This is the time of year when there is a lot of social pressure pushing people towards overspending, contributing to already high credit card debt. It can be especially difficult for parents to resist the urge to overspend and to take on debt, as they reflect on their own childhoods. Some remember scarcity, and are determined that their children won’t feel the way they did. Others remember abundance and feel pressure to match that. Often, what parents and children perceive as the norm, as well as their basic desires, are shaped my the media and by the not so subtle cues of advertisers. Families, today more than ever, may be better served by getting back to basics when it comes to the holiday season. Before breaking the budget on holiday expenses, there are some things to consider.
What Is It You Are Hoping To Buy?
Before whipping out your credit card to pay for that pricey gift item, you may want to ask yourself just what it is you are hoping to buy. Often holiday spending is emotional spending, and not all of that emotion is positive. Many parents spend too much because they feel guilty about those 50 or 60 hours a week at the office or on the job. The number of times they’ve had to say “sorry, I’m too busy” to their children or the school plays, games and other functions they’ve missed weighs heavily on their minds.
Children are not the only ones that receive these sorts of guilt gifts, the ones that are motivated by that nagging feeling of trying to make up for something. Parents, other family members and friends receive them, too. And, the common theme is this: these gifts are a substitute for time. In essence, it is time – or what the spending of time expresses – that people are hoping to buy.
Perhaps, then, it may be better to give the credit card a rest and think about giving more in terms of what the person receiving the gift may really want. Why spend hundreds of dollars on video game equipment for a child to play with alone in his room, when a few board games and a promise to carve a few hours out of your schedule on a weekly basis would make the child much happier? Which would give your mother more pleasure — yet another piece of jewelry or object to collect dust or making the time to have lunch together twice a month?
Who Are You Buying It For?
Another consideration when thinking about adding to credit card debt during the holiday season has to do with for whom, really, are you making the purchase. The answer may not be as obvious as it seems in many cases. Often times, when parents overspend during the holiday season, they are remembering their own childhoods.
Parents who grew up poor recall feelings of want and are determined that their children will have all the things that they didn’t. With a bit of introspection, some may find that, in a sense, they are buying for that inner child deep inside, the one that still feels hurt by the past, rather than really being in tune with what their children actually need and want. Sometimes, too much can be just as bad as too little.
Other parents have a nostalgic vision of plenty in their background that they feel pressured to live up to and doing so is deeply entwined with their self-esteem. This can be especially painful for single parents, as often the vision they are trying to live up to was one created in a different era, when families were structured a bit differently than they commonly are today. Credit card debt can seem like the only way to make it happen.
Sometimes overspending is due to trying to impress, rather than really choosing a gift that will please the recipient. The gift becomes more a statement about the qualities of the giver or the impression of himself or herself that the giver wants to present. Again, in a way, the gift isn’t really being bought for someone else in these types of circumstances, but rather for oneself.
It may be better to get back to basics, and consider the meaning of the holiday season. In terms of giving, your budget may be a lot better off if you make sure that you are buying gifts for your loved ones and friends, rather than for yourself – in the sense of for your self-esteem – or due to pressure to live up to some nostalgic and often unrealistic standard, created in your memory or shaped by advertising and the media.
Holiday time is an emotional period for many. That is exactly why so many are vulnerable to taking on debt that they shouldn’t, as well as being victimized by loan scams designed to take advantage of the special vulnerabilities that the holiday season can bring about. Rather than running up excessive credit card debt or other high interest loans, spend a bit of time thinking about what you are giving and why. That will help you to keep your budget reasonable and will make your gift giving much more thoughtful.