Nearly 1 in 3 Americans expect to take on debt this holiday season. How to not be one of them

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Pedestrians carry Nike shopping bags in San Francisco on Sept. 16, 2021.

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Nearly 1 in 3 Americans expect to take on debt this holiday shopping season, a survey from Credit Karma found.

The Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on many people’s finances, leaving them financially unprepared for the coming holiday season, according to the survey, which polled 1,020 U.S. adults in October.

On top of that, concerns about low inventory this year has shoppers starting early, and potentially missing out on deals.

“With supply chain shortages and shipping delays increasing prices for all shoppers this season, it will be important for consumers to be thoughtful about their spending to ensure they don’t start the new year in the red,” Colleen McCreary, consumer financial advocate and chief people officer at Credit Karma, said in a statement.

Here are steps to take to help you set a budget for holiday shopping.

Talk to family and friends

Make a list

Sit down and figure out who you want to buy gifts for, what you want to get and put a dollar amount around it.

“Seeing it on paper can be a good exercise,” Souffrant said “You really see how much you are going to spend.”

After coming up with a total budget, you can make adjustments from there. It may mean spending less per person this year or cutting down your list.

Be honest with friends and family if this is a source of stress, McCreary told CNBC.

“Start setting expectations that this might not be the holiday you will be able to provide,” she said.

Start saving now

While supply chain concerns have consumers worried about out-of-stock must-haves, if you wait to make purchases you can start socking away some money each week to pay for the gifts.

“Let’s just say you’re making a plan over the next six weeks,” Souffrant said. “Are there things in your current budget that you can cut out to make room for these purchases?”

On the flip side, waiting too long can result in high prices for those hard-to-find gifts. If you see a good deal now, buy it and store it away until the holidays.

Use credit cards wisely

Oscar Wong | Moment | Getty Images

Ideally, you don’t want to rack up debt. Yet it’s a reality for many Americans. Fully 49% of those surveyed by Credit Karma planned to pay for gifts this holiday season with credit cards.

If you need to use a credit card, do so wisely.

First, look at your current credit-card balances. If you have debt you can’t get ahead of, you may have to make some sacrifices and be intentional about what you’re buying for the holidays, Souffrant said. Also have an understanding of what your debt payment plan will look like.

More from Invest in You:
Here’s why you should holiday shopping start early this year
Did you blow your budget? Here’s how to get back on track
Here’s the budget this millennial used to save $100,000 by age 25

When you plan on carrying debt with your credit card, use the one with the lowest interest rate. If you are going to use one without the lowest rate, choose the one that is going to give you the best deal, such as cash back or points towards travel, McCreary said.

You can also use that credit card on apps or browser extensions that have coupons and rewards for shopping, such as Honey or Rakuten, she advised.

However, people often get excited about the cash back instead of the debt they are collecting, McCreary noted.

“Only purchase what you need, especially if you are going to be paying this off over time,” she added. “You want to make sure you’re looking at payments you can pay down as quickly as possible.”

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.



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