Spending tips for millennials can help anyone who would like to survive the holidays without debt

Own the holidays without going broke with these simple strategies.
Image: Woman wrapping Christmas gifts
Make a list, check it twice. It seems obvious, but every person and animal you plan to buy for needs to be on that list. Westend61 / Getty Images
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By Jill Cornfield, CNBC

The pressure is real, and it’s here.

November is the peak month for holiday spending pressure, according to Bankrate.

It’s not just gifts to friends and family. Participants in a survey from the personal finance website said they felt pressure to overspend on travel, hosting holiday parties and donating to charity. Bankrate surveyed 2,628 adults in October to get their perspective on gift-giving and spending.

The resistance may be just as real. Nearly half of gift-givers in the survey said they’re willing to break ranks with traditional, pull-out-all-the-stops spending.

Strategies people are willing to embrace: About a quarter (24%) are willing to regift, 19% say they’d buy secondhand items and a few (16%) say they’d consider giving up gift-giving altogether.

Millennials may be the demographic most at risk, with slimmer paychecks and less of a grip on their finances.

According to personal finance site Money Under 30, this demographic is positioned to spend the most at the holidays.

The site’s advice — plan now and avoid buyer’s remorse — seems pretty basic, but it can work for anyone who shares some millennial characteristics.

If you’re not price-sensitive and you don’t know your credit score, these tips could help you avoid holiday buzzkills such as overspending and going into debt.

Americans, in general, took on holiday debt in 2018 that could take years to pay off.

For younger consumers, convenience rules, and Amazon shares part of the blame for making millennials less sensitive to prices.

“We order almost everything via Amazon Prime, with full knowledge that we could get the items cheaper with a bit more effort, but it’s just so easy to order it and expect it in two days or less,” said Priya Malani, a founding partner at financial planning firm Stash Wealth and herself a millennial.

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Another danger of e-commerce: shopping while drunk.

Yes, that’s a thing, and millennials are the generation most likely to shop under the influence, according to Finder.com. To that point, 61% of millennials admit to this. In comparison, just about half of Gen Xers shop online after they’ve had a few.

“Combined with our ‘you only live once’ [YOLO] mentality, it’s no surprise that we’re poised to be the biggest spenders around the holidays,” Malani said.

‘Yikes, who’s paying for this?’

Surprised by the holidays? Just kind of snuck up on you? Many people take this as a cue to start racking up some hefty credit card charges, as if they have no choice in the matter. “Then January rolls around, and we’re like, ‘Yikes, who’s paying for this?’” Malani said.

Set realistic goals

Money regret usually results from not planning — and last-minute planning isn’t really planning at all.

Malani recommends automating holiday spending with a small, monthly amount. “When the holidays roll around, they can put all expenses on their credit cards to hack those rewards points,” she said. “They know they have the funds to pay off the bill in full.”

How to do it: Figure out how much you spend or would like to spend. Set up your savings account to automate one-twelfth into a designated account. “The money accumulates all year, and you can blow it guilt-free at the holidays,” Malani said.

Make a list, check it twice. It seems obvious, but every person and animal you plan to buy for needs to be on that list. “Put a dollar value by their name and add up all those numbers,” Malani said. If you don’t have that money now or you won’t have the amount saved up, then you’re making a plan you cannot afford. “Hashtag harsh, but true,” Malani said.

What’s in your wallet?

Don’t spend money you don’t have. “Instead of thinking of your credit card as free money, think of it as a smarter way to spend the money you already have,” Malani said.

Never charge more than you can pay off when the bill comes due.

Treat your credit card like a debit card that pulls the money out of your account once a month. Would your family or friends really want you to go into credit card debt to buy them a gift?

Think outside the gift box

Some gifts, such as a Netflix membership, can be shared by several people in your family.

People who live far from their families might consider attending a family gathering. “The whole ‘your-presence-is-a-present thing,’” Malani said.

Try a gift exchange so you buy one gift versus gifts for everyone. Secret Santa arrangements are popular. Handmade edibles and DIY gifts are also a welcome change from the usual store-bought items.

Disclosure: Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow. is a financial wellness and education initiative from CNBC and Acorns, the micro-investing app.NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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