Personal Finance

11 Scary Money Mistakes to Avoid this Holiday Season

It’s pumpkin-everything and sweater weather time. But beware, this cozy season is dressed to deceive. Here are 11 money mistakes to avoid this holiday season.

Editor's Note

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For many of us, the holidays kick off with Halloween. Let’s be honest, the beginning of October is basically the start of the holiday season in my household. It’s spooktacularly fitting since the next couple of months can be the scariest of the year when it comes to your money. So what scary money mistakes should you avoid between now and the end of the year? Run from these monster mistakes like the zombies are chasing you:

1. Not having a budget

The easiest way for your finances to get out of control is to not even have a handle on what you’re spending and saving. For this, you need a budget. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve old-fashioned spreadsheets. You can use great budgeting apps to get a grip on your finances.

Managing your day-to-day budget is the start of managing your money well through the holiday season, when spending is often higher than usual. So if you’re not doing that yet, get on it right away.

Empower

On top of helping you see where your money is going and helping you create a budget, Empower also helps you set up weekly savings goals and allows you to adjust them.

When you deposit your paycheck to the Empower Card, you unlock some other valuable features. You can get your paychecks up to two days faster* and accept Cash Advances of up to $250.^ The Cash Advances carry no interest and charge no late fees. Empower simply deducts the amount advanced from your next paycheck.

You'll also earn up to 10% cashback* when using the Empower Card at certain retailers, making the card very rewarding to use.

Empower is free for the first 14 days for first-time customers. After that, you pay $8 per month to continue accessing all the features associated with money management.

Empower is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by nbkc bank, Member FDIC.

Read more about it in our Empower review

^ Eligibility requirements apply.

* Early access to paycheck deposit funds depends on the timing of the employer's submission of deposits. We generally post such deposits on the day they are received which may be up to 2 days earlier than the employer's scheduled payment date. Cashback deals on Empower Card purchases, including categories, merchants, and percentages, will vary and must be selected in the app. Cashback will be applied automatically when the final transaction posts, which may be up to a week after the qualifying purchase.

Personal Capital

If you’re hoping for a holistic overview of your finances, Personal Capital can help. You can connect bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts to figure out how much money you have and where it’s going. With that information, you can make a better budget.

Personal Capital is free to use, but you can also upgrade to premium features, including financial and investment planning help. Try Personal Capital for free or read more in our Personal Capital review.

PocketSmith

pocketsmith review

With PocketSmith, you can use powerful visualization tools to quickly see where you stand. Plus, you can add notes, including pictures and tags, to different entries. This allows you to get a better view of how things are going with your finances, as well as allows you to make the most of your money. On top of that, Pocketsmith will forecast your net worth up to six months in the future with the free version.

The free version requires that you input your financial information manually, so that can be time-consuming for some. The pricing for automatic transaction reporting ranges from $9.95 to $19.95 per month, depending on the features you want access to. Read more in our PocketSmith review.

2. Not saving up for gifts ahead of time

Holiday gift spending is like the guy with a chainsaw in a Halloween horror special. You know he’s coming, but he surprises you, anyway. You can be smarter than the horror movie characters. You know extra holiday expenses, especially for gifts, are looming. So you can decide to be prepared and not surprised.

Here's a simple way to plan ahead. Figure out what you spent on gifts last holiday season. Decide if you need to cut back or allow more room for spending. Then figure out what you need to set aside each paycheck to get to your savings goal before the shopping season starts.

Creating a monthly budget item designed to help you set aside money regularly can keep you from breaking the bank each holiday season. Open a separate high-yield savings account designed just for this purpose, earmarking the money for gifts.

3. Buying just because its a big deal

Black Friday is quickly approaching, and with it, all those temptingly great deals. It’s easy to spend money just because something is on sale, whether you need that thing or not. You can avoid this problem by being aware ahead of time of the things you want to shop for during holiday sales.

Those things might include new tech, home cleaning tools, furniture, clothing, toys, and more. And it’s not a bad idea to get those things when they happen to be discounted--as long as you’re already planning to purchase them. But steer clear of buying things that do not already exist on your to-buy list just because the deal looks great.

One last tip here, apps like Capital One Shopping and Earny can help you find the best price when you make a purchase. Earny goes one step further and gives you cash back if the price drops on an item after you purchase it.

4. Neglecting to make a list

One of the best ways to avoid overspending and making impulse purchases is to make a list. This works, whether you're doing your weekly grocery shopping or buying holiday gifts.

Sit down and think about what you need for the holiday season. Think about what you might need in terms of entertaining, as well as list out gift ideas for friends and family. This can help you get an idea of what you plan to spend, as well as help you avoid buying things you don’t need.

Plus, having a list can help you compare your planned purchases to sales and Black Friday deals. Knowing ahead of time and being able to make a plan of attack can go a long way toward saving you money in the long run and avoiding financial waste.

5. Swiping money from your important savings goals

One thing you definitely don’t want to do during the holiday season is suck the life out of your important savings accounts. If you’re pulling money from your emergency fund or, even worse, your retirement savings for holiday expenses, you’re spending too much.

These funds are available for when you truly need them. And buying additional Christmas gifts is not in that category. Luckily, if you avoid mistakes one, two, and three, you’re much less likely to feel tempted to pull from your savings goals to cover your holiday spending.

6. Forgetting about free money you could cash in

How often do you forget about free money you could use, especially during the holiday season? This might take the form of coupons or credits you can cash in for your holiday shopping. Or it could mean losing track of gift cards you get in the holiday rush.

