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By Herb Weisbaum

Chances are you plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year than last. If so, you’re not alone. The average consumer expects to shell out $1,000 this year, up 4.1 percent from last year, the National Retail Federation forecasts.

And yet, nearly 40 million Americans are still paying off 2017’s holiday credit card debt, according to an analysis by the personal finance website NerdWallet.

The NerdWallet survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that:

  • More people plan to use a credit card to pay for their holiday purchases — 73 percent vs. 58 percent last year.
  • Those who do pay with a credit card plan to take longer to pay off the charges — 3.2 months, on average, as compared to 2.3 months in 2017. That means another month’s worth of interest charges to pay.

Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet’s personal finance expert, cautions families that overspending at the holidays can be really stressful and that stress can last a long time.

“It’s easy to let the spirit of the season turn into a spending tsunami that ends up costing more than expected,” Palmer said. “No one wants to disappoint the kids, but the holidays can be really exciting and fun while sticking to a budget.”


Those wish lists can be a real challenge. Many parents try to buy everything on the list, even if it means blowing up their holiday shopping budget.

The T. Rowe Price 2018 Parents, Kids & Money Survey found that:

  • Nearly half (45 percent) of the parents surveyed agreed with the statement: “I try to get everything on my kids’ lists, no matter the cost.”
  • Those who do try to cross everything off the list are more likely to finance their holiday spending than those who don’t (54 percent vs. 44 percent), more likely to have gone into debt to pay for something their kids wanted (48 percent vs. 26 percent) and less likely to have retirement savings (42 percent vs. 56 percent).

Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price says the survey results show that some parents are forgetting long-term priorities in order to make their kids happy right now.

“As parents we make those kinds of trade-offs all the time, between what might make our kids happy in the moment and thinking about the future,” Ritter told NBC News BETTER. “If you’re financing your holiday shopping and not saving for retirement, you may not be able to do the other things you want to do for your kids later in life.”


Financial planners and parenting experts contacted by NBC News BETTER agree: Just because your kids want it, doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling cautions that “unchecked, emotion-driven spending” during the gift-giving season can lead to some serious financial headaches.

“A child’s wish list is not a directive for parents to spend themselves into a sea of red ink,” McClary said. “While buying your children everything they want for the holidays might lead to a few happy moments in December, depleting your savings or piling on more debt to purchase those gifts can cause misery that lasts well into the new year.”

Any parent who plans to raid their emergency savings or borrow from a payday lender to purchase gifts for their family, “should take a step back from the edge before it’s too late,” McClary told NBC News BETTER.

While retailers encourage kids to have wish lists — it seems Santa knows if you're naughty or nice, but not what you’d like him to bring you — parents don’t need to encourage them to do this.

Liliana Lengua, director of the Center for Child & Family Well-Being at the University of Washington, grew up in a family that didn’t make holiday wish lists. It meant parents and relatives needed to “put a lot of thought” into what the children needed and might like, she said.

While retailers encourage kids to have wish lists — it seems Santa knows if you're naughty or nice, but not what you’d like him to bring you — parents don’t need to encourage them to do this.

“If you’re going to have a wish list, you might want to put some boundaries on it to avoid the rampant, lavish and expensive gifts that can end up on those lists,” Lengua said. “Our kids grew up thinking Santa Claus liked to see wish lists that were restrained, that Santa preferred to get letters from kids who really only asked for one or two things or three things. And maybe one of the things you ask for could be a gift for someone who might not otherwise get something.”

Experts advise parents to have an age-appropriate conversation with their children. Share your family values about gift giving and explain that there’s a limit to how much you can spend on presents.

“Parents with a tight holiday budget can do their children and themselves a favor by focusing on what’s affordable and having honest conversations about managing money during the holidays,” McClary said. “Those lessons might be the gift that outlasts all others, by helping children become financially responsible adults.”


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