Once again, it’s the time of year when pressure on consumers to do their part to boost the engine of our economy begins to build. The “official” start of the holiday shopping season, November 27 (also known as Black Friday—so named because the spending beginning that weekend is expected to bring retailers from being in the red to being in the black, i.e., into profitability for the year), is just over a week away. Little boys and girls are not the only ones anxiously waiting to see what goodies the holidays will bring. Major retailers and other companies large and small are counting on all of us to make like Santa and fill up our sleighs—make that shopping carts—with toys, games, electronics, clothes and all manner of consumer goods. And let’s be honest; we can’t blame it all on retailers and our pleading, whining kids. Many of us can’t wait to shop, especially after holding back on our consumer urges for most of the past year. In fact, some of y’all are addicted to shopping—and you need a fix. You need it bad.
That’s why I’m here to inject you, with the help of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), with a dose of Scrooge to help counter the Santa adreneline pumping through your brain and clouding your financial judgment. My message: Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.
That message is also being sent this week by the NFCC, which offers some sobering reminders in anticipation of Black Friday being just around the corner: “One in every 10 Americans is currently unemployed. Foreclosure filings were reported on close to one million properties in the third quarter of 2009. Personal savings, if it exists at all, is a fraction of what it should be. Terms on credit cards are rapidly changing, putting some consumers over the financial edge.”
“Considering the volatility of the economy, consumers would be well-served to take a hard look at their personal financial situation and evaluate how to best approach the holiday season,” says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “Self-inflicted financial pain that could have negative consequences for years to come is a gift to no one.”
The NFCC suggests that consumers take the following Holiday Spending Quiz to assess their current financial stability before they begin shopping: (answer true or false)
• There are arguments in my home about money.
• I sometimes hide my purchases.
• I have thought about filing for bankruptcy.
• I struggle to make my mortgage payment.
• I sometimes pay my bills late.
• I have used more than 30 percent of my available credit lines.
• My debt interferes with my sleep, job or home life.
• I have little or no savings.
• I am receiving collection calls or notices.
• If I lost my job, it would mean an immediate financial crisis in my life.
The NFCC says that if you answer “True” to at least two of the above questions, you should not be embarking on a holiday shopping spree. (I don’t know about you, but I got to two “True” answers within the first five questions. As soon as I post this blog, I will be immediately forwarding it to my friends and family members, and posting it on my Facebook page for good measure, so they don’t act all shocked on Christmas morning.)
“The NFCC supports financial responsibility, regardless of the season,” Cunningham asserts. “With the ghosts of Christmas past still lingering on many credit cards, piling new debt on top of old cannot be considered responsible by any measure. With any sacrifice comes reward, and the benefits of not having a mailbox full of bills in January will likely outweigh any lifestyle spending adjustments consumers make during the holidays.”
In short, the price you pay for a Very, Merry Christmas would be anything but a Happy New Year.
Read my blog post from this time last year, You Don’t Have to Cancel Christmas, But…, for an approach to holiday spending that will help you to avoid making your financial situation any worse than it already is. For other ideas on how to deal with holiday spending on a limited budget, reach out for help to an NFCC Member Agency. To find the one closest to you, call toll free (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org. For assistance in Spanish, dial (800) 682-9832.
Alfred Edmond Jr. is the editor-in-chief of BlackEnterprise.com