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Our View: Bust your holiday gift-giving budget already?

From the editorial: "No matter how many mass-media messages make arguments to the contrary, you can't — cannot, no way no how, huh-uh — buy your way to the perfect Christmas morning."

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Dave Granlund / Cagle Cartoons
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So how did you do? Not that you can let down your guard now. On the heels of a four-day weekend filled with door-buster deals, early-bird specials, shop-local guilt, and Black Friday sales comes today's Cyber-Monday discounts. Which raises the question: How are you — and your pocketbook — faring so far this holiday season?

Why do so many of us cringe at such a question? And why do we spend, year after year, as though January's credit-card bills will never arrive, as though we're politicians in Washington? Are we really so gullible that we fall, en masse, for advertisers' tricks, for the myriad marketing ploys, and to the pressure of every movie and TV show that promises we can — and must — buy our way to the perfect Christmas morning?

Many of us simply can't afford it. But we shop to excess anyway, don't we?

In spite of record inflation this year, higher gas prices, and the cost of everything going up, the National Retail Federation forecasts holiday retail sales will grow 6% to 8% over last year, totaling as high as $960.4 billion. And that’s after last year’s $889.3 billion shattered previous records.

If it's not too late for you, the money experts from DebtHammer, U.S. News and World Report, and WalletHub have tips to help us financially survive the spendy days of Christmas.

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Create a realistic budget, the experts agree — and then really stick to it. Sounds simple, but how many of us actually write out the names of the people we want to buy for, how much we're willing to spend on each of them, and what we want to get? And then, if the grand total is more than can be afforded, how many of us actually make tough decisions?

Budget in hand, the experts suggest scouting for online coupon codes and for the best prices and deals.

Another tip is to check price-protection policies. They vary from store to store and site to site, and some don't offer refunds after a certain period of time, like 15 to 30 days.

If you're someone who can use credit cards responsibly, use them. Credit card companies often are good for warranties on purchases and offer protection against damaged and/or defective products. Some cards even offer cash back on purchases.

According to DebtHammer, which surveyed 1,100 Americans, half of us plan to take on short-term credit-card debt to finance our holidays this year. A third will carry that debt into 2023; 13% will use buy-now/pay-later plans; 8% will get payday loans or title loans; 7% will use personal loans; almost 9% will get an advance on their paycheck; and about 3% said they’ll skip other bills to spend more on the holidays.

Anyone considering such strategies for financing can remember: “Going into debt due to holiday spending has major drawbacks for your mental health,” as Maryam Kia-Keating, associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said in a statement from DebtHammer. “When people spend more than they have or go into debt, their stress multiplies. Financial stress often increases conflict in family relationships, because of the spending itself when partners don’t agree, or because of the sacrifices involved in trying to pay back the debt. Think carefully about the burdens of going into holiday debt, because they just might outweigh any possible benefits.”

“Most spending elicits two types of emotion: the joy/thrill as you spend and, often, the regret the day after that you have spent too much,” said Subimal Chatterjee, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, in a statement from WalletHub. “If you think that you are likely to overspend, train yourself to anticipate the day-after emotion today. … Anticipating that you will regret your purchases in the future just might do the trick.”

Finally, here's a reminder from a more-personal and spiritual place: Remember that no matter how many mass-media messages make arguments to the contrary, you can't — cannot, no way no how, huh-uh — buy your way to the perfect Christmas morning.

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“We often say this but never seem to practice it: It is the thought that counts,” Chatterjee further said. “So, you might have a friend who has been putting off work to be done at their house because time and/or money are tight. Just turn up one day, and say let’s get that done together. It can be as simple as mowing your friend’s lawn. … When you do the work yourself, you show your true love and appreciation.”

“If you have a skill such as baking, canning, pottery, painting, woodworking, or knitting, a gift you make for someone can have a special meaning,” John T. Bowen, professor emeritus at the University of Houston, said, also in a statement from WalletHub. For example, the scarf you gave as a gift will bring back memories of you each time the recipient of the gift wears it. A personalized gift you make can show more love and appreciation than a gift that you purchase.”

For those who celebrate it, the holiday is about so much more than gift-giving anyway and spending more than we have. That's something too often forgotten in the rush and the hurry and the glitz and the pressure-filled madness of the holidays.

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Related Topics: OUR VIEWCHRISTMASRETAIL
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