UT Professor: Planning Can Keep Holiday Expenses in Check

KNOXVILLE –- This holiday season, follow some age-old advice: Make a list and check it twice.

Holiday shoppers who lack a well-thought-out plan typically overspend — something that could keep them paying for months into the new year, said Dena Wise, University of Tennessee professor of family and consumer science.

In a 2004 poll done by the American Psychological Association, 61 percent of Americans listed lack of money as the No. 1 cause of holiday stress. The survey also showed that younger Americans are more worried about lack of money and gift giving than people older than 35.

Likewise, the Global Research Network reported in 2003 that more than half of the people it polled said they don’t plan ahead for holiday spending and that they put their holiday purchases on credit cards they can’t pay off at the end of the season.

One mistake many people make, Wise said, is forgetting all of the hidden expenses that come with the holidays. Here are some hidden expenses, and Wise’s advice for dealing with them:

• Extra or last-minute gifts. Make a complete gift list. Indicate beside each name the amount you plan to pay for that person’s gift (or gifts). Total the amount and make it your goal to keep all gift spending under this total. Will you need gifts for co-workers, teachers, neighbors, household help or unexpected visitors? Have you planned for those as well?

• Taxes and gift wrapping. When you’re shopping, remember that if you are not to exceed the amount you’ve budgeted for each gift, you have to take taxes and gift wrapping into account. Make a gift selection that is priced 10 percent to 15 percent less that you budgeted to allow for taxes and gift wrapping.

• Stocking stuffers. If you fill stockings, plan for that expense in your holiday budget. Two or three well-stuffed stockings can easily add $100 to $200 to your holiday expenses.

• Shopping expenses. Extra shopping often involves extra gasoline, meals at restaurants or snacks at the mall; and each time you walk through a mall or shopping center, you’re tempted to make unplanned purchases.

• Extra groceries. Holiday baking, entertaining and snacking can swell the grocery list well past what’s budgeted for routine family meals.

• Hostess gifts. Check your holiday calendar for unforeseen expenses. If your holiday parties call for hostess gifts, or if you generally take a snack or covered dish to holiday gatherings, budget for these items.

• Home decor. Retailers tempt homemakers not only with holiday decorations, but also with special linens, dishes, flatware, pillows, rugs and cookware for the holidays. If your home boasts a new wardrobe every holiday, budget accordingly.

• Clothes for the holidays. Special clothing for the holidays fills racks in department and specialty stores. If you plan to wear something festive, or dress your 3-year-old in shirts and socks trimmed with holly leaves or snowmen during the month of December, budget for it.

• Travel expenses. Airline tickets, hotel rooms, lift tickets and ski-wear are among the more costly items. High gasoline prices and the cost of meals while on the road can make car trips expensive, too.

• Post-holiday spending. If holiday spending sprees ended on Dec. 25, then the day after Christmas wouldn’t be the biggest shopping day of the year. Post-holiday bargains mean more bills, as do the movies and meals that often serve as antidotes to post-holiday blues.

Contacts:

Dena Wise, (865) 974-8198, dkwise@utk.edu
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu