Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa (or any combination of these or less well-known traditions), the holidays are all about the spirit of giving. But because it’s largely a commercial holiday (hence, our frenzied focus on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday), it is also about spending money. However, the holidays are no excuse for wrecking your finances with irresponsible spending.
Here are some reminders to avoid holiday spending choices that detract from the true spirit of the season:
The holiday spirit is never about spending more than you can afford on a gift. Being overly generous when money is tight does nothing good for the giver or the receiver.
Giving is not about being pretentious. Honesty, including financially honesty, is key to any authentic giving. Don’t pretend to have money you don’t have by playing the big spender.
Do not use guilt, “love,” envy, shame or depression to justify irresponsible spending. Even though emotional spending can give a temporary high (or in Christmas parlance, lift your spirits), it will also lead to guilt, buyer’s remorse, and even resentment. These are hardly the emotions you want to be carrying with you into the new year.
The holiday spirit is not about giving gifts designed to impress others. And to parents, overspending is not the way to try to compensate your kids for the ways you feel you’re falling short (see reference to guilty giving in the previous reminder), or for what you missed out on in childhood.
The thought—not the price tag—is what should really count. From the time I was about 7 years old until I was into my late teens, my favorite Christmas gift was one I could count on receiving from at least one member of my family every year: a water-color paint set. (For those who do not know, my degree from Rutgers University is in studio art.) My brother, who like me is in his early 50s, still looks forward to getting model car kits for Christmas, as well as birthdays. (When he was a younger man, a new soccer ball thrilled him just as much.) The most meaningful gift does not have to cost an arm and a leg. And an expensive gift without meaning will be soon forgotten, as well as a waste of money.
The bottom line: Spending irresponsibly should never be a holiday tradition. It’s okay to believe in Santa Claus, as long as you never forget that he won’t be paying your bills. Shop with a budget and a list, and remember that the true meaning of the Holiday Season is about far more than just spending money.