Consumers spent a record $9.12 billion online shopping during Black Friday and another record $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday, according to the most recent data from Adobe. So far this November, consumers have spent $107.7 billion online overall, up nearly 10% from last year.
Yet roughly 60% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck heading into the month.
“Shoppers are continuing to spend despite inflation and economic headwinds,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of ICSC, the largest trade association for the retail real estate industry.
As high prices continue to weigh on most households’ financial standing, more shoppers are relying heavily on credit cards and flexible payment plans to make their purchases.
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But with annual percentage rates close to 20%, or even 30% on some retail cards, credit card debt can take years to pay off.
While buy now, pay later often promises zero interest, studies have also shown that installment buying could encourage consumers to spend more than they can afford.
Last year, more than half of shoppers made a purchase with buy now, pay later that they couldn’t pay off, according to a survey from Oxygen, an online-only bank.
This year, Americans are on track to fall even deeper in debt. However, experts say it’s not too late to avoid the same financial pitfalls this season. Here’s how.
How to avoid racking up holiday debt
1. Cut up your credit card
If your credit card balance already seems unmanageable, “it’s time to cut it up and focus on paying it off,” said Lori Gross, financial advisor at Outlook Financial Center in Troy, Ohio.
“Use cash from this point on if you still have to shop during the holiday season.”
2. Come up with a strategy
Add up what you’ve purchased so far and set a budget for the rest of the season, Gross said. “It should be substantially lower if you’ve already spent too much.”
Share your strategy with a family member or friend so they can help you stay on track with your new budget and prevent you from getting deeper into debt, she suggested. There are also apps and free online resources that can help organize your finances for the holiday season.
3. Create a holiday fund
It’s not too late to start a holiday fund. “Adopt a strategy now and hold yourself accountable,” said Michael Sheppard, group vice president at Minneapolis-based financial services firm Thrivent.
Challenge yourself to save money every week, he advised. “Making routine transfers from spending accounts to a holiday savings account designated for future shopping can really add up.”
4. Communicate with your family and friends
If you want to scale back your celebrations, start those conversations with your loved ones now, Sheppard advised. “In lieu of exchanging gifts, perhaps there’s a holiday event, concert or theater performance your family can attend together,” he said. “Make the shared experience a cost-saving memory.”
Also consider a charitable donation instead of gifts. Making time to volunteer may prove especially meaningful, Sheppard said.
“This can help you stay grounded in what matters and bring clarity to what you want to accomplish during the holiday season.”