The secret to saving money during the holidays

If you survived Black Friday, you’re aware that the holiday shopping frenzy is well underway.

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending is expected to increase by 4.1 percent this year, with the average holiday shopper planning to spend a budget-shattering $749.51.

In addition, TransUnion reports that credit card debt has increased almost five percent from this time last year — bringing the average borrower’s debt to about $5,000.

When taking these numbers into consideration, it’s hard to see anything other than a recipe for financial disaster. And given the economic climate, we should know better, right?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the holidays, common sense tends to fall by the wayside.

“If there’s one time of the year when people shop with their heart, not their head, it’s the holiday season,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “Emotional spending during the holidays is often the tipping point that pushes people over the edge financially, as common sense can take a backseat during this time of the year,” Cunningham added.

Holiday pressure-cooker  

Emotions run especially high during the holidays because we place an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to make everything “perfect.”

We envision this picture-perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas: the perfect presents sitting underneath the perfect tree, which is decorated with the perfect ornaments, while our perfect family enjoys the perfect meal. (To be followed by the perfect pumpkin pie.)

The problem is, even though common sense tells us otherwise, there’s still a part of us that believes that fantasy is possible — as long as we can acquire the things needed to create it.

Unfortunately, when reality hits, we're left feeling disappointed and broke.

So when the holidays roll around again, we’re determined to get it right this time.

We spend more money, buy more presents, and hang more lights because this year it will be different — this year it will be perfect.

Creating a Christmas to remember — no shopping required

Take a moment and think about your favorite memories from holidays past. You know — the memories that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Now think about what made them so special.

I’m willing to bet it wasn't the presents, the tree or even the lights. Because ultimately, the best memories revolve around experiences: spending time with loved ones, laughing together when the cat knocks over the Christmas tree, crying when you realize there are broken ornaments all over the floor, and then laughing again when you realize everyone is now laughing at you for crying.

That's the funny thing about creating lasting holiday memories.

They can't be planned or purchased. 

They happen when you make the decision to allow yourself to simply enjoy the season – and all of the merry imperfections that come with it.

*Disclaimer: Approach pet-centric memory-making at your own risk.

Jessica Horton is a former copywriter and community manager at MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.