5 steps for happy holiday spending

(BPT) – For many families, holiday shopping may lead to a home full of toys, closets stuffed with today’s trends, and tech-savvy games and devices, some of which will be loved for months, while others will be tossed aside before they’ve even been paid for. Worse yet, if you use a credit card for the gifts you purchase and you cannot pay it off when the bill comes in, you’ll actually be spending a lot more than you may realize.

This year, instead of setting yourself up for potential frustration and financial stress, take a step back and plan your approach for gifts that have the endurance for a longer and more valued shelf life.

Holiday shopping is an opportunity to stay or get on track for smart spending habits while also enjoying the pleasure that you and your gift recipients have when opening the treasure that you’ve selected.

To help, here are five steps from MassMutual to consider:

1. Look at that holiday gift list that you, your children or grandchild have carefully crafted, and think about what they need and what they indicated they want. Remember, a need is something you have to have, while a want is something optional. For example, if your child has outgrown his or her clothes since school started, items may be appropriate as holiday gifts. The question is whether to splurge on expensive versions of designer brand items or not. While the holidays may be a time to splurge on a special item or two, every item does not need to fall prey to unnecessary overspending.

2. Develop a budget and stick to it. If you think about your resources, such as your money and time, they are likely limited and there may be a little of both. To help with this year’s holiday shopping, start by deciding how much money is available for gift purchases. Next, allocate a certain amount per person on your list. Lastly, add it all up to ensure it is within your budget. This step is often overlooked, which can lead to post-purchase regrets and large credit card bills after the holidays — and sometimes after the glamour of your gift has worn off.

3. Do your research. Scout when you’re out. Browse online. Check out holiday sale advertisements and store and restaurant signage. Watch your email for discounts, deals and specials. Comparison shop. Unless you have unlimited time and money, holiday shopping is not the time for impulse purchases.

4. Cross reference what you’ve found and learned through your research with your holiday gift list. Did you discover any options that would be valuable and long-lasting for the recipient? Update your list and next to each item, jot down the best price found and where it was found. Total up the dollar amounts and compare the total with what you allocated per person and your total budget.

5. If you’re lucky, the total will be under or at the budget limit you set for your holiday shopping. More than likely, however, you’ve overspent on paper so now you can determine what to adjust and how to trim costs. Be resourceful and creative, and think through trade-offs. Again, splurging may make sense for certain items, but not all, and do not spend more than you have.

Available at no cost to schools across the United States, similar tips on developing smart spending habits are part of a new FutureSmart digital financial education curriculum developed specifically for middle school students in English and Spanish by the MassMutual Foundation in partnership with education technology leader EverFi.

For additional useful information, visit www.massmutual.com. To learn more about FutureSmart and to request the program for a local school, visit http://futuresmart.massmutual.com/.