Investing 101

Three Holiday Shopping Tips for Financial Freedom

I often say that this is my favorite time of year because of all the profitable trends coming to a head.

But beyond the potential investment opportunities it offers, this season can lead to some financial stress… especially when it comes to gift giving and money.

Look, we’ve all been there.

We want to lavish our friends and loved ones with gifts.

We want to buy them expensive things – frivolous things they’d never buy themselves.

We want them to have everything they’ve ever dreamed of or cared for. And we want our children to have everything we never had.

It’s in our DNA to be charitable and giving.

But you don’t want to give to the point where you’re hurting. Especially in the economic environment we’re in. And because we don’t know what’s ahead in 2021…

(That is, if 2020 ever actually ends and we’re not stuck in the matrix.)

So here are three rules to ensure you have a happy holiday season and walk into 2021 financially sound.

No. 1: Do Away With the “Obligatory” Gifts.

One of the best – and worst – things about living in a society is all the agreed-upon rules.

And nothing is more irritating than social obligations.

Well, you can’t be expected to buy a gift for everyone in your life. No matter how small that present may be.

It’s impossible. And the stress of making sure you haven’t forgotten someone is crushing.

Buy gifts for your immediate family only.

If you have a large family, trim out those second and third cousins if you haven’t seen them since the family reunion of ’08. Let Santa pick up the slack there.

Basically, if you’re buying gifts for a stadium of people outside of your immediate family, consider cutting that list back.

This isn’t about being a Scrooge or miserly. It’s about being practical.

I have been best friends with a group of people for almost 30 years. I exchange presents with only three of those people every year because those are the three I most regularly hang out with. It’s not that I don’t love the rest of them or never show them I care in other ways. We just don’t exchange gifts, and no one is remotely bothered by that.

I would love to tell you there’s an exact cutoff number beyond your immediate family for gift giving.

But I can’t. Maybe you’re more popular than I am.

I can tell you that the number of close friends people actually have – regardless of how many are following them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – is between three and five.

So if you’re buying gifts for 20, 30 or 40 people each year, rein that in.

Do away with those social obligations and go from there.

Because you have to get a handle on that gift-giving list to start the most important rule of the holiday season…

No. 2: Create a Budget and Stick to It!

I know that seems like a “DUH” piece of advice.

But seriously, don’t shrug it off.

Do it.

How many times have we gotten caught up in the frenzy of shopping? Particularly in our “Buy it now!” world of online shopping.

We find the perfect gift for someone. Then we find another that’s equally as perfect or one that they’ll love just as much. And that happens again and again and again.

All of a sudden, you’ve got a mountain of deliveries or bags.

It’s very easy to lose sight of what you’ve spent and how far over budget you’ve gone until it’s too late.

Your holiday budget should be slightly more than 1% of your annual income. You don’t want gift giving to financially impact your ability to function normally.

Now, the average American spends more than $1,000 on gifts during the holidays.

The median household income in the U.S. is $68,703. So that means people are typically spending roughly 1.46% of their annual take on holiday presents.

But the issue is that 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their bank accounts. That’s a byproduct of living paycheck to paycheck. Dropping one to two grand on Christmas gifts isn’t helping that scenario.

On top of that, 61% of Americans dread the holidays because of the financial burden. And a quarter will take on additional debt to fund purchases.

This is why creating a budget and sticking to it is imperative.

Plus, you should start your holiday shopping early, maybe even before Halloween. That way you can take advantage of the most deals.

No. 3: Those With Kids… Stop.

For those with children, I want you to ask yourself: Am I buying this for them… or for the broken child inside of me?

I know households that have two Christmas trees, because one isn’t enough to house all of the presents for their children.

I know households where unwrapping presents takes hours – HOURS! – because of all the gifts for the kids.

Here’s the deal… Are those things really for them? Or are they for you? For that disappointed little child inside of you?

I get it. I grew up poor. Christmas morning always had its downers.

But stretching yourself financially thin to shower your kid with gifts isn’t going to take those memories away.

Buy your kids gifts within reason.

And if you really need to drop all of that extra dough on them, put some in a savings account or invest in some exchange-traded funds. A couple hundred bucks each year and they’ll have a nice chunk of change waiting for them when they reach adulthood.

The holidays should be about spending time with loved ones, not embarking on financial ruin. The most expensive gifts aren’t always the best. More gifts don’t equal more love.

This year is the perfect opportunity to scale back… and keep it that way.

Here’s to high returns,

Matthew