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Americans spend $730 at holidays; are you able?

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Posted at 9:35 PM, Sep 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-18 15:12:12-04

The holidays might seem far away, but the time to sock some cash away for gifts is dwindling.

Those celebrating the 2013 winter holidays spent an average of $730 on gifts, food and other seasonal purchases, according to the National Retail Federation.

But not everyone has that money socked away and so some end up putting such purchases on a credit card only to struggle to pay the bill later, said Gerri Detweiler, the director of consumer education for Credit.com.

“Think about how you’ll feel when the bills start rolling in and hopefully that will help you make better spending decisions over the holidays,” she said.

But holiday budgeting does not have to a problem, especially if people start early. Here are three ways to prepare for the holiday splurge.

RELATED: Looking for holiday gift deals? Check out the ShopSmart section

Find “free” money

Have a credit card rewards card? Consider using the points toward purchases for the holidays.

“You may have a few points on a card you don’t use, and it may not be enough to get you a round-trip airline ticket, but it may be enough to get you a gift card that you can give to one of your kid’s teachers or coaches or something,” Detweiler said.

Those planning to shop with credit cards also should make sure to pick one credit card for holiday shopping, she said.

Picking one card makes it easier to track spending (which makes it easier to control spending). Detweiler said if people plan to pay off the amount before interest kicks in, they should consider a rewards card.

“If you plan to pay in full, a rewards card could be a great way to give yourself something after the holidays,” she said.

Plan ahead

Ever feel as if the holidays have come too soon? It’s not unusual, Detweiler said.

Those getting paychecks every two weeks only have a few more coming between now and Christmas. But saving ahead both allows consumers to find better bargains and reduces the stress of holiday shopping.

“Figure out how much you can realistically afford to set aside from each of those pay periods and start now,” Detweiler said.

Bunker down

Going broke is no way to enjoy the holidays. Consider what is important when celebrating the season, Detweiler said. If there is a need to trim down, consider doing so before the big bill comes in January.

Detweiler said she talked with her 15-year old daughter about focusing less on presents and more about memories. Years before, she said her daughter would roll her eyes but now is appreciating the idea of being less materialistic.

“The idea isn’t necessarily to stop giving gifts, but to really focus on memories and things that you’ll remember,” Detweiler said. “That’s easy to lose track of when you get into the whole holiday season.”