How Much Can You Afford To Spend For The Holidays?

By Susan Tompor
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Before you head out on that holiday shopping spree, TAKE A BEAT! As Susan Tompor points out, there is no need to bust your holiday budget. A little thought and creativity could go a long way this holiday season.

Detroit Free Press

Will it be a very merry or a very wary holiday gift-giving season?

So far, many of us have not been able to climb out of the agitated, argumentative state that the presidential election has created in our communities.

Some even might have a hard time imagining sitting around the table for Thanksgiving dinner.

No matter, bright shiny objects are lining up on store shelves now. Ready. Willing. And more than able to coax consumers into ringing up big bills for the New Year.

Glitter, it would appear, is the next new big thing. Sequined sweaters. Sequins on pants. Sparkles on reindeer. But if you mindlessly chase all the bling, you could find yourself in a financial squeeze in 2017 when the bill comes due.

Here’s how to avoid being tripped up by the gilt this holiday season:

-Not to be a downer, but aren’t you already carrying a big debt load?
Before you play Super Santa and promise more than you can afford, why not re-examine the bills that are already weighing you down.

We hear talk every year about how the average consumer is likely to spend $800 or $900 on the holidays.

The National Retail Federation said Americans plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year.

Nearly six in 10 plan to spend an average of $139.61 on just themselves, up from 4 percent last year. If so, it would mark the second-highest level of holiday-love that we’ve lavished on ourselves in the survey’s 13-year history.

-Again, can you afford it?
One survey suggests that residents of Detroit, for example, can really only afford to spend 39 percent of what the average shopper in the rest of the country can afford.

WalletHub ran the numbers for 570 cities, reviewing income, age, the debt-to-income ratio, the monthly income-to-monthly expenses ratio and a savings-to-monthly expenses ratio.

How much debt you have now matters for when it comes to borrowing money for big purchases, such as buying a new home or car, and realistically for figuring out how much you can afford to spend on discretionary purchases, like holiday gifts.

Those living in Detroit can aim for a holiday budget of $369, according to WalletHub. That compares to a holiday budget of $577 for those living in Chicago. Not surprisingly, folks in Palo Alto, Calif., can afford the best gifts with a holiday budget of $2,821.

A debt-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing all monthly debt payments (mortgage, auto loans, student loans, etc.) by monthly income.

“It expresses how much of your income is set aside for those debt payments every month,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez.

“If a debt-to-income ratio is high, then yes, we suggested a lower holiday budget in order for consumers maintain control over their finances.”

Pocketbook pundits will tell you that it’s key to include all your holiday expenses, gifts, entertainment, family meals, flowers, decorations, class donations for teachers, you name it, in that holiday budget. We all know we’re not just pulling out our wallets in November and December only for sweaters and video games.

-All is not high-stakes during the holidays.
Sometimes, it’s OK to do something goofy, instead of just burning through two or three paychecks trying to buy the perfect gifts.

Create a completely fun tradition to fill in the gaps.

We’ve got a Thanksgiving Day trivia game. I make up totally whacked out questions on Thanksgiving Day, usually when watching the parade, and give out the worst knickknacks we want to unload as prizes. Sometimes, we spring for a few lottery tickets and claim we’re offering a chance to win millions.

It’s savvy to add fiscally responsible entertainment into the mix where it’s more about the camaraderie than the cash.

-Draft your own Santa Clause.
Put a special provision in your holiday contract that protects you from going overboard or digging into a deeper financial hole. Maybe it means you won’t put more than $100 or $200 on your credit card this holiday. Maybe it means you’ll only spend cash.

Maybe it means a loved one can nag all they want but you’re vowing that you won’t rush around on Black Friday to nab an Xbox One S for $249 or less.

Being merry, and not wary, for the holidays could require a whole new game plan.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press

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