The Most Common Holiday Shopping Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

We're not letting money stress us out this year.

PHOTOS: SHUTTERSTOCK. DESIGN: MIA COLEMAN

The holiday season is full of joy and good times (and a lot of pumpkin spice), but there’s one major stressor: money. We all want to have enough to make the most of the gift-giving season, but sometimes we overspend without even realizing it. There are a bunch of ways to make your budget go further while not skimping on the positive vibes, though. Just avoid the mistakes below to make sure you don’t break the bank while keeping spirits high.

Not asking people what they actually want

Gift-giving can be a little tricky, even if you think you know the receivers pretty well. Trying to get the perfect present can lead to overspending when trying to read someone's mind (or multiple someones). Oftentimes, people may want something more practical that’s an immediate need rather than a casual want. Simply asking a loved one what they're wishing for can give you a realistic idea of what they may be excited to receive. Surprises are nice, of course, but getting to the point can save you a lot of money, time, and maybe even the stress of trying to please everyone.

Getting all your friends gifts

If you have a bunch of friends, it can get pretty costly trying to get everyone the perfect gift. The easier way for everyone to receive a present without you personally breaking the bank is to host a holiday party with a gift exchange game like Secret Santa or White Elephant for your guests. Do the necessary prep (like choosing names out of a hat) and sharing the rules (no spending over $50, for example) in ample time before the party to give everyone a chance to shop. This way, everyone comes to eat, drink, exchange gifts, and have a good time.

Only gifting physical “things”

Instead of giving individual things as gifts, you can give one big present to everyone you love: an experience. Taking your family and friends out can be a great way for everyone to bond and have a good time. This way, your money will go to one thing, be it a game of laser tag or a cooking class, and will provide everyone with memories. If you need to, you can inform everyone of this plan during the gift exchange, but not cover the cost until the outing in order to budget for other holiday needs in the meantime.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF STRAIGHT TALK

Paying too much for regular expenses

On top of all the added costs and needs during the holiday season, you still have to pay for all of your regular bills and subscriptions. Lowering these fixed costs, like your wireless plan, will let you add a little extra cushion to your holiday shopping budget. Straight Talk has a $35 unlimited talk and text plan with high-speed data to stay connected to your family and friends for less. Think of it as a gift to yourself.

Feeling pressured to give gifts to every single family member

Even though most millennials still feel like children at heart (us included), the holidays are for the real kids in our lives. Focusing your attention on what to give the little ones instead of your adult family members could save more than you think. It might be a good idea to even ask parents what their kids are interested in. This will not only help you grab the perfect present, but will also take a bit of the holiday tension off the parents.

Being hush-hush about your budget

Speaking of stress, the holiday season is known to amp up a lot of people’s anxiety levels. In fact, in a recent study, 43% of the respondents feel more stressed about this upcoming holiday season than in previous years. If you're one of them, it might help to be honest about your financial situation before the holidays even arrive. Let your loved ones know about your spending expectations and limitations, even if that means you’re not giving gifts at all this year. Lifting the weight of that stress will hopefully make the holidays more enjoyable and give you the opportunity to focus on other important things.

Using the wrong credit card when you shop

A lot of credit cards come with built-in perks that can come in handy this time of year, like cashback benefits that give you a discount (as a statement adjustment) when you shop at retail stores you’re likely already hitting up this season. Step one is knowing (and remembering at purchase time) what those perks are. If you’re unsure if you have cashback benefits on your credit cards, browse the company’s website or call their customer service support line and have someone explain how your card’s benefits work. Perks can shift depending on your particular card provider, or even the time of year, so the card that gets you cashback for a gift bought at a clothing store might be different than the one you should use to purchase a restaurant gift card. Familiarize yourself with these spending categories before you shop so you can really make the most of your perks.

Shopping exclusively online

Every town or neighborhood has novelty stores just waiting for you to step into. Consider checking out your local shops and see if there are any meaningful gifts to give the special people in your life — they’ll surely appreciate the thoughtful touch. You’ll also be doing your neighborhood a favor, as shopping locally can have positive benefits to the community and the environment. Plus, you won’t have to pay any delivery or service charges, which can add up. You can even hand-wrap the present for an extra sprinkle of authenticity.

Forgetting other holiday expenses

As much as we like to think about gifts for everyone else this time of year, you can't forget all the other necessities that make the holidays special. You’re still going grocery shopping, buying decorations, purchasing home goods (in case family or friends stay over), and so much more. Before you even begin to calculate your budget for gifts or seasonal excursions, make sure all of your important needs are taken care of. Prioritizing is key here! This way you and your loved ones can have a less stressful, wallet-friendly holiday.