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The Impact of Buying Gifts You Can't Afford

Christine DiGangi

Spending too much on holiday purchases can not only wreak havoc on your credit, it can also strain your sanity.

A recent survey by coupon website RetailMeNot.com found some serious buyers’ remorse when it comes to missing out on discounts. Holidays aside, 72% of consumers said they’d be disappointed to learn they paid more than they should have when shopping for themselves. In fact 74% said they won’t buy something for themselves because they would feel guilty about it.

But when it comes to seasons of mass gift-giving, the regret worsens. Nearly 9 in 10 shoppers said if they found out they could have gotten a discount on a purchase they already made, they would regret having made it. When combined with the finding that 87% of holiday shoppers realize they missed out on savings when buying gifts, it seems there are a lot of people experiencing bouts of consumer angst instead of holiday cheer.

The survey was conducted Aug. 29 to Sept. 4 via The Omnibus Company. A nationally representative sample of 1,006 Americans ages 18 and older were polled, and the results carry a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. In an email, RetailMeNot said the full results will be released in the coming week.

In a preview of this survey, RetailMeNot said consumers are likely to overspend and break their budgets on gift purchases, triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety.

It also leads to what we like to call the holiday credit hangover, when the bliss of bringing others joy wears off, and it’s time to pay the credit card bills. Considering how much shoppers are beating themselves up after the fact (63% said they would feel regret over a missed discount of less than 25%), it would seem they’d be more prudent during the shopping process.

For whatever reason, they’re not. But these figures don’t mean gift-givers are doomed to suffer anxiety come January.

Saving early (i.e. now) for holiday spending is one way to spare your credit, which could take a hit if you rack up a ton of debt while showering your family with fancy gifts. And as busy as you may feel, you should take the time to research potential deals.

At the same time, obsessively scouring ads a la “Extreme Couponing” won’t do much for your stress levels. The bottom line is to know your spending limit, do your best to maximize it with a little research and stick to it all the way until you’ve wrapped your last gift.

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