On the Consumerism of Christmas and How We Can Use It Well (part 1)

I have to admit, I threw a bit of a fit the other day when I walked into the office. There, hanging around the LSS logo on the wall, were several snowflakes and a Christmas stocking. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? Let the turkey have his day and let’s get through Thanksgiving first! Now, in all fairness, the decorations were only up for a photo shoot and have since come down (I think, I threatened to not even look that direction if they were still up).

As much as we Thanksgiving-loyalists dislike it, you don’t have to look very far at all to see the impending invasion of red and green glitz and gaudiness. It’s coming. We can’t change it. It just bothers me that, much like the presidential campaigning, it all seems to be happening earlier and earlier every time it comes around.

Unable to change it, I guess we might as well find some advantage to the earlier schedule.
Unfortunately, in the consumer credit counseling world, most people don’t realize they have financial problems until it is nearly too late, if not already past the point of crisis. Since we can’t ignore all of the visual stimulation that is Christmas marketing, we can use it as our reminder of the financial adventures that make up the Christmas season.

Before we go any further, know that I’m not going to tell you Christmas Shoppingnot to give Christmas gifts or not participate in any of the seasonal festivities. When it really is time for it, I’m all for giving and getting gifts (be honest about yourself before you judge me on the second half of that), eating the great meals and never-ending deserts and sweets, and the travel that is often necessary to spend time with family. I’m not saying we should do away with any of it.

Instead, a little planning can help us make sure the financial burdens of the season don’t ruin the rest of it for us. So, in short, use all of the Christmas marketing as a reminder to get your Christmas budget in place. There are two parts of this for you to work through: ‘Where does it go?’ and ‘What to do about it’. Mirroring just how big Christmas really is around here, this post has grown enough that we’ll cover the first question this week and save the second for next week. So for now, part one.

Where Does the Money Go?

Gifts – Yes, that does seem to be among the highest of priorities during the Christmas season. We all have that relative that finishes their Christmas shopping and then finds one more thing that “is just perfect” for the recipient. But then we can’t have anything be unfair, so they have to buy another gift for everyone else as well. Remember, too, all of the other little gifts that add up – the teachers, coworkers, Secret Santa, the friends, the neighborhood pets, the mailman, the garbage man (much more understandable once your kids start receiving the gifts that are packaged in an entire shipping crate of cardboard, packing, and those plastic tie strips), and anyone else that might even look your way. If you have out-of-town recipients, do forget the postage.

Food – I really do like the food of the season. Not only do I enjoy eating it, Christmas Tablebut I enjoy making it as well. If you have had to put together a family meal or even a pan of fudge lately, you know how expensive all of that nourishment can be. We think it’s cheaper to eat in than go out to eat, but when you are talking big meals and special ingredients, it adds up fast.

Travel – While the oil-producing countries of the Middle East aren’t crazy about the low price of crude oil, it sure is nice for me when I go fill up my car with gas. But if my seasonal travels involve out-of-town travel, the multiple tanks of gas add up. And then we take the bigger vehicles to haul all of the gifts and food and burn even more gas. Don’t forget the extra time off you are going to need from work for traveling. Then there are going to be the fast-food meals you eat while in the process of traveling. You might also want to change the oil, even if it is a little early, just to make sure you are ready for the road.

Decorations – I have one rule about Christmas decorations in our house – we are having a real tree. There’s just something about the smell and the needles and even the event of going to pick out a tree. I love it. Depending on where you go and what type and size of tree you get, that amount alone can add up. Then you might find you need to replace one string of lights that are finally done for. But, unable to find matching lights (the unforeseen challenges of moving to LED), you now have to buy enough lights to completely redo your tree, house, or wherever else you are stringing them. If you get real crazy, you might even decorate thematically each year. But you can’t use the same theme as last year, so the bill keeps running up.

Entertainment – You would think that sitting around laughing at our family members (yes, I said ‘at’) would be enough to keep us entertained. Yet it seems we often need to find something more to hold our attention. It may be a family trip to the latest holiday movie, a Christmas concert, or a sporting event (as if the competitive eating of a family meal isn’t enough). Because they are often a last minute diversion, they can often be an unforseen budget buster for us.

To make a long blog short (aside from turning it into two posts), there are a lot of things, besides the gifts, on which we spend our money. If you represent this, it’s OK. We’ve all done it at some point or another. The best we can do is to learn from it, deal with it, and get better. But you have to start with awareness of reality.

If you are realizing you’ve already gotten yourself in a pickle or even want a little guidance making sure you don’t end up in that position, the Center for Financial Resources is here to help. Our counselors can help you work out a payment plan for existing debt or put together a budget to keep new debt down. Just click here or give us a call at 605-330-2700 to schedule an appointment. Hey, we really do love Christmas around here and won’t judge for how you’ve celebrated it in the past.

Christmas is coming. Be ready. Just don’t be putting your decorations out yet. IT’S NOT EVEN THANKSGIVING YET!!!

Check back next week for tips on Christmas budgeting and ‘the rest of the story’….

written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

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