Five tips to avoid a holiday money hangover this year

By Bob Sullivan, independent investigative journalist and ongoing contributor for CNBC,, and

Blown your holiday budget already? But there's still last-minute giving and New Year's to think about!

The middle of December is often a make-or-break point for holiday spending. Perhaps you've already bought most of your gifts... until you see that SECOND thing which would be perfect for your mom/husband/girlfriend/dog. Or perhaps you just got invited to another holiday party and, well, you need something else to wear to that. And then... you'll need something fun for New Year's Eve, of course.

How big will your holiday hangover be? As the days grow short, so does your budget for December spending. Just as your holiday overeating will determine the demands of your January workouts, these last few shopping days can determine whether you have a small or a large 'money hangover.'

You've probably overspent already, especially if you have kids. Don't make it worse than it has to be. Below, I'll offer some tips to keep that January credit card bill in check. But first, here's some perspective on the season.

The average consumer will spend $750 this year and buy 14 gifts, according to the Deloitte 2016 holiday survey. Where do you fit in?

Don't fall for the perception that everyone is spending more this year, so you have to. They're not. Despite some signs that the recession is finally thawing and wages are up, consumers remain skeptical. In an early signal, sales on Black Friday were down this year. The average amount consumers spent both online and offline was $289.19, a decrease from the previous year’s $299.60, according to Bloomberg News.

While CyberMonday was the largest-ever online shopping day, in-store shopping was down, balancing out that increase. According to RetailNext, Thanksgiving weekend sales at physical retail stores fell 4.7% this year compared to last.

Those who did shop went out bargain-hunting. Over one-third of early holiday shoppers said all of the items they bought were on sale, said National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay in a statement.

“We recognize the Thanksgiving weekend shopping experience is much different than it used to be as just as many people want that unique, exclusive online deal as they do that in-store promotion,” Shay said. “It is clear that the age-old holiday tradition of heading out to stores with family and friends is now equally matched in the new tradition of looking online for holiday savings opportunities.”

What does that mean for you? Don't be a sucker. Don't pay full price – who does that in the age of the Internet? Bargain hunting begins our list of tips designed to keep your January hangover to a minimum.

1. Late-seasons promotions

It happens every year. Retailers and holiday shoppers play a game of chicken. What will happen as the last day for gift-buying draws near – will panic buying set in, or will last-minute sales be required to move those Santa snowglobes? Given the mixed news from this year’s shopping numbers, you can bet the bargain bins will be full as Dec. 25 approaches. So don’t blink: hold out for good deals.

2. Free shipping day

Speaking of late-season deals -- Each year, retailers settle on one day that’s comfortably within the margin of error to get gifts by Christmas Day, and call it “Free Shipping Day.” They promise to send you your stuff online with no added delivery costs. It’s more glitz than substance, as rarely can you get a deal that wasn’t available on other dates. Still, this year’s Free Shipping Day is Dec. 16, and it serves as a good reminder to finish your online shopping, lest you end up paying more for express shipping. And maybe you’ll spot a good deal from among the 1,200 participating merchants.

3. Creative gift giving

Yes, you hear this every year, but it’s so much easier in the age of Pinterest. Don’t buy something; make something. Or if you just aren’t crafty, give the gift of a talent you have. Offer up a coupon for a day’s photo session, or house cleaning help, or dog sitting. A free gift like that might be the most valuable present your friend receives all season!

4. Gift exchanges

If you are still fretting about a long list of gifts you have to find, perhaps it’s time to cry uncle? As your circle of families and friends grows, is it time to declare an end to the gift arms race? A gift exchange is a lovely way to let you focus on giving one person one nice thing, rather than dropping hundreds of dollars on obligations to a wide circle of folks. It only takes one family member to make the suggestion.

5. Upcycling, shop consignment, bling at home

Heather Young designed her semi-annual Frugal Females Challenge for February to help her members recover from holiday spending. She is full of ideas designed to make winter a little less cold.

“Shop consignment instead of new, lots of name brands at low prices. Upcycle holiday décor…Get out the glue gun and glitter,” she said. “Sell your labor helping others holiday shop or decorate.”

And then, there’s the big one.

“Have New Year’s Eve at home instead of going out…Ubers are two times as expensive, drinks are so pricy, parking is jacked up,” You can still bling it up with your friends, and the odds your pricey new outfit will end up beer-soaked go down. “Stay at home and ring in the new year and save a bunch of money.”

Written on November 7, 2017

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