Even with inflation relatively low throughout most of 2015, unemployment at the lowest point since the Great Recession and lots of money saved from low gas prices, most Americans will spend the same or more on holiday gifts for friends loved ones and family this year.
FatWallet.com reports that 90% of consumers will spend the same or more this holiday season, while 70% say they will give their kids three gifts or more this year. Shouldn't Americans be a little more generous if they have more cash to fulfill items on Santa wish-lists?
That's certainly an individual's decision, and nobody is going to tell the Great American Consumer how much he or she can spend on holiday gifts this Christmas. But while following rules of thumb and staying within budget, can a person at least spend more smartly?
Experts say yes.
"It's tempting to spend with reckless abandon for your family during the holidays," says Kristie Santana, a New York City-based personal finance coach, with the National Coach Academy. "You've worked all year and you want to treat those you love most." "But a more responsible approach would be to calculate how much you earn in a week, after taxes, and use that as your benchmark for total holiday spending. For most people, this will be about $500. Then, distribute that amount any which way you'd like to members of your family, no matter how big or small."
Santana says the most cost effective gifts would be those that can be used by the whole family: a new set of speakers, a new television or a swing-set. "These gifts may take up most of your budget, but they'll probably be the gift of the day and they cover most members of the family and no one will feel left out," she says.
Elle Kaplan, chief executive officer of LexION Capital Management, one of the only women owned and operated investment firms in the nation, says it's "beyond tempting" to overspend during the holidays, and even easier to destroy your finances in the process.
One solution she recommends to zealous gift givers is the 20-30-50 plan. "Better than a budget, this is a simple, straightforward, flexible plan that keeps you on track to meet your financial goals," Kaplan says.
"The first 20 is 20% of your take-home pay, and without fail it should be invested in the most important thing: yourself," she says. "This portion goes towards finance essentials like paying off debt, student loans, and then - of course - investing."
"The next 30% should go towards anything fun - in this instance its holiday shopping," she adds. "This portion is more flexible, because you don't have to spend all of it, and there are often gray areas, as long as you leave the last 50% for essentials." Those essentials include groceries, electricity, and everything you absolutely could not do without (sorry, a fancy dinner out doesn't count, Kaplan adds).
"Stick to this plan and you'll have a fun, flexible way to save money this holiday season," she says.
The best way to not overspend is to make a gift-buying list and stick to it, notes Brent Shelton, an online shopping expert at FatWallet. "This is also the best time of year to cash in on all the savings opportunities, so to not overspend on that list, take advantage of the big store-wide discounts and stack other savings opportunities with your purchases," he says.
Focus your savings on free shipping, store rewards, cash-back (either via credit card, cash back sites like FatWallet, or both) and even mail-in-rebates. You can even try them all in one fell-swoop.
"Stacking can add up to significant savings quickly this time of year," Shelton adds.
It's up to you, and maybe your accountant, to decide how much you're going to spend on gifts this year. But it is a good idea to set a reasonable figure, and use all the money-saving ideas you can muster to stick to it.