6 Big Holiday Money Mistakes that Could Cost You Down the Road


I’m getting a little panicky because I haven’t bought a single thing for the holidays… Are you in the same boat?

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But maybe that’s okay, because that means I’ll spend less. At any rate, it’s important to remember that once I do hit the internet (and the mall), I’ll need to remember a few pointers before panic threatens to overwhelm me. 

A December 2020 Magnify Money survey found that 31% of all consumers took on debt to pay for holiday expenses last year. Holiday debt last year included spending on gifts, travel and entertainment.

On average, consumers spent $1,381, an increase of nearly $400 since 2015. Ready to avoid some common money mistakes that people tend to make during the holidays? Let’s dig into them.

Mistake 1: You don’t plan before you shop. 

First, figure out how much you can afford to spend. Use that amount to figure out how to shop for the people on your list. Working backward, you can then put together a list that fits your budget. For example, if you can only spend $1,000 and you have five people to shop for, you know you can spend $200 per person. 

When you don’t have a spending plan, it can open you up to the possibility of debt. 

Mistake 2: You’re the host — for everything. 

If you plan to host a work party, your family on Christmas day and your friends for a holiday party, you might want to reconsider. Can your sister host Christmas this year instead? Maybe another friend can have the Christmas party at her house so you only need to bring an appetizer. 

Consider creating and writing down your meals, listing out the ingredients you’ll need ahead of time, asking people to bring dishes for a potluck-style meal and look for bargains (such as dishes that only have three ingredients). Finally, consider making and freezing dishes early when possible. It’s perfectly acceptable to make cookies for your holiday party now and stuff them in the deep freezer.

Consider adding one or two ingredients into your weekly budget leading up to the date as well. 

Mistake 3: You use your credit card to buy gifts. 

Can you set aside your credit cards during the holidays? Why not use cash or a debit card instead? If you can’t afford to buy it, don’t. Your loved ones would probably rather you stay out of debt — why buy them trinkets they may not even have a year later? Spending quality time together makes for a better holiday than expensive presents and festive decor that you’ll owe later on down the road. Make it a priority to create lasting memories and enjoy time with family and friends. 

Mistake 4: You stop your investments during the holidays. 

Are you guilty of stopping your investments during times when you know you’ll have a lot of expenses coming at you? Many experts suggest that you should never stop investing for retirement because you’ll lose time and compound interest. 

Due to compound interest, contributions to your retirement accounts grow over time and balloon to way more than what you initially invested. There’s always the risk that when you stop your investments, you might never get them started again, which could become a catastrophic mistake.

Mistake 5: You don’t invest your bonus. 

Does your office routinely offer you a year-end bonus? Instead of rushing out to buy gifts for your loved ones, consider not spending your bonus and do the following instead:

  • Put your bonus into your 401(k). Experts say you should save at least 10% of your income each year. Saving more than that is even better. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to put your bonus into a 401(k) or use it to get your 401(k) started if you haven’t opened one yet. 
  • Start an emergency fund. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, save three months’ worth of income into an account that offers liquidity. Your bonus might give you everything you need to get it started. If you want to save more, consider saving six months’ worth of emergency fund money.
  • Save for your kids’ college education. If you have young children, it’s never too early to start saving for college. In fact, why not put money into a college fund in lieu of buying holiday gifts? Your kids probably won’t love it, but consider whether it’s more beneficial to put your money toward a pile of toys instead of a college education. 
  • Invest in other retirement vehicles: You may want to consider putting your year-end bonus into other types of retirement plans, such as an individual retirement account (IRA) or a Roth IRA, especially if you don’t like what your job has to offer. You may get broader access to specific types of securities that you might not be able to get through your 401(k). You may also be able to cut down on certain fees associated with your company’s 401(k) when you look into other retirement vehicles.

At the very least, you could use your bonus to pay for holiday gifts, but try to do so if you think you’ll go into debt without it. 

Mistake 6: You don’t increase your retirement savings when you get a salary increase.

What also comes with end-of-the year bonuses? 

That’s right, a salary increase. 

If you don’t increase your retirement savings as soon as you get a salary increase, it could be a big money mistake. Increasing your salary helps ensure that you can meet your retirement savings percentage goals. Whether you decide to sink the money into your Roth IRA, Traditional IRA or 401(k), identify a percentage to increase your retirement per month. Even a small monthly increase can make a significant impact over time, especially if your employer offers a matching contribution.

Steer Clear of Holiday Money Mistakes

From not saving your bonus to not planning before you shop, you want to stay away from common holiday money mistakes. 

How can you plan for this holiday season? 



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