Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

 

Now you may think I don’t have a dog in this hunt. Jewish gift giving is a fairly recent phenomenon. Then again, there are plenty of Jews who have put up Chanukah trees, too, and talk about Santa Claus coming to town. But I digress.

In my childhood family, gift-giving at Chanukah was very modest. The two years I remember most—one, I received a beautiful knit blouse with large pearl-like buttons. I wore it for years until it fell apart (or maybe I grew out of it). The other nights of Chanukah I received candy, a hairbrush, and other inexpensive treats. Another year my parents bought my brother and me a gift to share: a second-hand bicycle with training wheels. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. It never occurred to my parents to go into debt for gifts.

In these days, however, the rising credit card debt is worse than ever. Even with the recovering economy, people treat credit cards as cash. A Nerd Wallet study not only reported alarming credit card usage but compared this year’s results to last year’s, reporting that shoppers plan to:

  • Spend more. Holiday shoppers plan to spend $776 this holiday season, on average — $116 more than they planned to spend last year.

  • Charge more. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of shoppers plan to use a credit card this holiday season to pay for gifts, compared with 58% last year. And this year, those using a card estimate that they’ll charge $650, on average.

  • Take longer to pay it off. Holiday credit card users anticipate it will take them 3.2 months to pay off their holiday charges this year, on average. Those who used a credit card for their 2017 holiday shopping say it took 2.3 months, on average, to pay off those balances.

Some 2017 shoppers are still working on last year’s debt. About 39.4 million Americans are still paying off credit card balances amassed over the 2017 holiday season, according to NerdWallet’s analysis.

These results are concerning for a number of reasons. The obvious one is the crippling effect of debt on individuals and on the economy. If people are trying to pay off credit card debt, they are probably paying interest and fees to do so, so that charging that money has a high penalty for them to pay. But the reasons I find this debt especially disturbing is because of the cultural messages we see:

Our children expect to get gifts at Christmas. I understand that some families catch up with needed clothing and equipment, but parents could plan throughout the year to simply save up for what their kids need. If their budgets are very restricted, then make modest gift-buying plans.

We are reinforcing the sense of entitlement: It’s Christmas (or Chanukah) and you owe me gifts.

We overspend. Parents might complain that their kids want what the other kids are getting. So what? Are parents afraid they will be hated, be seen as “mean parents” because they can’t afford the gifts? Are parents embarrassed because they can’t keep up with the Joneses? Are they concerned with what other children will say to their kids or what their own adult friends will think of them?

We teach our kids that debt is normal. This factor is a big one because it discounts the importance of delayed gratification, saving, moderation, and coping with disappointment.

I could add more reasons for the problems with overspending, but I’d rather focus on alternatives.

Teach your kids about donating and volunteerism. Don’t just do these activities at holiday time, but all year round.

Show them a simple version of budgeting money. Make a game of their being an entrepreneur, selling products and services, and what the net result would be.

Create gifts with each other. If you like to knit, make slippers. If one family member is craftsy, ask him to make potholders. If one is an artist, use crayons or colored pens. If someone likes to write, suggest they write a story. Sometimes people think kids grow out of these activities. This kid made coupon books for cooking special meals, washing cars, shoulder rubs, and extra hugs–as an adult.

Talk about the story of your tradition. Relate that story to everyday life values: generosity, miracles, relationships, and simple gift giving.

If you are already doing these things, talk to your friends and neighbors. Let’s spread this cultural change, one person at a time when our hearts tend to be more open and our minds are receptive to new ideas.

Published in Culture
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  1. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Susan Quinn: Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

    Yes. Next question?

    /I keed, I keed…

    • #1
  2. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    I am wondering how many people are financially illiterate? Public education at the macro level is one of the most financially irresponsible institutions around. Don’t get me started on the value proposition. Not of actual education, but of the “credentializing” to which the system has devolved. So how will that system produce people who know how to make and live within a budget?

    • #2
  3. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    Yes!

    I’m old, I’ll probably die before I pay all this stuff off.  So what, it’s all about my enjoyment and I enjoy stuff.

    • #3
  4. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Susan Quinn: gift-giving at Chanukah

    I’m pretty sure this should be “Hanukkah” Susan…..your welcome!  :)

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

    Yes. Next question?

    /I keed, I keed…

    You about gave me a heart attack for one second, WC! Sheesh.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

    Yes. Next question?

    /I keed, I keed…

     We haven’t done Christmas gifts for quite a few years now. If we had grandchildren or still had small children at home we certainly would. Instead we just relax and enjoy. When we did have children at home we never went into debt at the holidays, at least not for gifts.  

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Robert E. Lee (View Comment):

    Yes!

    I’m old, I’ll probably die before I pay all this stuff off. So what, it’s all about my enjoyment and I enjoy stuff.

    There’s help for this condition, @robertelee! Plus

    Concretevol (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: gift-giving at Chanukah

    I’m pretty sure this should be “Hanukkah” Susan…..your welcome! :)

    . . . Don’t forget Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hanuka, Chanuka . . .  ;-)
    , you’re not that old! 

    • #7
  8. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    Susan Quinn: Now you may think I don’t have a dog in this hunt.

    Well if it’s a Canaan dog…

    Seriously, my mother started a tradition between the siblings that I have caused to be extended to my children and grandchildren – drawing names.  For young people just starting out and not related to Rockefeller it is a blessing. 

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

    Yes. Next question?

    /I keed, I keed…

    We haven’t done Christmas gifts for quite a few years now. If we had grandchildren or still had small children at home we certainly would. Instead we just relax and enjoy. When we did have children at home we never went into debt at the holidays, at least not for gifts.

