Not-So-Happy Holidays

This joyous time still has its Grinch moments, but you can turn those frowns upside down.

When it comes to holiday shopping, it might be better to give than to receive – but it’s also more stressful.

One big reason: We’re blowing our budget this season. A depressing poll from CouponCabin says 36 percent of shoppers will “exceed what they budget for holiday spending.” Meanwhile, only 16 percent say they’ll “spend less money than they budget.”

A similar poll revealed 60 percent of us believe holiday shopping is a strain and 21 percent “feel overwhelmed.” The biggest reason is that 41 percent of shoppers “feel obligated to spend more than they can afford.”

Service without a smile

That can make anyone surly, but it’s not just shoppers who get stressed out this time of year. Customer service is also taking a big hit this season, according to a new poll from software company Aspect.

“Over a third of all consumers enter the holiday season with lower customer service expectations,” Aspect found. “And when a consumer gets poor customer service, 52 percent of them move their business from retailers.”

The biggest complaints? Customer service agents are “grumpy” and customers get “bounced around from agent to agent far too often.” This is increasingly a problem, since tech gifts are becoming more popular every year – from phones to tablets to “smart appliances.”

Saddest of all

The worst holiday shopping news comes from an insurance company.

For the past three years, AllState has conducted a Holiday Home Hazards poll, which details risky behavior holiday shoppers regularly engage in. This year’s findings…

  • 67 percent of adults “admitted to having valuables delivered to their home while they’re not there.”
  • 60 percent “have stored or hidden valuables in their car.”
  • 33 percent will ship a gift, but only about half of them “will notify the recipient that a gift is in route.”

If you think AllState is being overcautious, 8 percent of those the company polled have indeed “experienced theft of packages,” while “6 percent have experienced car break-ins and 4 percent have had their home broken into during the holidays.”

Better safe than sorry and stressed

To sidestep these stressful situations, Consolidated Credit recommends…

  1. Sticking to your budget. Easier said than done, right? Consolidated Credit president Gary Herman offers tips in this video, and you can read more in our Holiday Survival Guide.
  2. Forget the tech. If you want to give a high-tech gift, consider giving a gift card from a retailer that stocks the item. GoBankingRates has helpfully compiled a list of the 10 Retailers Offering the Best Gift Cards of 2015, and sellers like Amazon and Best Buy made the cut.
  3. Smart costs nothing. Gifts piled on your doorstep or car seat are an invitation to thieves. Hiding them takes a few minutes and no money. When you ship a package, tell the recipient that it’s coming. Sure, that might ruin a mild surprise, but nothing’s more surprising than the gift never making it to your loved one.
  4. Get yourself the gift of financial freedom. If you feel like you’re succumbing to the pressure to overspend, call a certified credit counselor at Consolidated Credit right away. The call is free and so is the debt analysis. Dial or complete an online application before the holidays turn into a blizzard of bills.