Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have all come and gone and the Christmas buying season is upon us. Before emptying your wallet and racking up credit card debt, take some time to think through WHY it is so easy to overspend at Christmas by reading the stories below.
Maria is a divorced mother of two teens. She overspends on the holidays out of guilt, trying to make up for the emotional disruption in her children’s lives by showering them with gifts. She knows deep down that when the credit card bills arrive in January, she will experience terrible anxiety.
Christmas is all about kids, and it can be a magical time where we make lots of happy memories. However, teens aren’t clueless and they can and do understand that money is not an infinite resource. You are not a bad parent if you can’t buy every single thing your kid likes or sees or wants. More to the point, they won’t stop loving you if you fail to provide an avalanche of presents. Let’s admit it, NOT making kids happy is a deep, dark fear that drives a lot of unhealthy financial behavior at this time of year.
Even little ones know Santa only has so much room on his sleigh. If you’re secretly worried a child will reject you over gifts, remember that they want your love, approval, time, and undivided attention. And if you have taught them to value material possessions over these things, you may want to rethink what you are teaching them. Prioritize your budget to spend more on the children than the adults. But balance this against the knowledge that overspending in the short term can be bad for the whole family in the long term.
Let’s look at Tom and Sue who LOVE the holidays and do everything they can to make the season festive and fun. They use a budget during the year, but it gets tossed out the window at Christmas. They would never want to disappoint their twelve nieces and nephews, six siblings, parents, neighbors, friends and even casual acquaintances. Every year, they overspend their budget in quest of the PERFECT Christmas. And every January, they pay the price in stress, finance charges, and post-holiday misery.
Our own lives can seem messy when we compare them to our friends and neighbors. Top that with multiple media images of perfect families with perfect homes and armfuls of gifts and you have the textbook recipe for a holiday inferiority complex. We are holding ourselves up for scrutiny against an airbrushed, photo-shopped version of other people. But what you see in the media isn’t REAL. For all you know, the neighbors you envy may be up to their eyeballs in debt and their over-decorated house of cards might come tumbling down at any minute.
Make a conscious effort to stop comparing yourself to others. Who cares what other people think? Take a few moments to write a list of the things you truly care about, that bring you real joy and happiness. Shifting your focus can help you to prioritize what is most important, and is most likely to bring you lasting happiness in a way that material goods cannot. You can’t buy a good Christmas, you can only make one.
Emma and Ben have enough money that overspending during the holidays is not a problem. But what really makes them crazy is to see the holiday focus on elaborate gifts while friends and family miss the real reason for the celebrations. They hate seeing gifts that are broken, discarded, or ignored as soon as the holiday has passed. They struggle with the feeling that their money is not being well spent.
This situation is often linked with having one or more demanding, unreasonable family members who are difficult to stand up to. Don’t be a martyr. You can’t actually make people like that happy, so quit trying. There’s no point exhausting yourself and your bank account. Re-think the situation: what’s affordable and comfortable for you? State your intentions simply without apologizing, justifying or arguing.
For example, “We’re only buying presents for the kids this year.” Sure, it feels weird the first few times you try acting assertively around certain friends or relatives who aren’t used to it, but it gets easier over time. You can do it without being nasty or looking like the bad guy. The world won’t end if you say ‘no’ every now and then.
Sam and Suzie would never dream of buying presents at the discount store or doing anything other than over the top gift giving, decorating, party throwing and meal planning. Because they DESERVE the BEST! But, every year they get stressed out and the holidays are less than joyful, especially as the credit card bills start piling up in their mailbox.
Christmas is not really about deserving anything, is it? Either you can afford something or you can’t, however entitled you or anyone else might feel. Do the math. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. There’s nothing wrong with buying the standard version of something, if that’s what your budget allows.
In mid-December, Josie heads to the store for Christmas gift shopping. She doesn’t have a list—only a vague idea of what to buy and who to buy for. She wanders around aimlessly picking up those gifts that seem like a good idea. But when she gets home the gifts are all wrong and she forgot half the things she wanted to buy in the first place.
One of the biggest risks to our budget is panic buying. Feeling rushed or overwhelmed leads us to make snap decisions. We take the easy way out rather than the smartest option, and it ends up costing far more than we’d planned.
To avoid being in debt for months and months during 2019, avoid panic buying. Take a deep breath, calm down, check your budget and develop a detailed list for each person. Then stick to the list! Keep yourself focused and the panicky feelings will be a lot easier to overcome.
The holidays are rapidly approaching, but there is still time to take these proactive steps to avoid finding yourself in a financially stressful situation come January. If you see yourself in one of these situations, rethink what Christmas is all about.
Once Christmas 2018 is finished, we highly suggest saving 1/12 of your Christmas budget each month. If you say you can’t afford to do that, what makes you think you can pay the credit card bills for Christmas 2018, PLUS interest.
After all, the buying frenzy that occurs every year at Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with the baby in the manger, the gift of God made man. The only one and true gift we need at Christmas.
Here’s wishing you an affordable Christmas, and a financially stable New Year.
Join the Compass Catholic podcast for more about eliminating holiday spending stress.