4 of the biggest Christmas shopping traps to avoid

Author: Maurie Backman
Source: The Motley Fool


Whether you're ready to embrace the holiday season or not, here's a reality check. At this point, many stores are already blasting Christmas music and adorning their aisles with tinsel. And so like it or not, the holiday shopping season has officially kicked off.

The average consumer is expecting to spend $875 on the holidays this year, according to the National Retail Federation. And you might end up spending even more if you have a lot of gifts and items to buy.

That's why it's so important to approach your Christmas shopping strategically. To that end, here are a few big traps you'll want to avoid.


1. Not setting a budget

Holiday debt is fairly common -- but it's not a situation you have to land in if you can help it. Before you start your shopping, map out a budget based on the amount of money you have available from your savings account and other sources.

If you only have $600 to work with, stick to that limit and set priorities. Identify the people who deserve a spot at the top of your gift list, and spend less on the people at the bottom. You can also get creative with gifts from the heart that may not cost very much, like homemade candy.


2. Opening up store credit cards

Throughout your Christmas shopping, you may be asked if you'd like to open a store credit card or seven. Don't.

Often, retailers will lure you in with a big discount on your initial purchase. But store credit cards are notorious for charging higher-than-average interest. And opening too many new credit cards at once could cause damage to your credit score. That could put you in a bad spot if you're trying to do something like apply for a loan or mortgage in the new year.


3. Falling back on a 0% interest credit card

If you don't have enough savings to cover all of your Christmas shopping, you may be inclined to charge up a balance on a 0% interest rate credit card. After all, if you can pay off your balance by the time your introductory period comes to an end, what's the harm?

But remember, 0% interest cards tend to come with a pretty limited introductory period. Beyond that, you could end up paying scores of interest on a lingering balance.

Plus, too much credit card debt relative to your total credit limit could hurt your credit score the same way opening too many new cards in short order might. So be mindful of that consequence and aim to pay for your purchases in cash to avoid any sort of lingering debt.


4. Using a buy now, pay later plan

With a buy now, pay later (BNPL) plan, you finance your purchase over a short period -- usually 12 weeks or less. If all goes well and you make your payments on time, you won't pay anything for that privilege -- no interest, penalties, or fees.

But that's a pretty big "if." It's easy enough to fall behind on a payment, and if you do, you risk not only financial penalties but damage to your credit score. So, once again, aim to pay for all of your purchases in cash.

And for clarity, it's okay to use a credit card to buy things so you can rack up reward points or cash back in the process. But limit your balance to a sum you know you have the cash reserves to pay off in full.

Whether you enjoy Christmas shopping or not, it's a task you'll need to tackle in the coming weeks. Avoiding these traps could at least help ensure that you don't wind up with a world of financial regret afterward.


This article was written by Maurie Backman from The Motley Fool and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.