Avoid buyer's remorse this holiday season

By Marianne Curphey

For many Brits, December means spending: holiday gifts, parties and dinners add up. Even if you refrain from holiday celebrations, the sales are hard to pass up. No matter why you overspend, come January, you may feel regret or guilt about the previous month's budget.

Overspending is highly likely in November and December. Those who celebrate winter holidays are buying gifts for others, or possibly new party clothes for themselves. Cyber Monday and other sales around that time of year are hard to ignore. To top it off, the frosty weather could mean you're staying in more often, and combatting boredom with a little online retail therapy.

The latter is particularly dangerous. When no physical cash is exchanged, it's easy to feel as though the transaction is not real, which could tempt you into spending more than you planned, says Philip Pearson, independent financial adviser with P&P Invest. buyers-remorse

Using a credit card can make it feel as though the purchase is "removed, or at a distance", says Alex Hedger, a clinical director and cognitive behavioural therapist at Dynamic You, an independent psychological therapy practice.

Consequences of buyer's remorse
Most adults have regretted a purchase at one time or another, but regretting a whole month's worth of spending can be harder to handle. On top of a credit card bill you can't afford, or not enough money to cover other bills, you could face some emotional consequences, too.

It can be hard to acknowledge the problem - to yourself or others, says Pearson.

"In some cases, people stop being honest with themselves about the problem and they try to hide it," he says. Not being honest about your spending is a protective behavior, he adds. "If we know certain types of spending will cause relationship problems, then there is an increased chance of telling an untruth to avoid a disagreement."

A 2016 survey from online bank First Direct has found Brits aged 55 and older are most likely to have secret accounts, credit cards and loans hidden from their partner, as 61% admitted to this. However, 18- to 24-year-olds are the most likely to hide items they've purchased from a loved one. Women are also more likely to lie about spending than men, the survey found.

Hedger says that guilt and shame can be important emotions in this area. 

"Guilt is an emotion we feel if we're violating our own values or 'moral compass'," he says. "Shame is a social emotion that we experience if we perceive others are judging us as acting against generally held morals or values." Lying about our spending helps us avoid shame, he says.

However, remorse is usually something we feel privately.

"This is the guilt we feel when we have acted against our own values, or against our goals," Hedger says. So if you promised yourself you would stay within a budget, and then you blew it on a Christmas shopping spree, you might feel angry with yourself, then worry about what your partner may think, causing you to then lie.

How to avoid holiday buyer's remorse
Laura Rodrigues, a senior public policy advocate at the debt charity StepChange, says if you want to avoid overspending you should set a clear budget that you can handle and think carefully about how you will repay any credit that you take out or use.

"Lots of people use credit to smooth their income and manage the cost of large purchases and are able to repay it, but for those on tighter budgets it might potentially cause debt problems," she says.

Pearson recommends keeping a spending diary, especially around times of the year when spending temptation is highest. Before you shop, determine how much you can afford to spend. Write that total down in a diary, then subtract each transaction total from it every time you hit send or swipe or tap your card. Seeing your budget physically diminish can help remind you that you are spending real money and help you see how quickly you are reaching your limit.

Finally, Rodrigues says if you are concerned about debt or overspending, you should seek the advice of a free, independent debt charity as soon as possible, rather than stressing about it privately.

"Christmas can be expensive and January the busiest time of year for StepChange," she says. "In January 2016, our helpline received calls from 60,000 people over the course of the month."

See related: Are you catching bad money habits from friends?, Survival strategies for shopaholics at Christmas

Published: 14 December 2016