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Mom and Dad will stop at nothing to buy holiday gifts

Some people will do anything to complete their kids’ wish lists

Children with parents during holiday time, Christmas
Yana Paskova | Getty Images

Parents are willing to make some extreme sacrifices to ensure that their children receive every toy and trinket on their lists this year.

Money manager T. Rowe Price polled 1,086 parents earlier this year and found out that 53 percent of them agreed with the following statement: "I try to get everything on my kids' lists, no matter how much it costs."

Worse yet, desperation to get the hottest toys has driven a quarter of the survey participants to tap their retirement savings, emergency funds and even payday loans in order to shop.

"Investors need to be mindful of their long-term goals and should ask themselves whether splurging on the holidays could derail those goals," Marty Allenbaugh, a certified financial planner at T. Rowe Price, wrote in an email.

The best intentions

Many parents seem to plan responsibly for their holiday shopping: More than two-thirds of survey participants said they normally save for that expense over the course of the year.

However, 58 percent of parents admitted that they never stick to their holiday spending budget.

"The joy of overindulging in a Black Friday sale isn't worth jeopardizing your financial well-being," said Allenbaugh.

Of those who used credit cards to fund their purchases, 35 percent said it would take two to three months to repay the amount they've spent on shopping for the holidays. On average, parents are spending $422 on gifts for a child aged 8 to 14.

Hatchimals, an interactive toy that your child can help hatch from an egg, are poised to be this year's hot holiday toy. They have already sold out online at major retailers. They retail for about $50, but have been listed on eBay for more than double that.

In all, Americans are expected to spend $935 on holiday expenses, including gifts for others, food, decorations and other items, such as treats for themselves, according to the National Retail Federation.

Per the above chart, that's down from last year's record level of spending. This is largely because in the run-up to the holidays, buyers are seeing lots of political ads on TV and in print, rather than sales promotions from retailers, according to Matthew Shay, president of the federation.

The cost of sprees

Bear in mind that when you pull cash from your 401(k) before you turn age 59½, you'll have to pay a 10 percent penalty and the money will be taxed as ordinary income.

A decision to splurge now will hurt even more in the future because those dollars will no longer be invested.

For instance, a 35-year-old parent who takes $500 from her 401(k) is really withdrawing $770, considering the 10 percent penalty and an assumed 25 percent income tax rate, according to T. Rowe Price.

Assuming a 7 percent rate of return and a 30-year time horizon, the $770 would have grown to $5,855 by the time the saver celebrates reaching age 65.

While tapping your emergency fund may seem like a better alternative — you won't face taxes and penalties — most people don't have enough saved to foot the bill in the first place.

Close to half of all Americans can't afford a $400 emergency expense or they would need to sell something or borrow in order to come up with the cash, according to the Federal Reserve.

Some 66 million Americans have nothing saved for an emergency, according to a Bankrate.com study.

Payday loans, meanwhile, are a last resort and shouldn't be tapped for buying gifts. Interest rates on those can be as high as 390 percent.

Spenders should be preparing for these expenses far ahead of time instead of drawing down on other sources of cash for their purchases.

"You know every year Christmas is going to happen and that you're going to buy things for people," said Pamela J. Horack, a certified financial planner at Pathfinder Planning in Lake Wylie, South Carolina. "You should be saving ahead of time every month, so that you have a stash of money you can spend."