Personal Finance

Three types are most at risk for holiday overspending. Are you one?

Key Points
  • Nearly 1 in 4 people say they typically go into debt during the season, and a most say they feel stressed out when they do.
  • Stores want you to come in (or click through) and spend. Most vulnerable to holiday overspending are people with poor credit, over-spenders and millennials.
  • Social media is a big driver of holiday spending, according to Credit Karma. Nearly half the adults in a survey say they think targeted ads on social media are responsible for personal debt.

Technology makes it easier to overspend, and it's stressing people out, particularly during the holiday season.

Nearly 1 in 4 people said they typically go into debt because of overspending during the season, according to Credit Karma, which surveyed 1,041 adults in October.

You know what's to blame for overspending?

Sales. Even people who have a budget are tempted to spend more when they see a good sale in the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy, according to Credit Karma.

You know what else is to blame?

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Social media. Most social media users (40 percent) are more likely to buy what they see on their screens, and Credit Karma says it's worse around the holidays.

The younger you are, the more at risk you are to overspend. More than half of millennials are more likely to buy things they see on social media during the holidays, the survey found.

When people are sparked to buy things they saw on social media, it's generally spontaneous. And most of those respondents say they regret those purchases. Of this group, millennials were the most likely to say they'd bought things they hadn't planned on, and their buyer's remorse was the highest: A whopping 86 percent said they'd made a mistake.

Credit woes

Another group is also vulnerable to poor spending decisions this time of year. About a third of people with bad credit are at risk for taking on holiday season debt, according to a separate study from Elevate's Center for the New Middle Class.

The center surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers in January, when holiday spending memories were still vivid. Americans with credit problems are more likely to take on an average of $800 in new debt during the holidays.

One problem is the lack of a safety net. More than half of consumers, no matter their credit scores, encountered an unexpected expense during the previous holiday season. In fact, an emergency expense can be harder on people with good credit.

People considered prime consumers were much more likely to take on new debt in the wake of a financial setback during the holidays, according to Elevate's study. In general, people with good credit generally spend more on charity, travel and gifts during the holidays. People with worse credit often don't spend anything on travel, and when they do, they tend to spend less.

"Non-prime consumers are actually incredible budgeters," said Jonathan Walker, executive director of Elevate's Center for the New Middle Class. People with worse credit are significantly more likely to budget than people with higher credit scores. Better still, people with bad credit who budgeted were more likely to say they saw an improvement in their finances after the holidays.

Clear your browser

Ever notice that pair of shoes you checked out keeps following you around the internet in the form of ads on the side of your email or on Facebook?

Personal finance expert and author Nicole Lapin used to think, "How does the web know that I'm dreaming about those?" Now she has the answer.

"It's a smart way advertisers follow you, in hopes you'll eventually buy that item," Lapin said. "Every time you look at something you are leaving a trail of cookies."

Be savvier than they are. Clear the cookies from your browser so you're no longer tempted by those sandals and you don't leave a trail for retailers.

Limit social media use

The research suggests that, even with good intentions, it's easy to spend way too much time on social media.

If you're a social media junkie, try an app to track how much time you spend staring at your phone. Apple's Screen Time in iOS 12 details your usage by productivity, social networking and reading. Digital Wellbeing for Android devices is a similar app.

Use cash or a debit card

It's easy to overspend when you use a credit card. Two-thirds of the Credit Karma survey respondents who took on holiday debt did it using credit. Instead, stick with cash or a debit card. When the money is gone, don't buy anything else until you have the cash to pay for it.