5 Holiday Money Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Bank Account Come 2015

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Americans plan to spend $720 on holiday gifts this year, on average, according to a November survey by Gallup, up from $704 last year.

"Barring a major economic crisis or winter weather event that curbs Americans' willingness to shop, consumers seem on track to outlay a bit more on Christmas gifts this year," Gallup says.

To ensure you don't blow your holiday shopping budget, you need to avoid making spending decisions under stress and anxiety, says consumer finance expert Pamela Yellen. Those situations often lead to "awful" money mistakes that can "create lasting misery in the New Year," she says.

To avoid that happening, Yellen offers a "don't do" list of common holiday money mistakes that can dent your household income:

Don't keep up with the Joneses. "The holidays offer so many keeping-up opportunities, from the lights on your house to the cookies you bring to the neighborhood holiday potluck to the holiday outfits you buy for your children," Yellen says. Avoid the temptation to spend to "keep up" and instead keep more cash in your pocket and more sanity in your holidays.

Don't fall for holiday ads. You've seen the ads showing happy families gathering around a brand-new sedan with a big red bowtie on top — and you want that experience for your family. Don't fall for it, Yellen says. "People look so happy in those ads, right? Clearly, you will be happy too if you do all those things, right? But then of course when you do buy all that stuff, somehow you don't feel that happiness the ads promised, so you wind up feeling miserable," she says. When you overspend, you're just creating more financial problems down the road, so walk away from Madison Avenue ads that can cause more financial trouble than they're worth.

Don't rely strictly on credit cards. "Research shows that people spend more when they pay with plastic," Yellen says. "Also, most folks have trouble keeping track of, or even remembering, what they've charged on their cards. So not only do you spend more than you wanted to, but you're totally oblivious to it — until the bills show up in January."

Don't shop when you're anxious or tired. That's a big no-no, Yellen says. "Your decision-making skills and good judgment go out the window when you're exhausted, starving and stressed or feel particularly rushed," she says.

Don't try to give everyone everything they want. Americans, especially parents, go to great lengths to give their loved ones everything on their wish list. That's noble but not realistic, and overextending yourself can lead to a debt problem. Ask your gift recipient for one great gift idea and strive to get that gift under the Christmas tree this year, Yellen says.

"Doing even a few of these steps will make your holidays cranky and gloomy rather than merry and bright," she says. Instead, opt for a positive approach where you make good, healthy spending decisions that still lead to a happy holiday for you and your loved ones.

— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet

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