Toronto Star Classroom Connection

Avoid falling into a debt trap this year


If you were looking for some kind of permission to shop, this is it!

Cyber Monday — the online equivalent of Black Friday — is a great day to find deals on the items and services you want and need.

It’s also a day when a lot of people throw all financial caution to the wind and rack up their credit cards beyond what they can afford. Don’t let that be you.

Here are my pro tips to take the greatest advantage of Cyber Monday, which takes place on Nov. 27 this year, and knock all of the items off your holiday list without overdoing it.

Do not shop until you’ve organized your list and your budget

I like to use a Google Sheet for this, but any spreadsheet or sketch paper will work.

Jot down who you need to shop for, then the ideal present(s) you want to buy, then the total cost for each person.

Not sure of the prices? Crack open your flyers and laptop and do some price comparisons.

Next, identify all the “other” items you need for the season, like party tickets, wine and beer, outfits and so on. Put the cost beside each. Tally up all costs.

If the total amount is simply too much, trim it back.

Beside each person and “other” item, identify a unique way to cut the cost. A few examples would be reducing the number of presents or downgrading to something cheaper; paying for things from your own stash of unused gift cards or loyalty points; re-gifting something you’re not using that still has a tag on it, sending e-cards and reusing gift wrap, organizing a Secret Santa exchange rather than buying for everyone, swapping party outfits with friends, downsizing on pricey recipes or even going the potluck route.

If you have to nix someone off the list, make them something special instead. Personally, this is where my two- and four-year-old really shine — painted acorns, rock gardens and cookies — it’s cute and heartwarming.

This year, when even the basics are hard to afford, many people are taking that original list and cutting it by half. So don’t feel any shame if this is the approach you need to take, too. You may even want to vocalize it with friends and family so that they don’t feel obligated to spend too much, either.

Now that you’re organized, it’s time to shop the deals

The Cyber Monday deals are mostly online, but savings also happen in-store with some retailers. Price compare against the common retailers that carry the product or service, and be sure to check out local shops as well. When you’re certain you’re looking at the very best deal, fill your cart. As you check out, use up any gift cards you have kicking around, and cash in your points. Apply coupons. Some employers have additional “work perks” that can be layered on as coupons at the checkout, so check your employee portal.

I’d recommend steering clear of U.S. prices to avoid paying the exchange. It’s downright expensive right now.

Tick the items off your list, and avoid the “add-on” pop-ups when you click to pay — unless, of course, the add-on is on your list. These pop-ups are actually called order bumps, btw.

The great thing about shopping this early is that you don’t need to expedite any shipping, and hopefully can avoid those costs altogether.

Bigger discounts for bigger purchases

A lot of bigger items like furniture, tech and appliances, cars, new and refurbished, go on sale in a significant way on Cyber Monday. If you’re specifically hunting for this kind of bigger-ticket purchase, be extra vigilant with your research. Prices get super competitive, but still you may find an extra few dollars of savings just by clicking on one more retailer.

When your credit card bill arrives 30 days after Cyber Monday, you’ll be ready. You’ll know exactly what to expect, and hopefully will have the budgeted savings to cover the full balance. That’s your cue to start saving right now, if you haven’t already.

When the temptation arises to go out and buy more at the last minute, pull up the list you made earlier, and remind yourself that this is enough. You’ve got this!





Toronto Star Newspapers Limited