To Buy or Not to Buy: Limiting Excess

 At this time of year, it is easy to stick our heads in the sand (or snow) in relationship to financial or other problems, and join in the merry making.  Have an extra glass of eggnog and forget about that overdue credit card bill!  But, when January and the bills come around, the hangover is never worth the excess – whether from the alcohol or the bills.

The seduction of music, lights and decorations can tempt folks to overindulge in the “spirit of the holiday.”  Many folks will spend extra on their credit cards thinking they will get back on track in January.  But in the end they are still paying for those purchases six months or a year down the road.  If your budget is tight in December, it is likely to remain so in January.

Knowing this doesn’t always help:  The holidays are tempting and it is tough to avoid that temptation.   Almost everything in the media creates an impression that the holidays mainly are about giving and receiving gifts. By spending, we belong.  By purchasing gifts for others, we will have them love us.  It is a time when spending money creates a sense of well-being and participation, if only until the reality of the bills hit.

Christmas and the holiday season present challenges for folks who have tight finances, but also present opportunities to recognize and celebrate what is truly important in our lives.  It presents an opportunity within a marriage or partnership to communicate with your partner and understand the family finances.    Talk with your kids about the meaning of the holiday and what is really important.  Think over the past years and how often toys have been discarded or abandoned.

Tips for a healthy financial holiday:

  • Have a spending plan, write it down and stick to it.   Keep a list of your debt obligations on the same page, or right next to the spending plan. That way you are reminded of why you have the spending plan.
  • Know your limits and check them twice!  Tip: If possible, shop with cash so you are not tempted to go over your limit!   But remember to save those receipts in case of a return.
  • Make a list.  Now, trim that list.  When the budget is tight, a nice card can convey a holiday message without breaking the bank.
  • Don’t buy items, sale or not, that are not on your list.
  • Cookies and more:  Baking or making a gift and having your kids decorate it is a great way to remember friends during the holidays.
  • Decorate from nature: Look in your back yard for evergreen foliage and red berries.
  • Reuse and recycle: We keep gift bags, wrapping paper and ribbons and reuse yearly as long as possible.
  • Shop discount and shop smart!  Whether it is the Dollar Store or other discount retailers, look for bargains.
  • Have a family meeting and talk about what is important in terms of traditions.  Watching a great Christmas movie with the entire family will create more memories for your kids than one extra Barbie or Orbeez toy.  Set your children’s expectations now.
  • Look at free community events.  Munching on a bag of kettle corn while wandering around Dickens of a Christmas is one of my children’s favorite holiday traditions.
  • A book of personalized gift certificates: a foot rub, spending time with your parents, a coffee date, cleaning up the kitchen without being asked (my favorite) can be a great way for all of us to “give” something of value without taxing our pocketbooks.

Creativity and restraint are keys to having a “financial hangover-free” holiday.  If you are already financially stressed, spending on credit cards will only lead to more financial trouble and can often cause difficulty if bankruptcy is in your future.  So, go lean this Christmas and enjoy the spirit of the holiday instead of the stress of the holiday.

Malissa Giles received the Platinum ranking as top attorney in Roanoke Valley as recognized by readers of The Roanoker in 2012 Best of Roanoke. (May/June 2012 issue.) You can reach her at 981-9000 or [email protected].

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