    We just relax, too. There’s no beating our brains trying to figure out what to buy. 

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Now you may think I don’t have a dog in this hunt.

    Well if it’s a Canaan dog…

    Seriously, my mother started a tradition between the siblings that I have caused to be extended to my children and grandchildren – drawing names. For young people just starting out and not related to Rockefeller it is a blessing.

    LOL! And I love your solution, @chuckles

    • #10
  11. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Thank you for this post, Susan. My family stopped exchanging gifts when my brother and sister got out on their own. They didn’t have the money to spend and we didn’t need anything. Now that there are only 4 grandkids, we just get the kids stuff but still just a present or two. It’s not like your example of getting the shirt and wearing it till it falls apart (I can relate). Most kids get stuff all year long. On my husband’s side, we are the resident grinches. They go all out for Christmas. We don’t participate in the present giving, but boy do they. I dare say it takes them til May to pay it all off. There is a new in-law now and she feels as we do. She finally got them to agree to draw names, but the concession came with a dollar amount mandate. 

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Blondie (View Comment):
    She finally got them to agree to draw names, but the concession came with a dollar amount mandate. 

    Thanks for sharing, @blondie. And good for the new in-law. I lost a friendship over this kind of issue. A couple we knew who had one daughter started a gift exchange thing with us. They never consulted us about the parameters, so we felt compelled to participate. (This was a LONG time ago.) Anyway, we decided it made no sense; they gave us gifts we had no interest in and never used. Yes, I know it’s the intent that counts, but this was getting kind of silly. So I said we’d prefer to stop the exchange, but would like to continue giving something to their little daughter (like a couple of books). My friend was furious–I had made the decision before I consulted them. (Even if I’d asked them to change the parameters, someone would have been upset.) She said fine, only we didn’t have to give their daughter anything either. Oops. We stayed marginally in touch for a while, then drifted apart.

    • #12
  13. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    South Park told the truth about most people’s views on Christmas long ago:

    It’s about presents.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    South Park told the truth about most people’s views on Christmas long ago:

    It’s about presents.

    So sad. One year we badgered my parents into getting a Christmas tree. I remember getting one present under the tree: a doll. I’d never played with dolls, didn’t play with that doll or any doll afterward. We celebrated Chanukah that year, too, similar to what I described earlier; unfortunately its true meaning wasn’t discussed. My mom, bless her heart, said we had to make a choice–we could have a tree or celebrate Chanukah. We chose Chanukah–eight days and all that.

    I’d like to think I’ve grown a bit since then. I think, too, that such an important Christian holiday as Christmas has become so secularized. I know, though, that lots of people on Ricochet, Jewish and Christian, have not lost touch with the meaning of these holidays. Thanks, @amyschley.

    • #14
  15. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    I deal with it by making a clear distinction between Christmas — a celebration of God  becoming man for the salvation of the world — and “Santamas” — a celebration that resembles nothing so much as a pagan festival of the ancient world. 

    There’s the multiple versions of his origin story. The proscribed offerings. The prayers of supplication. The shrines where one can go to meet the “divine.” The omniscience that allows for divine judgment. The rewarding of the good and the punishment of the evil. The yearly procession. And of course, the priests who know that Santa doesn’t do anything any more than the cult statue of Isis could dress herself. 

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Amy Schley (View Comment):

    I deal with it by making a clear distinction between Christmas — a celebration of God becoming man for the salvation of the world — and “Santamas” — a celebration that resembles nothing so much as a pagan festival of the ancient world.

    There’s the multiple versions of his origin story. The proscribed offerings. The prayers of supplication. The shrines where one can go to meet the “divine.” The omniscience that allows for divine judgment. The rewarding of the good and the punishment of the evil. The yearly procession. And of course, the priests who know that Santa doesn’t do anything any more than the cult statue of Isis could dress herself.

    Well done, well said.

    • #16
  17. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    One reason we suggested to stop the gift exchange was people were just giving gift cards. We don’t live that close to each other to know what people have, don’t have, or need thus the gift cards. I pointed out all we were doing was exchanging the same $20 (or whatever the amount). Seemed silly. 

    • #17
  18. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    We set a policy for our family of never borrowing for consumables of any kind . We never even borrowed for furniture and only for the first two or three vehicles, waiting to save up to buy .  By saving the high cost of renting money we were able to live better in the long run while raising 4 kids on a single income. We’re dinasours I know. We had good times even so .

    • #18
  19. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Nothing new under the sun:

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    We set a policy for our family of never borrowing for consumables of any kind . We never even borrowed for furniture and only for the first two or three vehicles, waiting to save up to buy . By saving the high cost of renting money we were able to live better in the long run while raising 4 kids on a single income. We’re dinasours I know. We had good times even so .

    You’re also very wise. 

    • #20
  21. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Blondie (View Comment):

    One reason we suggested to stop the gift exchange was people were just giving gift cards. We don’t live that close to each other to know what people have, don’t have, or need thus the gift cards. I pointed out all we were doing was exchanging the same $20 (or whatever the amount). Seemed silly.

    About 20+ years ago I persuaded my family to stop with the Christmas gift-giving.  I don’t think I’ve ever given my brother a gift he liked.  So after a year or two of exchanging gift cards I pleaded for a stop to it.  I’ve never regretted it.  Luckily, I married a woman who feels the same.

    On rare occasions I may buy someone a present – at any time of the year – just because it’s something unusual that someone would like, such as a bottle of something that is not sold back home.  But having an obligation to buy presents for several people by a certain deadline – I’m out.

    • #21
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