Why We Overspend Over Holidays & How To Stop

It's easy to spend little by little over the holidays but before you know you've overspent and leaving yourself short, but why do we do it? And how do we stop?

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First it’s “Black Friday”, which we CANNOT MISS.

Right away, “Friday” gets stretched out to a week, and who wants to miss an entire week of MEGA DEALS?

Then “Small Business Saturday” kicks in. And what type of MONSTER doesn’t buy something they don’t need from a store they’ve never visited before to just be able to say they “shop locally”?

We then have “Cyber Monday” rolling in. And even though we know it’s the same deals from last week, what kind of SOCIAL OUTCAST doesn’t circle back around again just to see them rebadged with different fonts?

Got this far without spending? Think you can finally relax?

No! It’s now December and we CANNOT miss the beginning of the Christmas sales. Sidestepped that? Hey YOU, why not celebrate the end of the year and beginning of the new with a shopping sales trip!

What started as a simple one-day event for department stores to try and make money before the end of the year, has dominated and defined the entire holiday season.

Now, what should’ve been a time of relaxation and fun has been replaced with a bottomless pit of spending, annoying ads, and overflowing inboxes. Not to mention drowing in a fun holiday cocktail of guilt, shame, disappointment and too many J Crew slippers.

So how can we get through this time of the year?

We’re not in control

On the surface these deals look like amazing opportunities. But remember—these sales are solely designed to get you to spend more money than you wanted to on things that you don’t need.

Every year, as the days get shorter and nights colder, we are blasted by one sale after another. Businesses big and small, from fashion to paper sales, offer 10% here or 20% there. Don’t miss out on this offer…oh wait, just kidding… there’s a better one tomorrow but you got suckered in today!

It feels overwhelming, but that’s by design. 

Overwhelming the nervous system is the first step to controlling somebody. It’s why parents shout at their children to get them in line. When you want people to do things unquestionably you overwhelm their nervous system so they just react to your commands. And it works. We spend as we’re told and often well beyond our means. 22% of Americans go into debt during the holidays. More than any other country.

Think about that for a whole ass minute: Almost a quarter of Americans go into debt, because our system demands we spend money.

The average American spends almost $1,000 on shopping in December, on top of our regular expenses like rent, bills, or food.

It takes the average American 13 months to pay off credit card debt. So that means the average American doesn’t even finish paying their credit card bill from the previous holiday season before the next one rolls round.

So how do we put ourselves back in control?

Taking back control

The issue isn’t spending money. (It’s yours, and as long as you can afford to, do you.) It’s about spending money the way you want to and how you want to. So whether it’s this season or next, be your own Santa:

Make a Plan

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and holiday sales.

You know when Black Friday is, you know when the sales are happening. So instead of waiting to see what lands in your inbox or catches your eye on Instagram, figure out what it is that you want before the sales come around.

If you’re willing and ready to pay full price for something you want, then getting 10%, 15% or even 40% is a big win

Prepare ahead of time

If you like to pair your eggnog with some Christmas shopping, then give yourself the freedom to actually enjoy it. Start putting aside a little bit of money every month BEFORE we get to the holiday season.

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That money is your fun fund (or secret stash or some other fun name). You can spend it without feeling guilty, so you can take advantage of the deals you find.

When in doubt return it

We’ve all been there; we get caught up in the excitement and rush of buying something new. But after the dust has settled, and you’re sitting on the couch covered in throw pillows that looked better in store, it’s okay to reflect.

Did the purchase make you happier? Was it something you really wanted, or was it just cheaper than you thought?

Don’t be afraid to return something. It’s putting money back in your pocket that you can use for something you really want.

This year give yourself the gift of not feeling bad about spending too much, or ending up in debt. This year, take back control of your holiday season.

Sam Garrison

Sam Garrison

Sam Garrison is the President and co-founder of Stackin, a financial wellness company. Before Stackin, Sam built and launched new ventures at BCG Digital Ventures, the venture and incubation arm of The Boston Consulting Group, where he also supported the executive team as strategic program lead. As a lifelong millennial, Sam has tried to solve most of his problems through technology instead of waiting in line at a drab office.