Don’t Let Black Friday Debt Trigger Post-Holiday Blues

Prioritize needs, budget your spending, then make a savings plan for next year's expenses.
Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
By Hal M. Bundrick, CFP® 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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Black Friday sales are a temptation you'll likely battle during the holidays. But these seasonal treats are all about cash, not calories.

If you're determined not to overindulge in debt, here are some ways to avoid loosening the belt on your budget.

Prioritize needs

One idea is to plan your spending. Not easy.

"Prioritize needs but make room for some wants; it's all about balance," Sabrina Maria LaFleur, a certified financial planner in Atlanta, said in an email. LaFleur is with LearnLux, a financial planning workplace benefits provider.

Holiday spending can put a big dent in any banking account, she added. It's a long list: home decorations, holiday parties and travel expenses — and there are family, friend and group gift exchanges.

"I know people love to spend money on gifts and other festivities during the holiday season," said Toby Mathis via email. Mathis is a tax attorney and founding partner of the Anderson Law Group in Las Vegas. "It is never too late to establish a spending budget, and it is never too early to begin your shopping."

It's financially much easier to spread out spending over weeks or months rather than cram it all into a few days after Thanksgiving, he added.

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Make a budget and a list

How about setting aside a little "mad money" for holiday spending?

"Money is already 'mad' at this time of year," LaFleur said. "One treat here and one treat there can quickly add up to an astonishing total, so choose one special thing for yourself to help manage impulsive behavior."

And that "something special" should be in your budget, she added.

Mathis recommends clients live off of 70% of their take-home pay. The remaining 30% is split among giving, investing and paying off debt.

"Depending on your situation, you can either budget your holiday spending within the 70% of ordinary monthly spending or, assuming you have no other debts, use the 10% allocated to debts toward gifts. What you need to avoid during the holiday season is the temptation to buy a bunch of gifts on credit without a clear plan to pay off the debt," Mathis added.

Matthew McIntyre, an investment advisor and founder of Peak American Financial Group in Plano, Texas, suggests keeping a running log of holiday spending.

"An Excel spreadsheet or just an old-fashioned pen and paper are good ways to keep track and deduct expenses from your budget," he said in an email. A running log could be as simple as this:

Total gift budget: $600 Item: Uncle Mike's ball cap: -$30 Remaining budget: $570

McIntyre also suggests purchasing a few smaller gifts to start. "Then, as you get to the bigger items, you'll have a good idea where you're at and be less likely to add 'last minute' unnecessary gifts, allowing you to stay within your spending plan."

'Not everything will be on sale'

It's easy to get caught up in the Black Friday frenzy, especially since the event that just a few years ago spanned Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday has now grown to a monthlong "saleabration."

"Don't believe the hype; not everything will be on sale," LaFleur said. "There's no need to rush to spend your money just because it's Black Friday. Make sure you're actually getting a good bargain before being emotionally driven to participate in the shopping frenzy."

Mathis believes supply chain issues, inflation and consumers' fear of losing out on a hot holiday item are likely to boost prices this holiday season.

"I still remember the Cabbage Patch kid madness in 1983 where a $25 doll would be sold by opportunists for $150," he said. "The best way to combat the madness is to set a budget and set realistic expectations for what you will and will not spend on gifts."

Credit cards can have a place in the plan

The experts also offered a few tips on using credit cards during holiday shopping.

"I am not a big fan of debt, but I am a big fan of points," Mathis said. "If you are disciplined enough, I think credit cards are fine for purchases so long as you can pay them off within the payment cycle to avoid charges."

LaFleur thinks credit cards can also be ideal for holiday shopping because of the recourse you have if you experience any issues with vendors, retailers or identity theft.

But credit cards can make it easy to lose track of your spending — if you don't keep a list of ongoing purchases as suggested above — so use them sparingly. LaFleur noted that a balance of 30% or more of your total credit limit might have a negative impact on your credit score.

Plan for next year

If it's too late to have a spending plan for this year, what do these experts suggest people do to prepare for holiday spending in the next holiday season and beyond?

"The holidays are actually a great time to do some planning for your future self. If you don't have a shopping budget for this year, give yourself the gift of a financial plan," LaFleur said.

Dream up some plans for next year's holiday season, estimate the cost and the required savings goal, and look into ways to save more money within your typical spending patterns. Then, LaFleur suggests setting up an automatic monthly transfer to a dedicated savings account to achieve that target.

"Even if you don't reach your savings goal, having something saved next year is better than nothing, and having a plan is the best way to get there," LaFleur said.

She added that establishing a budgeting plan also increases the likelihood that you’ll consistently be able to cover your regular expenses with your regular income.