The holiday season may look different this year with families limiting their in-person gatherings. Yet despite social distancing and the ongoing economic challenges that millions of Americans are facing, the desire to spend money on gifts this year could be even higher than in normal times.
In fact, data from RetailMeNot found that consumer spending between the days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is up this year ($766) compared to last year ($738). While it’s understandable to want to give the perfect gift during these hard times, it might be worth having a closer look at your budget if you’re struggling to stay afloat.
Before you go filling up your cart, there’s a way that you can avoid overspending while still getting your much-needed dose of holiday cheer.
Amanda Clayman, a psychotherapist specializing in financial therapy, advises consumers to keep a shopping gift list spreadsheet. Doing so helps you change the way you look at shopping because you can still get the thrill of it without spending a dime. Keeping a shopping list may seem like just one more task, but it’s also a mental trick that can help you save money during the holidays and beyond.
Here’s how to use your holiday shopping spreadsheet.
How your holiday shopping spreadsheet works
A holiday gift spreadsheet separates shopping from buying.
The idea is that as you shop online, instead of immediately buying something, you make a master list of everything you’re considering giving as gifts. When you find a product you like, copy and paste its link into a master spreadsheet, almost as you would an online shopping cart.
“The purpose to feel safer and in control,” the financial therapist of 17 years tells CNBC Select. Keeping a holiday gift list allows you to enjoy the process of holiday shopping while also curbing your spending.
Once you’ve made your list, go back into that spreadsheet in the first weeks of December for part two: the buying phase. Have a budget in mind, and filter accordingly to what you can afford to spend.
Learn more: How much should you spend on holiday shopping? A financial planner weighs in
After customizing the spreadsheet to your budget, make the purchases all at that one time and put it behind you, Clayman says.
“When we roll shopping and buying together, it extends it indefinitely and makes it harder for us to keep a boundary,” she says. “Buying at once makes it easier to contain shopping to that boundary we set.”
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Psychological ways to spend less
For discretionary expenses other than gift-buying, Clayman advises finding ways to slow down the buying process.
Creating a holiday gift spreadsheet is one method, but there’s also something you can do during other times of the year.
According to Clayman, put a 24-hour pause rule on most of your purchases. This means that you wait at least a day to give yourself extra time to think before making a purchase (no matter how big or small).
“If you need to make a decision, being impulsive doesn’t help,” Clayman says.
For those who like to get in the holiday spirit by shopping, Clayman’s two-part gift spreadsheet method is a good place to start. It allows you to get excited about looking for gifts while also thinking smartly about how much you can realistically spend.
And if you’re worried about a certain product being sold out by the time you sit down to buy from your spreadsheet, Clayman has some reassurance for you: “To think buying is somewhat scarce is a trick by the retail world,” she says. “It’s much better to take control…there will always be beautiful things.”
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.