3 strategies to prevent a holiday shopping binge

When you are trying to get fit, tools like a pedometer or fitness app can help you track your progress toward your goal. Dieting? A scale is probably your go-to tool. But what about if you are trying to keep yourself from going overboard with holiday shopping?

Yes, there are tools for that, too.

Here are several free tools to help you keep your holiday spending in check.

Account Alerts

If you access your bank or credit card accounts online, chances are they offer free alerts that you can customize. Most issuers let you set up alerts by email or text (or both) that tell you when spending activity within a billing period reaches a certain threshold, for example. Or you can be alerted when a transaction over a certain dollar amount is authorized. Or you can get a notice when you get close to your credit limit.

All of these alerts can be useful during the holiday season when you’re feeling overwhelmed and at risk of losing track of how much you’ve spent. And the more text messages or emails you get, the more you may be reminded it’s time to slow down on the shopping! (They are also useful for spotting holiday credit fraud, another problem in and of itself!)

Holiday Shopping Lists

Shopping with a list is one of the single best ways to keep your holiday spending under control.  It helps you plan what you expect to buy, as well as keep track of what you’ve bought.

If you’ve struggled with the concept of making and keeping lists in the past, give it another go. There are some terrific tools that make it easy to succeed.

  • Dave Ramsey offers a free Christmas budget tool that is super easy to set up online. You plan what you want to spend, and on whom (or what), then keep track of your progress.
  • Prefer putting pen to paper? Download Credit.com’s free holiday spending planner and keep it in your purse or wallet.
  • Want an app? The Christmas Gift List app for Android (free, with in-app purchases available) and the Santa’s Bag Christmas Gift List app for iPhone (free for basic version, $2.99 for pro) — both get excellent reviews and can help you manage your spending.

Credit Card Debt Calculator

This weekend, my husband received an offer in the mail saying he was pre-approved for a credit card from a major discount retailer. In cheerful red and green lettering it announced he could get “the perfect card for the holidays and all year long” and “the quickest way to accept is online or by phone.”

What the persuasive letter didn’t mention up front was the interest rate. It was only by reading the back of the offer that he found it: 22.90 percent!

The pressure will be on this season from retailers to entice you to open store credit cards. But as this example illustrates, the interest rates on these cards are often high, which means you’ll pay a lot more for those gifts over time.

Not convinced that forgoing the things you want to buy this holiday season is worth it? Try the free Credit.com Credit Card Calculator. Punch in the amount you would finance and the interest rate and find out just how long it will take you to pay it off, and how much it will cost.

A $1,000 balance on that store card (at 22.90 percent) can take over four years to pay off and cost more than $600 in interest! Plus, depending on your balances and credit limits, new debt can cause your credit scores to drop, which means you may pay more for loans or insurance in the future. (You can find out how your debt affects your credit scores for free at Credit.com.)

What tools do you use to keep your holiday spending in check? Share your strategies in the comments below.

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