Believe it or not, the holiday season is almost here. Does that make you feel a little stressed? If so, you're in good company. All the holiday songs tell you to be of good cheer and you really do want to feel that way. And maybe you will once you get all of your shopping done!
Shopping doesn't have to be something you dread this year. All you have to do to have a stress-free holiday season is avoid these five mistakes that shoppers make during the holidays. You'll be finished in no time and your finances will still be in good shape.
Mistake #1: You Go Shopping Without a Budget
According to LendingTree's 2015 Holiday Shopping Survey, almost 76 percent of those surveyed said they had done holiday shopping without a set budget. And only a little over 55 percent said they'd have a budget set for this year.
If you're using your credit cards, shopping without a budget is a slippery slope to debt. It's just too easy to get mesmerized by a gift and overspend. If you have a budget set in stone, you can, hopefully, refrain from making extravagant choices that might put you in debt. This is especially true for anyone who has cash flow issues. Before you leave home or hop on the Internet, you should have a list of who you're shopping for and how much you'll spend on that person.
Mistake #2: You Don't Take Advantage of Rewards
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not using their credit card rewards. This takes a little planning, but if you take the time, you can save a lot of money.
Review the rewards programs for the credit cards you intend to use. Make a list and note where to use your cards to maximize rewards. For instance, if you have a credit card that offers 2 percent at department stores, then use that card at an eligible store. If you have a card that offers 5 percent cash back on Amazon purchases, then decide which items on your list can be bought at Amazon.
And don't forget to check your rewards balances. Maybe you have enough points to redeem them for gift cards or for merchandise. Are you traveling to see family during the holidays? If so, don't forget to see if you have enough miles to help pay for the tickets. Be strategic with your credit card rewards and you can save money.
Mistake #3: You Don't Track Your Expenses
It's essential to have a budget so you know how much you can spend. But it's also important to have a system set up so that you can track your spending. Otherwise, you might overspend with your credit cards. With plastic, that's easy to do. In the survey, only 46 percent felt that they'd "spent appropriately" during the holiday season.
Once the excitement of the holidays is in full force, you might forget that you already spent the alloted amount on Uncle Dave. And let's face it. At the end of a shopping trip, you're tired and maybe hungry. This is a time when you're vulnerable to impulse buys just to get the whole thing over it.
But if you're tracking your expenses, you know how much money you have left to spend. This will give you the willpower to resist impulse purchases. So choose a system and stick with it. There are free money management software programs online to help you do this. If you prefer an app for your smart phone, there are plenty of options for those, too.
Mistake #4: You Don't Use a Mobile Shopping App
In the survey, 63 percent say they do not plan to use a shopping app for at least some of their holiday shopping. There are a lot of great deals during the holidays. But many of these opportunities are missed because shoppers have no way to get real-time information. But there are now many apps that help you compare prices for individual items as well as offer coupons on items you're buying.
Using a shopping app will also help save wear and tear on your car as well as your feet. Too often, we get exhausted trying to track down deals. Let your phone and a well-chosen app do the legwork for you. Sit back and have a relaxing cup of coffee while you scan the deals and decide where to go next.
And there are apps that help you keep track of credit card rewards and help you make the most of your rewards. The app can even advise you about which card to use in which store. These apps have a database that contains the rewards programs for many credit cards.
Mistake #5: You Aren't Protecting Yourself Online
Most of us do at least some of our shopping online during the holidays. Seriously, a person can only take crowds for so long. But when you're online, there are a few things you need to pay attention to so your sensitive financial data doesn't get stolen. It would be a shame to have to deal with identity theft or credit card fraud during the holidays.
Before you enter your credit card information on a website, check the address bar to make sure you are giving your information on a secure site. Secure sites have "HTTPS://" in the URL. If you don't see the "S," you're not on a secure site. It's also a good idea to check your credit card and bank accounts online a few times a week.
And one more thing: It's very important to use a credit card and not a debit card while shopping online. With a debit card, you are at risk of losing your cash for a week or longer. Use a credit card and enjoy better consumer protections. Remember, fraud increases during the holiday season, so stay on your toes and protect yourself.