Once again, the holiday season is upon us. The mad rush in search of gifts for our friends and loved ones begins. Whether you're a couch shopper making good use of your Amazon Prime membership, or an old-school shopper that instead prefers to take a trip to the JC Penney at the mall, the holidays can be quite a stressful time. I find that some of this stress is usually linked to the debt we incur during this period. Surely, there should be better ways to show our affection to the people we love without having it take a toll on us or our finances.
Racking up debt (akin to stealing because it's not your money) is not the smartest way to go. Of course, if you can afford it, go ahead and spend that money. But if we're being honest, that's not the majority of us.
The average American has a credit card balance of $6,375, up nearly 3 percent from last year, according to Experian's annual study on the state of credit and debt in America. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. Maybe, living in a country where debt is somewhat encouraged has almost normalized this trend. Even the most influential and most powerful country in the world has debts in the trillions of dollars (and it keeps going up!). The average American needs to find ways to buck this trend of debt.
I've thought of some responsible ways each of us can make the holidays a wee bit less stressful on us and our pockets
Make your own gift - There's nothing much more affectionate than a handmade gift. It shows that you had the time actually to think about what you were making for this person. In contrast, gift card shoppers are the laziest kind of shoppers. I find that every time I've bought a gift card for someone, it's almost always because I didn't know them too well to know what they liked or it was simply just more convenient to pick out an Applebee's gift card at the checkout counter while I was grocery shopping. Handmade gifts tend to be less expensive. For example, instead of buying a fruit/gift basket from one of those 1-800 companies, you can make your own. A quick trip to the Dollar Tree (for shrink wrap, basket, ribbon) and your local grocery store (for fruit, chocolate, cookie) might cost you at most $30. Compare that to the $100 you'll spend buying from the 1-800 company plus delivery.
Host a brunch or dinner party - Let's not go crazy here. No need for fine wines or expensive alcohol. This is actually a brilliant idea because you're killing SEVERAL birds with one stone. You can invite all your friends and loved ones to a holiday brunch or dinner at your house. DO NOT CATER. If you don't cook, you might need to enlist the help of a friend or family member or this option might not work for you. Remember, the idea here is to save money. Even if the entire grocery bill for dinner with 20 guests is $300, that's awesome. Better than spending $50 on gifts for each of them, which will have set you back $1,000 ($50x20).
Secret Santa - This is a tried and tested way to save money during the holidays, especially if you have a big family. My family has done this for several years, and it works perfectly for all of us. The basic concept of the Secret Santa game is simple. All of the participants' names are placed into a hat, box, etc. and mixed up. Each person then chooses one name from the box but doesn't tell anyone which name was picked. He/she is now responsible for buying a gift for the person selected. The game can be modified from family to family. Some families set spending limits, to prevent people from buying gag gifts while other make an actual game out of it. In one version of the game, all gifts are placed in one area and participants' are given numbers. The order in which each person picks a gift corresponds with the number they picked. In the past, I've received things like blankets and candle-holders, which I actually use in my home now.
Bottom line is, creativity is essential here. Don't rush to spend money you don't have. You're digging yourself a hole you may not be able to climb out of. And when those bills start coming in January, don't be mad at anyone else, be mad at yourself.