights covering every inch of your house isn't exactly a bright idea from a financial standpoint. It can cause your utilities bill to skyrocket for the month of December.

Try going easy on the lights and opt instead for simple, colorful decorations that can be seen during the daytime and at dusk, such as ribbons, tinsel or an inflatable seasonal character. Combine them with fewer lights for a tasteful, yet affordable, effect. Remember, Santa doesn't need lights on the ground to guide his sleigh; that's what Rudolph's nose is for.

5. Buying gift cards at full price.

Gift cards are the perfect present for the person who is hard to shop for because it gives them the freedom to get what they want. They also give you the freedom to choose the exact amount you want to spend.

That doesn't mean you should spend $100 for a $100 card, however. Check out gift card exchange websites, such as Gift Card Granny, Cardpool or CardKangaroo, where you can find fully loaded and partially spent gift cards at sharply reduced prices. Shop smart: Pick up a few gift cards for the price you initially would have spent on one at a retail store.

6. Sending too many greeting cards.

It's always nice to get a heartfelt card in the mail from a friend or relative, and sending cards to loved ones can really get you in the holiday spirit. That sentiment can diminish, however, when you get cards returned because of a wrong address or when you realize you spent extra cash on fancy cards and postage for people who don't keep in touch with you.

Whittle down your list of card recipients to a handful of close loved ones. If your circle is still too large, send your closest relatives and best friends the physical greeting cards and send your distant relatives and larger circle of friends free e-cards or thoughtful messages on Facebook.

7. Buying overpriced wrapping paper.

You know you've got a problem when the wrapping paper you've bought ends up costing more than the gifts you're wrapping. Boutiques and gift shops can be great places to pick up trinkets for friends and family, but you should pass on the expensive paper sold there. Just like that holiday meal that gets devoured in minutes, wrapping paper is torn through in seconds and then thrown away.

Adorned with a nice bow or ribbon, wrapping paper from a discount store like Dollar Tree is often just as pretty as more expensive paper. Or, you can make your own wrapping paper using old newspapers, brown paper bags or even pages from old books or maps that you can find in bargain bins.

8. Paying full price for a rental car.

If you're renting a car for your holiday road trip, don't pay full price. Book your rental online ahead of time to get the best deal. Once you go to the location to get your car, you might be able to negotiate a great deal on a larger vehicle if the agent is trying to move certain cars off the lot. If you walk in without a reservation, you could get gouged.

Oh, and get the insurance. Most car insurance policies have a $500 deductible. If you get into a fender bender in your rental, you'll have to fork over the deductible. It's a lot cheaper to just pay about $10 per day for the rental company's basic damage waiver insurance – not the full protection package – so that you have peace of mind during your holiday vacation.

9. Being too charitable.

Donating money to a favorite charity, nonprofit or local cause during the holidays can be a great way to help others and balance out a creeping sense of materialism during your holiday shopping spree. But a few dollars here and there to every Santa ringing a bell next to a donation box can drain you of the cash you budgeted for other needs.

Aim to be more selective in the organizations you give to. Set up a budget for specific donations or for tithing on a year-end bonus and stick to it. The same goes for gratuities: If your standard is 18 percent, and you want to do more for the holidays, be realistic about your budget. Opt for 20 percent or 25 percent if 30 percent will make you broke.

10. Overspending on shipping.

When it comes to gift shopping, you can usually get better deals and selections if you buy sooner than later. If you're purchasing some gifts online, however, you might pay too much in shipping if you shop too soon.

Free Shipping Day, when many retailers offer free shipping on holiday purchases, is Dec. 18. As part of your budgeting and shopping strategy, plan ahead to take advantage of free shipping offers. If you're traveling to visit family for the holidays, save yourself the trouble of carting all your packages with you by shipping gifts directly to where you're spending the holidays together.

11. Splurging on yourself.

More than half of all shoppers surveyed by the National Retail Federation plan to splurge on an item for themselves while they're out shopping for others. Dipping into your gift budget to indulge can throw off your spending plan or even cause you to rely on credit cards to finish up your shopping.

Use common sense when hitting the malls if you spot something that catches your eye. If it'll make shopping for your friends and family too financially challenging, pass on it. That present for yourself might hit the discount rack after the holidays are over.

Not only is this the time of year to put your gift recipients first, but you never know what they might get you for the holidays. You might just find the same gift you bought yourself with your name on it under the tree this year.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

RELATED: Click through to learn how to have a happy (and healthy) holiday

How to have a happy (and healthy) holiday
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11 surefire ways to waste money during the holidays

S is for Sleep

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to get good, consistent sleep. Allow yourself time to unwind at the end of a night, put away the lists and the wrapping paper at least an hour before you go to bed and pick up a book, spend time with your family or just relax. This will quiet your mind to allow you to fall asleep more quickly. Have no caffeine after 12 noon, keep your room slightly cool and dark, invest in a good pillow and count your blessings rather than the number of shopping days left.

Image Credit: Getty

L is for Laughter

Keep things in perspective. The holidays are meant to be a time for family, fun and reflection. Don't let the little things make you crazy. An imperfect tree, a missed gift or a blown fuse can easily ruin a moment or even a day. Find the humor. I promise it is there.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

E is for Eat Well.

Unfortunately now, when party schedules ramp up, sugar fairies are flying everywhere and you have little time to cook, it is more important than ever to focus on a healthy diet. Your immune system needs support and your body needs good energy to get through the season. Instead of depriving yourself of all the delicious holiday flavors, which is part of the joy of this time of year, just ensure you are getting lots of the good stuff each day. Increase your water intake, keep raw vegetables at the ready for a quick snack and eat at least three fruits a day. When you can, make healthier choices. Eat nuts instead of candy, drink decaf instead of caffeinated. Save your sugar fixes for homemade treats and avoid processed food. You will definitely feel better and you will boost your defenses against germs.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

E is for Exercise

I know it feels that you have no time, but try to find some. In the next few weeks, make your intention peace of mind. Don't exercise for weight loss. Do it for sanity. Just 15 minutes a day will make all the difference.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

P is for Prevention

Stop the spread of germs best you can. Encourage your family members to wash their hands frequently and to avoid putting  hands near the mouth. Keep nice smelling, festive hand soaps around your house. Hand washing, especially in the winter, can lead to dry skin. Dry, cracked skin is a poorer barrier to infection, so stock up on moisturizers as well.  Practice safe cooking practices, clean surfaces with antibacterial cleaning products, and change towels, facecloths and toothbrushes often. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock

S is for Stress Reduction

Don't laugh. You can do it. No matter how chaotic your schedule, you can still find time for yourself, for unscheduled fun and for just breathing ... in and out. Sometimes a few minutes is all it takes. Acknowledge you limitations, you are not Martha Stewart. Get off Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. Make your own holiday traditions and enjoy them without concerning yourself with what everyone else is doing. I know there is so much that needs to be done, but there is also so much we do that did not need to be done. Prioritize, making sure your health and the health of your family tops the list of priorities. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock


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