By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Celebrating and basking in the giving nature of the holidays can illicit some of the fondest memories. But those moments sometimes come at an exorbitant price.
Months later, many Families are still reeling from the expenditures they made during the holidays, and regrets often replace fond memories as families strive to pay off the debt they incurred during those few short weeks.
“Especially this year, as the pandemic has kept Families apart, it’s difficult to not be with loved ones,” said Dallas Shrawder, financial readiness adviser, Fort Carson Army Community Service (ACS). “A lot of people feel guilty and they think they can make up for it by buying a bunch of gifts.”
According to Experian, a national credit reporting agency, overall consumer debt has grown 19% since 2009 and reached a record high of $14.1 trillion in 2019. Credit card debt alone has reached a record high of $829 billion.
Shrawder said 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, Soldiers and Families can enjoy the holidays without incurring a bunch of new debt or placing added financial stress into their already hectic lives.
“Soldiers and Family members need to make a budget for the holidays,” he said. “We realize it might be difficult for Families to develop their own budget, so we have created a holiday-budget template.”
Anyone can obtain this holiday-budget template by contacting ACS financial readiness at 526-4590 or at https://carson.armymwr.com/programs/army-community-service. Financial readiness staff can send the budget template via email message to anyone who requests it.
Those who may need some help constructing a solid holiday or overall Family-spending budget can also contact ACS financial readiness and make an appointment for a one-on-one consultation.
The alternative, jumping into the holiday spirit and just winging it, Shrawder points out, is extremely unhealthy for one’s wallet.
“We would classify holiday spending on gifts under the category of entertainment,” he said. “Once you have a good budget in place, entertainment should be about 10 percent of your income. Now, that 10 percent is not going to go as far as you want it to, but it’s satisfying to know what your limit is. And once you figure out that spending limit, you need to stick to it.”
It’s also important to track spending, either through a spreadsheet or simply by writing down the name and the amount of the person you have just finished shopping for. This helps by keeping consumers’ minds focused on not exceeding their overall limit.
Holiday shoppers should also look for ways to stretch their funds, such as with coupons and promotional codes.
“We recommend that people explore all of their shopping options, not just at the store,” Shrawder said. “Consumers can often find better deals at online sites. If they are preferred shoppers at certain retailers, they can also earn cash back or loyalty rewards. This cash back comes in handy when making purchases later in the year, for birthdays or other special occasions.”
The idea is to create a cycle of saving on purchases.
“If someone is better at managing their finances this holiday season, they’ll be in a better financial position next year … and next year’s holiday season,” Shrawder said. “But the main idea here is that Soldiers and their Family members need to take care of themselves first in this type of instance. Don’t give away what you need. You have to take care of you to be able to take care of others.”