This year, come up with a plan for keeping track of those benefits so you can use them instead of losing them. Even just having a particular place where you put all gift cards can help you stay organized.

Also, if you’re not already using a rewards credit card, check out our list of the best cash back credit cards so you can earn money back while you shop.

Don’t forget to sign up for cash back rewards sites as well. Websites like Rakuten, ibotta and Swagbucks all offer you ways to earn cash back on regular purchases. Make those purchases with a rewards credit card and you can stack the cash back, getting even more bang for each buck.

7. Being too free with your personal information

On Halloween night, you might see some tiny cat burglars running around ready to steal candy. They’re cute. But actual identity thieves are not. Pay attention to how your financial and personal information is being managed. Ignoring this is a huge problem that sets you up for identity theft and major credit issues.

Your best bet is to create a plan for protecting your personal information. This means being cautious about where you shop or give out information online, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in your bank account, and checking your credit regularly.

On top of that, you may want to consider signing up for services that can help you stay on top of the situation.

myFICO

Another way to go to the source is to get access to unlimited monitoring of your FICO score with myFICO. You can keep on top of your credit score and get alerts about changes. It won’t monitor your identity, but with alerts to credit score changes, that can be one way to get the information. Additionally, you do get $1 million in identity theft insurance.

You’ll pay up to $39.95 per month, depending on how much access you want to the credit bureau reports and scores, and the features you’re looking for. Read more about it in our review.

Credit Karma

You can get help monitoring your credit and your identity with help from the consumer credit reporting website Credit Karma. You can keep up with your VantageScore from TransUnion and Equifax, and Credit Karma also offers identity monitoring, which will alert you if your information appears on questionable sites.

Credit Karma offers these services for free, but they aren’t as robust as some of the paid services. Learn more in our review.

Related: Best Identity Theft Protection Services

8. Not being prepared for disasters

You know in those scary movies where the main cast of characters is just completely oblivious? Sure. Were being chased by a known mass murderer, so let’s go hide in the garage that’s full of saws and other sharp objects. Don’t be like that with your finances.

You don’t have to spend all your time dwelling on potential disasters in the future. That wouldn’t be healthy. But you should be aware of and prepared for the worst. Money-wise, this means having a decent emergency fund and making sure your life insurance is solid.

If you’re looking for life insurance to protect your loved ones in the event of the unimaginable, here are some places that can help you find the best policy at an affordable price.

Policygenius

Another website that can help you shop for life insurance is Policygenius. After entering your basic information, Policygenius can recommend a life insurance policy that fits your budget and needs. On top of that, experts at Policygenius can help you navigate the process. Learn more in our review.

Bestow

Bestow is a life insurance agency that offers affordable life insurance without the need for an exam in many cases. Bestow offers a fully online process, making the process mostly painless for those looking to apply for life insurance at a reasonable rate. Get more details in our review.

Haven Life

Another insurer, Haven Life Insurance Agency specializes in offering larger coverage amounts, up to $3 million. Coverage is term life, and usually affordable. The process of getting insurance through Haven Life is fairly straightforward and simple. Depending on your situation, you might not even need a medical exam. Read our full review here.

Ladder

Ladder is another company that offers a streamlined life insurance experience without the need for many consumers to get a medical exam. One of the interesting features of Ladder is that you can actually decrease your coverage amount later if you feel like your needs have changed, as well as apply for increased coverage. Read more about it in our review.

9. Missing payments

Do your monthly payments sometimes sneak up on you? Don’t get caught by payments that you didn’t see coming. Missing payments or making them even a few days late can have disastrous financial consequences.

For one, you’re likely to get hit with a steep late fee. Then, suddenly your minimum payment is $35 more for the month. A few charges like that can wreck your budget pretty quickly! But late payments can also ding your credit score, making it harder to maintain financial health in the future.

Set up reminders that can help you pay bills on time, or set up automatic payments so that you don’t have to worry about missing payments and taking a hit to your bank account and your credit score.

10. Paying a ton of interest

Interest is a financial vampire. You can run up a $1,000 credit card bill, but before you know it, the interest leaves you bleeding dry. You could pay $1,500 or more towards that original $1,000 bill if you’re only making the minimum payments. Those interest payments--even the ones that seem like good interest rates--can creep up quickly and silently.

If you’re paying a lot of money in interest right now, figure out some ways to cut back immediately. This could mean paying down a debt more quickly so you pay less interest over time. Or it might mean refinancing into a lower-interest loan that you can then pay off swiftly.

11. Opening a store credit card

It can be tempting to open a store credit card for a discount or special financing. However, this can be a scary mistake, especially when you realize that you cant use the card at other retailers. Additionally, you might not have access to a rewards program and often the APR is much higher than you’d see with more general bank credit cards and rewards cards.

With a store credit card, it can become costly to maintain, without extra perks and benefits. Plus, without the ability to use the card at other locations, it limits what you can accomplish. Think twice before committing yourself to a store card.

Final Thoughts

This season can be a tough one for budgets and overall financial health. But you don’t have to fall prey to these frightening financial mistakes. With a little bit of planning and the right tools, you can avoid these budgetary BOO!-by traps and come into the new year financially strong.

Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit

Miranda is a nationally-recognized financial writer and money expert. She has contributed to NPR, Marketwatch, Yahoo! Finance, U.S. News & World Report, FOX Business, The Hill and numerous other publications. Miranda is an avid podcaster and writes about money and freelancing at her website, MirandaMarquit.com.


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