Christmas – The Consumerism Machine
Ho ho ho! Usually, when I think of the winter months I envision a few things – overeating, shorter days, movies and the holidays. I personally love this time of year. I get to spend time with family and friends, when it seems like most people are in a generally better mood. Not to mention, as a teacher I get a long break to relax and prepare myself for the new year.
However, when most are relaxing and preparing for the new year, stores around the country are revving up for the biggest shopping explosion of the year. Enticing consumers to spend, spend, spend and worry about it later, Christmas has really become a consumerism MACHINE!
According to a Forbes article, holiday spending in 2016 exceeded 1 trillion dollars. Enough money to eradicate 66% of the college debt in the United States or all consumer debt, holiday spending will set most families back, not forward.
And the holiday spending isn’t going anywhere, in fact it is estimated to have a 3.6-4% increase for 2017. But what if you made some adjustments and didn’t start 2018 out in the hole financially?
The number one stressor during the holidays? Money. As if most are not aware of money problems as it is, Christmas seems to be the big reminder. The holidays is about heart and giving, but giving does not have to cost tons of money.
$1,000 in Debt
Unfortunately, instead of starting the new year off right, ready to accomplish personal, health, and financial goals, most people will actually start out in consumer debt due to the holidays. One report stated the average consumer would accrue approximately $986 in credit card debt during the holidays. That same person will take 5 months to pay off this balance.
So right as the warm weather rolls around in May, most people will finally have paid off their Christmas debt…..and 7 months away from repeating. But learn from my mistake, don’t go into debt because of the holidays.
Every year I would use the holidays as an EXCUSE to basically live recklessly. I laugh because it wasn’t like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it happened every year. With more traveling, parties, social events, and shopping, even though I wasn’t on a strict budget, I just thought spending was the norm.
I easily surpassed the $986 average. I would buy gifts for my brothers, parent’s, girlfriend (now wife) and honestly blow money on social events because I thought it was what everyone did. My mindset – I was getting a coaching bonus in January and February that could pay off my credit cards from the holiday spending. And worse case, if I really overspent, I had my tax return in March!
Between ski trips, New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, and Christmas I would start each new year broke!
Instead of stashing my coaching checks away for the future I already had them spent. In my recent post about changing our debt mindset, I got the habit honest from my mom. She loved making Christmas special, by spending lots of money. But you don’t have to spend globs of money to make the holidays special.
I decided to ask financial bloggers across the country what they do to save money during the holidays to prevent overspending. So with some holiday spirit, here are some awesome tips from all types of financial writers – parents, single, men, women, with kids, married and more!
9 Holiday Spending Tips to Help You Save!
#1 Budget, Budget, Budget.
Marissa at thebudgetingwife.com said it best – get on a Christmas budget before you even step in a store! It seems silly, but 60% of adults don’t use a budget in life, let alone for the holidays.
How to: Write down the names of everyone you are planning on getting a gift for and assign a dollar value per person. This will prevent you from frivolous spending and help create a simple budget to follow!
#2 Secret Santa Approach.
Using the Secret Santa approach to cut back on gift spending is incredibly useful, especially for adults. This was commonly recommended among personal finance writers and it is what my mom’s side of the family does.
Everyone has to participate and we set a gift spending limit. Aside from the re-gifters (old candles and a used flag one year) the Secret Santa game is super fun and engaging. There are tons of variations of ways to go about it online!
#3 Gift of Time or Expertise.
Erika offered the following tip and I thought it was exceptionally awesome! She said, “Help out a family member with your time instead of money.” Are you a plumber or have another trade? Offer to help someone with a house project instead of buying a gift. Chances are, it will be greatly appreciated. Imagine helping a family member with an electrical project and saving them $400? That is an awesome gift!
#4 How to buy for Kids!
Kids make the holidays special…and that much more expensive. If you have children ( I personally don’t yet and you can read my awesome post about it here) planning is essential. One recommendation was to set a budget, like step #1, and to get each child something they really want… but not to feel like you have to have equal spending or the same number of gifts for each kid… they won’t know how much you spent.
I thought this was pretty funny and awesome if you have younger kids, Rob at mustardseedmoney.com said him and his wife don’t exchange gifts. With regards to his kids he stated, “Since they are small, we actually will hide toys that they stopped playing with and wrap them up. They don’t remember that’s it’s not new yet”.
Make Christmas about family and fun and not about getting – start at an early age!
Adult kids? Consider doing a family day after Christmas instead of giving gifts or refer to #3. My mom was really good at hiring my step-dad to come do work around my house. At Military Dollar, the whole family including adult siblings will get together to go to a luxury theater in town. Sporting events, vacations, and other mini trips are awesome gift ideas too! Dollar Smart Scholar said plan a siblings day – the memories are far better than the stuff!
#5 Don’t Ask, Don’t Buy.
Brother to brother, we don’t need gifts from each other in our 20’s. Husband to wife paying off debt, we don’t need gifts either. If you are in a relationship and you have financial goals, it might seem weird at first, but not exchanging gifts is not that bad. Over at Frugal Asian Finance, she recommended not exchanging gifts with adult siblings and significant others. You will save money and time!
Talk it over with your family, but consider making arrangements with your siblings, significant others, or close family. In all actuality, do you really NEED more stuff? This can be temporary or do something fun as a big family instead of giving someone another gift card just to say you did!
#6 Make Awesome Gifts.
If you are capable of making gifts, why not make something. It is original, more personalized and cost effective. I made really cool wood coasters with engraving for our wedding one year, I am thinking about doing it again for Christmas gifts. One can of spray paint made about 10 coasters, for $3.00. Angela from, Tread Lightly Retire Early, sent me this awesome Candied Jalapenos Recipe. If you are in my family, you know where I got the jalapenos from come Christmas time :).
#7 Go Volunteer.
In my opinion, the best way to give is to GIVE! Donate your time or to a cause this Christmas season. For the last two years, my wife and I with a group of people, have gone to a shelter and helped families by giving gifts to kids and providing a holiday dinner. The families are super appreciative and the little kids are ecstatic. I look forward to this every year now! There are endless opportunities to volunteer and give !
#8 Save & Buy Throughout the Year.
Plan for next year now! One way to eliminate the Christmas spending burden is to start saving in January. Richmond from pfgeeks.com said they save $50 each month and come December they have $600 to spend. Just get an Ally.com savings account and name it “X-Mas Fund” or something so you won’t spend it.
Trying to stay organized and keep Christmas organized? I thought this post was pretty cool. 10 Ways to Simplify and Organize Christmas!
#9 (& most importantly) Family First.
My grandmother passed away October 13th after several months of being pretty sick. When I was younger, Nanny gave all 18 of her grandchildren tons of presents. With money becoming less abundant towards her later years due to being semi-retired, (She couldn’t fully retire, like the current Boomer Retirement Crisis) so she had to cut back on gifts.
The last Christmas gift from my grandma was a picture of her as a child holding a puppy and the prayer she read at my wedding inside a card. If I had to guess, the copy of the photo and the frame was most likely no more than $5.00. And after 29 years of gifts, guess what gift I will always remember ? The picture of her that is in my living room and the prayer on a notepad next to my bed.
Personal touch is key when giving. Don’t go spend a lot of money and think that is what it takes to give. By all means – definitely do not go into consumer debt!
Q: What is your favorite Christmas saving tip?