November 1st and Halloween is over. The pumpkins have been taken down, the candy sorted, the costumes packed away for another year. Wow - the countdown to Christmas Eve begins. The 'TO DO' list has started and becomes longer every day. Add to the growing list, Thanksgiving and thank God for Black Friday shopping to help keep the costs down. The panic sets in as you start to think about the lists. Gifts for kids, grandparents, cousins, spouses, sisters, brothers, Christmas concert practices, baking, meal prep, decorating... remember to smile. FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT. That's right - Christmas is the greatest season on earth - Peace, Goodwill and all your children are thinking about is 'what is Santa going to bring me'. The TV is blaring commercials aimed at your children; their friends are all talking the latest toy, latest technology, and your children just know intrinsically that they are entitled to the latest and greatest regardless of the cost. After all - that is what Christmas is about, right?
We ask for increased limits on our credit cards, or we apply for new cards to get us through. Christmas comes and Christmas goes. The gifts are all unwrapped and very quickly everyone has moved onto to the New Year party that brings another cost. The credit card companies send out their statements like clockwork - they don't give you a break because you were being the best mom and dad ever- they expect payment on time and they expect the full balance. Your employer isn't very accommodating either - no raise in sight to help offset the excess spending over the last couple of months.
Overshadowing it all is the feeling of guilt - guilt at not being able to buy more, guilt because you cannot buy what your children had asked for, guilt and remorse for spending beyond your limit, guilt that once again you are even further behind in debt. Guilt sends you spiraling into fear, anger, depression, hopelessness and self-incrimination. "What was I thinking? How could I do this yet again...." Our love for our children and not wanting to disappoint them has pushed us further into the dark hole of debt. What do we do once we are here? How do we not go there again? We need help and most of all relief from the stress of the pressures of a gift driven Christmas.
The Gallop Poll states that the average American will spend $830 on gifts this Christmas. That number increases to $908 excluding those who do not celebrate Christmas. This number does not include new clothing for parties, the decorating or the increased grocery bill that accompanies the holiday. The Gallop Poll states that 30% of Americans polled admitted to spending over $1,000 on Christmas giving. The number of gifts you normally purchase and family traditions around gift giving will also dictate how much you spend.
This is not something a person gives a lot of thought to until they are in a position of restrictive finances. Job loss, illness, divorce, even a huge purchase or unexpected purchase are all life changing events that will force an individual to re-assess how they view their spending at Christmas.
Now is a good time to reassess your spending habits before the fury of Christmas shopping begins. I have learned, often the hard way, over the years how to have a great Christmas and not break the budget. Here are a few of my tips for gift shopping this Christmas:
1) This is first and foremost:
TAKE THE EMOTION OUT AND PLAN YOUR BUDGET!!!
2) Secondly, how much money can you realistically afford? How much can you spend per child? This is a great time to have a cup of coffee (or something stronger) with your partner. Make a spreadsheet of your income and list below monthly expenses including credit card and loan payments. Look at how much room you have on your credit card, how you expect to pay it off and how long it will take you. Look at the interest charged on the card. Are you only making the minimum payment? The bottom line will tell you honestly how much you can realistically afford. Once the guessing is over it will be easier to make the harder decisions around Christmas purchases. We have included a simple 'Personal Budget' spreadsheet to help you. This is a powerful tool built on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and can be changed from weekly to annual expenses.
3) Set your budget after working through your finances. What can you really afford? Maybe one gift that your child wants rather than many smaller gifts. Have your children prioritize what they really want, let them know that they will get something they want and then purchase within your budget. I have included a Christmas Budget List for you to fill out and use. (This is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet)
4) Make a list of those you want to purchase gifts for (and a list of those you feel obligated to buy for). Ask yourself the question 'why? why do I feel I should purchase a gift for this person?' Often we add people to our list because of obligation or just because we always have. What can you give in lieu of a purchased gift?
- As our children got older and started families of their own we made a slight shift in our gift giving. Everyone's name went into a hat - from great gma's to the youngest. One name per person with a preset dollar amount for the gift. It was more about the thought and not about the gift. It was a great idea and it removed the stress and guilt for us all. Since then as more babies have joined our family, the consensus has again shifted to 'gift buying only for the little ones.' Lists are compiled by their parents and each child gets something they want and/or need.
- Christmas has become more about spending time together, games, skating, tobogganing, nerf wars, than in the giving and receiving of gifts. The gifts are a small part of the get together but overall it is being together that matters.
5) Know what you are buying and research the best price - internet vs. retail store. Compare, compare.
6) If you are hosting Christmas, delegate dishes for everyone to bring. It is easier and more economical for everyone to bring something than for one to bring all.
So much about the way we approach Christmas is with preconceived expectations derived from traditions and media. The hardest part of the change is within ourselves and the way we think. What hidden message are we portraying - if the message comes from a place within ourselves of guilt, regardless of what we say, our energy will portray our guilt. Looking realistically at where we are financially and being honest about what we can afford, will help us make the hard decisions. Others will understand and respect your choices. Approaching Christmas strictly out of emotion will sabotage us not only financially but emotionally as well.
So, you are reading this article after you have already maxed out your credit cards and gone on a crazy emotion filled spending spree - Now what? The credit card statements will come and they will not lie. You have overspent. The excitement and euphoria that you got from being able to provide everything and more for everyone at Christmas are gone. The fear and depression are settling in. How do you fix your money problem? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Review ALL of your debt - Christmas spending, credit cards, loans, mortgage etc. If you own your home, is there enough equity to increase your mortgage or take out a Line of Credit secured by the equity in your home to pay off all your debt.
2) Consolidate as much of your debt as possible. Get a personal loan with a lower interest rate to pay off credit cards and loans with high-interest rates.
3) Transfer your existing credit card debt to a 'no fees, no interest' card. The credit card providers are offering up to 21 months with no interest. It will depend on your credit score to determine how long the interest-free term will be. Even if the no interest is only for 6 months, it will allow you to pay down the existing balance and just not the accrued interest. When you select this link below, make sure to select your credit score to find out what you will be offered for a balance transfer card.Looking for a Balance Transfer credit card? Great Credit Card Options
4) If you are really stuck, talk to a Debt Relief counselor to see what steps you can take to rectify and fix your debt.
No one can fix your spending habits or your debt - only you can. It is a hard step to take, but once you reach out for help the sense of relief that YOU have finally taken control is huge. Your finances no longer control you - you control them. And from America Loan Service to you - Have a wonderful guilt free Christmas!!