How the underbanked can shop wisely this holiday season

As November begins, many Americans are already starting to prepare for the en-masse shopping they'll be doing a few weeks from now. For some of us, this might seem too soon, but think about it: Do you really want to be dealing with the madcap rushes that comprise the final days leading up to the various holidays themselves? It's wise to at least start preparing for the shopping frenzy - making preliminary lists, comparing prices online and so on. 

"Underbanked Americans must be prudent with their finances as they prepare to shop this holiday season."

There's no reason why underbanked Americans shouldn't be doing all of those things. Insisting otherwise defies the spirit of any holiday that celebrates goodwill. The National Retail Foundation noted that 5 million U.S. millennials lack checking accounts, while 28 percent of Americans households are underbanked or unbanked. Basically, they're a sizable demographic that retailers can't ignore. But it will be important for these folks to be careful with the assets they do have.

Underbanked Americans are feeling less pressure
Back in 2012, the Underbanked Financial Sentiment Index survey from Think Finance found 45 percent of respondents saying they didn't have enough to manage holiday expenses, gifts or otherwise. However, only two years later, the financial firm noted drastic changes among these individuals, due in part to solutions catering to those with unconventional financial tools - including alternative credit data and online lenders. It's projected that the underbanked may account for up to $1.6 trillion in total financial product use.

Shopping with minimal or subprime credit: Mobile apps
It's quite possible to take care of holiday shopping needs if you're credit invisible or simply have less-than-perfect credit. Mobile payment apps like PayPal, Venmo, LevelUp and others only permit spending with money you definitively possess, so you're always aware of what's leaving your wallet. 

While e-commerce sites are the most likely to accept these methods, brick-and-mortar stores have begun embracing them as well.

Don't forget gift cards
While they might frequently be a last-resort purchase when you can't think of a more specific present for someone, gift cards may also serve as a way to monitor your spending. You can allocate a set sum of your savings to buy the card, and then use this as your holiday fund. You're limited to whatever you originally spent to purchase this bit of plastic, and can keep abreast of what's been sent by saving receipts. 

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