You read the headlines and the entire world seems to be mired in red ink these days.
Some of the biggest countries in the world are staggering under huge debt loads, as are Canadian consumers, according to the Bank of Canada and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
But, cheesh folks, it's the holiday season. What is a poor gift buyer to do?
The U.S. just had its biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, and spending is way up from last year for the first few days of the official holiday season, even though real income there is stagnant.
Spending is expected to be higher in Canada, too. A Royal Bank of Canada survey found that Canadians expect to spend six per cent more on gifts this year than last.
That would appear in keeping with the latest data from Statistics Canada, which showed retail sales up one per cent in September, the largest month-over-month increase since November 2010.
But if you don't want to go further into the red, there is loads of advice out there telling you how you can rein in your own holiday spending. We've gone through quite a bit of that advice to come up with this list of top tips.
1. Make a list, check it twice
Canadian consumer debt
On the list should be who you are buying for and what they are getting, even the stores where you plan to shop for the gifts.
Really serious shoppers have a shopping list from early on and buy gifts when they are on sale during the year. If you stick to the list you can avoid those impulse buys, which make sticking to tip #2 more difficult.
2. Set a spending limit
Set a total spending limit and stick to it. That requires keeping track of your spending and adjusting your plans as you purchase individual gifts.
You can also set up a separate bank account for gift buying. If you start in February or March, deposit one-tenth of what you spent during the past holiday season each month.
3. Avoid plastic
It's simply easier to keep spending under control if you don't have a credit card or debit card with you when shopping.
Especially to be avoided are store credit cards. The initial offer may be 10-20 per cent discount on your purchases. But if you don't pay off the card in full when the bill arrives the next month, the high interest charges could quickly dwarf the discount.
Also, opening new lines of credit leads to retailers checking your credit score and that score drops for 12 months if there are multiple inquiries.
4. If you do charge, pay off quickly
About one-quarter of Canadians will use credit cards to finance their gift buying, according to TD Canada Trust. But you should only do so if you know you can pay it off immediately. Also, pay the balance in full because it's likely you will be charged interest on the total spending for that costly month if you don't.
Putting $600 — most of the $640 the average Canadian will be spending on gifts this holiday season, according to the Royal Bank — on your credit card and then making the minimum monthly payments, with interest at 12 per cent, for example, could cost an extra $320 and take seven years to pay off.
Use the credit card with the most favorable terms. And consider interest rates, schedules and reward programs.
Avoid fooling yourself by spreading your spending over multiple cards.
5. Do your research before you shop
Compare prices online even if you don't shop online so you know the prices when you hit the stores.
If you do shop online, stick to reputable sites, pay attention to shipping costs and dates, and use a credit card that comes with insurance in order to cover your purchases if they are lost, stolen or damaged.
If there's going to be an in-store sale, you might find the promised discounts are already marked down if you shop after 6 p.m. the evening before the sale.
6. Don't wait until the last minute
Avoid being a victim
Be especially vigilant about checking for credit card fraud. With people making so many purchases this time of year, it's often an easier time for fraudsters
Ryerson University advises shoppers who take their purchases back to the car in the mall lot and then do more shopping to move the car in case any thieves are watching. Purchases should also be in the trunk, or at least covered.
Waiting until the last minute, something 10 per cent of shoppers do, according to the Bank of Montreal, makes it more likely you will over spend, exceed your budget and maybe even miss out on some of the important gifts on your list.
On the other hand, Boxing Day is not such a bad time to gift shop and save, both for gifts you know you won't have to give for a little while yet, even next season.
Also, the experts say that rash spending is more likely when you are hungry or tired.
7. Choose carefully whom you shop with
Some experts advise shopping alone to avoid peer pressure, others suggest that if you are not as disciplined as you would like to be, shop with someone who is.
8. Buy in bulk
Purchasing the same gift for more than one person, in a different colour or whatever, can often lower the price. There are also group-buying sites on the web, like groupon and onespout.com
9. Think outside the gift box
Make gifts, bake gifts and/or foresake gifts. Some families opt for the Secret Santa, where each person anonymously buys just one (sometimes more expensive) gift for someone on a list.
"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." —Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
That not only reduces total spending but saves time and ought to make it less likely it will be an unwanted gift.
10. Remember what the season is all about
Is it about the things you give (and get)? Do you better remember who you spent the holiday with five years ago, or the gifts you got?