If you're like a lot of Americans, you're liable to do exactly the wrong thing in your efforts to save money this holiday. From our new study, Holiday Spending Traps, we discovered that one of the best ways to overspend your budget this holiday season is to try to control your spending by chasing sales. And it's not just sales, those who clip coupons in order to save money end up spending more.

 

At first blush the findings seem startling. People camp out on sidewalks, hit Black Friday sales at 12:01 am, and scour the newspaper circulars in an effort to land that rare deal. How can getting a TV at half the listed price really lead to overspending?

 

Well, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that retailers are pretty good at what they do. Marketers have been honing their craft for a long time. Marketing and traffic-driving sales are actually good for retailers.

 

The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $678.75 billion dollars in retail sales during the 2017 holidays. It’s much easier to grasp the magnitude of those numbers if we show all the zeros instead of hiding them behind that innocuous word “billion”: $678,750,000,000. That’s a lot of TV sets, Lego bricks, or trendy kitchen appliances!

People who get a screaming good deal on a big purchase might feel justified in adding an unexpected item. Or, they might have that sought-after item in their cart and see an unexpected deal on the store shelf that they just can’t pass up. If you’re already in the deal-hunting mindset, it might be hard to back away from the chase.

There is good news, though.

 

Our study found that one of the most effective ways of keeping things under control during the holidays is to set a strict limit. If you know exactly what you want to spend for the holidays you are in better shape than those who only have a “rough idea” of what they want to spend and even those who just plan on being careful. Unsurprisingly, the shoppers with the worst record are those who don't plan at all.

 

There is one more thing for shoppers to consider when trying to keep from losing ground this holiday season: unexpected expenses. Everybody considers the increase in holiday spending, but few people realize that unexpected expenses will come up like they do almost any other time of the year. Those who experienced an unexpected expense in November or December of last year were almost twice as likely to report that they acquired new debt by January.

 

And, lest you think that unexpected expenses are a rare event, 56 percent of people said that they were hit with one.

 

Consumers’ holidays might be cheerier if they plan a little more and chase sales a little less.