Money

An alarming number of shoppers are still paying off debt from last Christmas

As the holiday season approaches, the pressure to spend spikes. This year, gift-buying Americans plan to spend $660 on average.

That's according to new data from NerdWallet's 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report, which analyzed spending and behavior trends of more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and over.

And holiday-induced debt is a growing problem. Although survey respondents say they plan to spend roughly the same amount as they spent last year, 24 percent of shoppers say they overspent in 2016, while 27 percent admit to not making a budget at all.

Even a budget is only a good start.

"There's this myth that planning ahead and budgeting always ensures you don't overspend. But in reality, creating and even sticking to a budget won't make you immune to holiday debt," Courtney Jespersen, a consumer savings expert at NerdWallet, says in the survey. "It's so important to set a realistic ceiling for your spending."

During the 2016 season, boomers proved most likely to take on debt to finance their purchases, with 63 percent of respondents copping to the habit. Other generations took on debt as well, including 58 percent of Gen-Xers and 40 percent of millennials.

What's alarming about this pattern is that many Americans are still carrying last year's debt as they head into yet another holiday season.

Millennials are the worst culprits here: 24 percent still haven't paid off credit card debt incurred during the 2016 shopping season, while 16 percent of Gen-Xers haven't and only 8 percent of boomers haven't.

This is particularly worrisome for millennials because many are still building credit, which allows you to make larger purchases in the future, such as a car or a house.

Debt can also be emotionally heavy and a source of stress in your relationships.

To keep from falling into red this shopping season, follow these simple steps:

Make a good budget and stick to it

Decide how much you can afford to spend on holiday gifts, decorations, charitable contributions and packaging, and don't exceed that limit. "In the often-recommended 50/30/20 budget, gift purchases fall into the 'wants' category and should not exceed 30 percent of your monthly income," NerdWallet warns.

Once you've figured out how much you can comfortably afford to spend, divide it by the number of people you plan to buy gifts for to get an estimate of how much you can spend on each one.

Keep an eye out for sales

Before you hit the mall or log on to Amazon, get a sense of the items you're shopping for and search for bargains and deals first.

"Start monitoring and comparing prices early — Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday often feature some of the season's biggest discounts," NerdWallet reports.

Pay debt back right away

If you do end up with a balance on your credit card at the end of the month, don't let it sit there. Make a plan to pay if off as quickly as possible, whether that means reducing your spending or finding a way to earn money on the side.

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