8 Budget-Busting Holiday Spending Mistakes to Avoid

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

We have great intentions when we create our holiday shopping plan of attack. Maybe you’re the type who hits the stores armed with flyers, coupons, apps and lists.

Or maybe you’re the type to hit the online stores without a plan and marathon shop till you drop. Either way, you could be blowing your holiday budget without even realizing it.

Many of us have bad habits when it comes to shopping, especially when it comes to what we see as great “deals.”

If you find you’re making any of these holiday spending mistakes, follow our tips so you learn how not to overspend during the holidays.

1. Buying too much for yourself

gift recipient
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Everyone likes to treat herself once in a while, but what happens when you see something cute in a store or find a deal too good to pass up online? Before you know it, you’ve spent a lot of money on several gifts for yourself, with nothing for those on your list.

Tip: When you spot something you’d like to have, snap a picture of it and add it to your wish list. If you don’t do wish lists, you can always drop a hint to your spouse, sibling or best friend, all of whom will be grateful for an idea of what they can get you.

2. Feeling guilty about the deal you scored

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If you plan to spend $25 on a doll for your niece, but find one on sale for $15, do you look for something else in the $10 range to make sure you’ve “spent enough?”

And when you find something for a few bucks more, do you decide to pay a little more because ’tis the season? Before you know it, instead of saving $10, you have spent beyond your budget.

Tip: Take the deal and walk away. Your niece will still be thrilled when she gets the doll she wanted, and no one will be the wiser that you scored it at a terrific price. Besides, the savings will help cover “hidden” costs like wrapping and shipping.

3. Focusing more on dollar amounts than the thought behind a gift

Holiday dollar
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Fess up — do you ever give up on a great gift idea because you’re afraid it might come across as cheap? Especially with little kids, it’s often the less expensive, simple toys that they go crazy over versus the overpriced, deluxe, walking-talking-must-have-toy-of-the-year.

Tip: Give from the heart. Putting real feelings behind a present means more than spending a fortune on some trinket.

For instance, one year we gave my mother-in-law a lovely Pandora necklace. Another year, we created a customized photo book with captioned pictures of her children and grandchildren through the years.

Which one do you think cost more? Which do you think she raved about?

4. Falling for all the gimmicks

Man with money
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We’ve all added extra items to the online shopping cart to qualify for free shipping, or picked up something near the counter to qualify for an additional discount.

Promotions can be great, but you have to do the math and think through the purchase before you succumb to pressure (like the cranky people lined up behind you or the midnight deadline for free shipping).

We also worry that we’ll miss the “last chance” sale, or rush to the cashier before the “doorbuster” time expires.

Tip: Slow down. Another sale is always on the horizon. Make it a rule that you won’t buy anything on impulse unless it makes total financial sense. (Whip out your phone calculator to crunch the numbers!)

And, if you do pick up an additional item because it’s “buy one, get one half off,” be sure you actually have someone else on your list who will love that item.

5. Being guilted into spending

baby boomer worried about debt
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You don’t want to be the Grinch saying no to the office gift swap. Or, someone gives you a gift, and you feel you have to reciprocate. But all these surprise purchases can add up.

Many people just follow the crowd and don’t want to be seen as a humbug because they don’t want to get involved in excessive gift giving.

Tip: This year, say “no thanks,” and don’t apologize for staying within your budget. Don’t worry that people are going to talk. You just might be the one to give others the courage to also decline and break everyone’s spending cycle.

6. Spending without a plan

Money flying out of laptop
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You know how you go into a bulk buying club with the idea that you will pick up one or two items — and then you checkout with a flat cart full of things you couldn’t leave behind?

Sometimes the choices are overwhelming, or the glitter got to you, or that particular something was just too cute for words. Without a solid plan, it’s easy to overspend your holiday budget.

Tip: Make a list and check it twice. Set a limit for each person or event. Make sure your total spending budget fits within your planned monthly or yearly budget, based on your income.

7. Using credit without a good reason

Woman shopping online
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You have spent your cash allotment, so you switch to plastic. Or, you find it is easier to use credit and plan to pay it off later. The buying power of a credit card feels good, but do you have enough cash to pay it off without incurring fees?

Tip: Set a budget for credit card spending, and put a plan in place to pay it off before interest accrues. If you use credit cards to earn travel miles or cash back, a credit card isn’t a bad thing, as long as you are not building interest charges that cancel out the benefits.

Use the card to earn the perks, and pay it off at the end of the month. Better yet, set up a savings plan ahead of the holidays to cover those charges.

8. Waiting until the last minute

Worried senior man
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You know the holidays show up every year, so why be blindsided by the expense? And really, the pressure of finding a gift at the last minute is a punishment you don’t deserve.

Tip: Start an automatic savings plan ahead of time, then budget that amount. Look for deals throughout the year, and after you make a purchase, subtract the amount and the recipient from your list. If you love to procrastinate, wait until after the holidays and pick up the clearance deals for next year’s gifts.