By Scott Prater
We’ve all been there; strolling the isles of a retail store two days before Christmas, when everything looks so appealing. Thoughts float through our brain of how much the important people in our lives will appreciate the gifts we’ve bestowed upon them as we race to find our next purchase.
Celebrating and basking in the giving nature of the holidays can illicit some of the fondest memories of our lives. But, those moments sometimes come an exorbitant price.
Months later, many families are still reeling from the expenditures they made during the holidays, and regrets replace fond memories as they strive to pay off the debt incurred during those few short weeks.
According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the average American holds eight credit cards and $8,700 in credit-card debt. Forty one percent of military members owe more than $4,000 in credit card debt, and 27 percent owe more than $10,000.
Christina Ruetz, (financial) readiness consultant for the Schriever Airman and Family Readiness Center, says the holidays don’t have to necessarily break our bank accounts. With a bit of prior planning, as well as some budgeting and saving tactics, Airmen and families can enjoy the holidays without incurring a bunch of new debt or placing added financial stress into their already hectic lives.
“We need to make a budget for the holidays,” Ms. Ruetz said. “There are a lot of Web sites and resources out there designed to help people with their budgeting. For instance, www.mint.com is a free web application that allows users to manage their bank accounts, credit cards, properties, autos, savings and investments all with one tool. It tracks all of their accounts in real time and helps people monitor their spending.”
For those of us who tend to wing it when shopping for the holidays, Ms. Ruetz points out that this habit is extremely unhealthy for your wallet.
“The first step to curbing overshopping is to figure out exactly how much money you can afford to spend during the holidays,” she said. “You take your particular total amount and then break that down, based on how many people you’re are shopping for and how much you’re putting toward each person. Then you need to really stick to that budget.”
Oh, it’s important to track your spending too, either through a spreadsheet or simply by writing down the name and the amount of the person you just finished shopping for. This helps by keeping your mind focused on not exceeding the overall limit you’ve set for yourself.
So, you’ve budgeted and kept a handle on who you’re shopping for. How does one get something of value for everyone on their list without feeling like they’re settling for some cheesy substitute?
Aside from waiting for items to go on sale, Ms. Ruetz recommends shopping online, using promotion codes, major retailer Web site coupons, and making hand-made gifts.
“Whenever they shop online, I encourage folks to look for promotion codes,” she said. “There are a lot of promotion-code Web sites out there that offer free shipping, or 10 or even 20 percent off your purchase. Simply type in the name of the retailer you want to go to and then the words “promotion codes” into the search box of your favorite search engine. Several Web sites will then pop up for you to choose from. I also recommend going to the retail stores’ Web sites and downloading coupons directly from their site.”
Our nation’s nearly two-year long recession has also made hand-made gifts more popular among gift givers. Craft stores likes Michaels and Joanne’s have enjoyed increased business as the more creative segment of our society continues to purchase gift-making supplies.
“These gifts are more sentimental,” Ms. Ruetz said. They have more meaning and the people you give them to understand you’ve gone out of your way to make something special for them.”
Above all, Ms. Ruetz discourages people from taking out loans for the holidays.
“People who do that end up taking several painful months to pay back the debt they took on,” she said. “Plus, their adding interest on top of that. Not going into debt in the first place will save them from a lot of financial stress in the following year.”