By Katherine Boyle
The Washington Post
— It's the most wonderful time of the year — arriving year after year after year — and somehow, we still haven't caught on to the needless consumer spending that the season propagates. Every holiday season, we buy new stockings for the kids, twinkle lights for the house and sparkling clothes that we'll wear to no more than one holiday party.
This year, we're giving you an out. Stop buying stuff you don't need! According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $6 billion on holiday decorations last year and are expected to spend $6.9 billion this year. (That's more than the 2012 election cost!) According to Bloomberg, we spent $2.2 billion on fake Christmas trees, more than twice what we spent on real ones. (So, no, we're not even helping Christmas tree farmers.)
We're not saving money when we buy things we don't need. And we don't need 10-foot Santas in our yards or another fake tree every year.
We loves the season, but it has a way of bullying us into unnecessary purchases. Here are five things you don't need to spend money on this holiday. If you still want that giant inflatable snowman after New Year's, you'll be happy you waited until 2013.
YOU DO NOT NEED . . .
A new television
Yes, this is counterintuitive. If you are among the first ones in line at Walmart, Target or Best Buy on Black Friday, go ahead: Buy the severely discounted flat-screen TV. But if you don't get your hands on the advertised door buster, you probably won't get the best deal on a television. The Wall Street Journal and Decide, Inc., a consumer research firm, recently sponsored a Black Friday comparison shopping study. They found that the average price of a Samsung 46-inch LCD television was $1,159 before Black Friday. On Black Friday, the same TV's average price was $1,355. There's a logical reason prices might be higher during the holidays: Demand for televisions is high during winter (and football season). For the best deals, wait until March or April, when demand falls.
A seven-course dinner
Okay, okay. We are all for pigging out during the holidays. But you may want to reconsider what you feast on this season. The price of meat is expected to rise 4 percent this year due to the drought in the Midwest that caused corn and feed prices to rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sirloin prices rose by 15 percent between 2011 and 2012. Many Americans use the holiday as an excuse to splurge on luxury foods, with carnivores having three or four meats on the table for a holiday feast. But those feasts will be more expensive this year, with food prices rising and many budgets already strapped by the economic downturn. Holidays happen without the tastiest foods on the table, so don't feel bad about cutting back on the roast beast.
A party dress
We're putting our foot down on this one, ladies. Holiday trends rarely change, but retailers will tell you they do. Every season, we see the same red, green, blue or jewel-toned dresses selling for between $150 and $500. You'll love it for a month, wear it for a party and never touch the thing again because it's not all that practical.
The best time to buy a holiday dress — one that says "This was purchased for December" — is in April, when those dresses are 70 percent off at a Neiman Marcus Last Call or a Nordstrom Rack. If you must purchase a dress this month, buy a simple solid-colored one that you can also wear to work. Parents, the same goes for young girls. They do not need to wear red or green on Christmas Eve. If you're looking to cut costs, buy a dress that can be worn for other occasions in the near future, since they won't be the same size next year.
This is an obvious way to save. The National Retail Federation found that the average person will spend $51.99 this year on ornaments, lights and other decorative baubles, the most in the survey's history. That doesn't include greeting cards, wrapping paper and flowers. The best time to buy holiday items is Dec. 26. Use what you have in the attic and stock up on lights and ornaments the day after Christmas.
There is always the urge to buy a new dining table, new curtains or a new sofa immediately before the family visits for the holidays. But retailers know this, and they're hoping you'll buy the sofa in November instead of January. New furniture stock arrives in stores come February, so there will be massive discounts on sofas and kitchen tables in January. Resist the temptation to spend and wait for the sale.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Holidays are expensive enough with all the travel and gift-giving. Don't waste money on non-essentials. Those things can wait until 2013, when you're sure to find true bargains.