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Feeling Fantastic About Your Frugal Festivities

Christmas is almost upon us, with all the expectations that brings. (Actually, in my book, Christmas Eve is Christmas too.) Those expectations can be good—spending time with family, celebrating a pivotal moment in Christian history, showing people that we love them, and giving.

Giving in its uncoerced form is certainly a virtue. At Christmas, however, certain expectations build up about giving and spending which put many loving parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents (or friends) into debt.

And when you make the decision to have a frugal Christmas, it’s hard not to feel the pressure of society bearing down, even if your friends and relatives say they understand and are ok with the idea. (I’m sure it’s much harder when they don’t understand.)

On yesterday eve (Christmas Eve eve), CNN Money released a report that Americans’ credit card default and delinquent levels are rising steadily.

From the report (italics mine):

…defaults — when lenders essentially give up hope of ever being repaid and write off the debt — rose 18 percent to almost $961 million in October, according to filings made by the trusts with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Serious delinquencies also are up sharply: Some of the nation’s biggest lenders — including Advanta, GE Money Bank and HSBC — reported increases of 50 percent or more in the value of accounts that were at least 90 days delinquent when compared with the same period a year ago.

Rising by 18%? By 50% or more? Those are very scary numbers.

So if, as you look around this Christmas (or other holiday you celebrate) you find yourself thinking “I probably could have bought more or better,” remind yourself that your decision has made life better (or at least not worse) for those around you.

Your kids will be much happier on the grand scale if your family doesn’t have to worry about grocery shopping or living comfortably throughout the year compared to any disappointment they may feel in not receiving expensive gifts. Focus on them and on creating/living family traditions.

Not going into debt for Christmas doesn’t make you Scrooge—it may mean you’re Mr. Cratchit. There’s no shame in that…if you can’t afford it, it’s better to admit it upfront than get yourself in more trouble.

And if you did get into debt this Christmas, there are ways out–debt snowballs, frugal living, and most importantly finding creative inexpensive ways to celebrate and love your family and friends.

You were frugal this Christmas? Fantastic—go have fun!

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The Honest Dollar | In Defense of Personal Finance Bloggers
January 4, 2008 at 9:08 pm


Aaron Stroud December 24, 2007 at 5:59 am

One simple way to avoid disappointing your kids is to have a set amount you spend on each. When you stick to this amount, there is no room for disappointment because your kids knew in advance how much would be spent on them.

Growing up, I often requested the full amount in cash so I could buy something more expensive. Although my mother would prefer to pick out gifts, they’d usually give me the cash, but my mom would still pick out some very inexpensive trinkets to include with the money.

mrsmicah December 24, 2007 at 10:31 am

My parents did something like that, but they didn’t tell us the set amount. We just knew that if we asked for something expensive, it had to be within that general price range or we wouldn’t get it. (something around $100-125…they were generous). Plus a few stocking stuffers and candy.

Wooly Woman December 24, 2007 at 12:21 pm

Christmas is not worth getting into debt for, but I see the pressure that is put on us starting right after Hallowe’en. This year though I was happy to see some talk on tv, usually news shows, about spending less, or giving to charities instead of buying gifts. I hope this trend continues so people can make smart decisions about their spending all year round.

Fiscal Musings December 24, 2007 at 2:01 pm

It’s one thing to go into debt yourself, but quite another to go into debt for someone else. While I think giving is great, making sure some kid has the latest gaming system isn’t high on my list. There are plenty of more meaningful ways to give that don’t cost nearly as much.

Brooke December 24, 2007 at 2:18 pm

I totally feel like Scrooge this year because my family expects me to drive and/or fly halfway across the country to visit with them. And still buy presents. I bought the presents, with free shipping online, but I still feel a bit detached from it all. I don’t think it can be the same as when you’re a kid. The magic is different, but we all spend the money to try to make it the same as when we were kids. We get too caught up in it, then hungover after New Year’s when we realize how much we actually wasted.

Fabulously Broke December 24, 2007 at 2:35 pm

I totally agree. I’d rather have a whole bunch of friends over, watching TV, cooking up a storm and having a good time rather than doing the huge present thing.

I am NOT a fan of the present giving thing. It just makes people spend more.

RacerX December 24, 2007 at 3:35 pm

For the first time ever, we have stayed to our Christmas budget by going all cash. It will make tomorrow easier to enjoy to know that we won’t be paying for those gift for the next 4 years!

@Fab Broke-Cooking up a storm and having friends over IS a gift! Just one that we sometimes forget to value!

Christine December 24, 2007 at 7:02 pm

You get alliteration points for that title.

Also, this post reminded me of something I saw on one lady’s blog a long time ago: Christmas for $100.

Here’s the relevant post:

Andrew Stevens December 24, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Steven Landsburg, an economist, wrote a great article for Slate recently which every personal finance blogger should read. It’s called What I Love About Scrooge.

My mother-in-law, who recently got a new job where she gets paid quite a bit more than she ever has been before, just gave my wife (and me, to some extent) something like $300 in gifts this Christmas. It’s really quite frustrating to me since her net worth is considerably lower than ours, despite her being more than 20 years older. I have fortunately convinced everybody in my family to not give us gifts, but I’ve had no luck so far with my wife’s parents.

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