And for you folks who may argue you’ve “saved” for the sales, my directive remains the same. If you are carrying credit card debt, you should still stay home. And, don’t shop online either. Your Christmas Club account money would be better used paying down your debt.
I recently issued this challenge to a group of couples in a class I teach about managing money in your marriage: If you have credit card debt, don’t spend anything for Christmas.
One wife gasped and clutched her heart. Her reactions caused lots of laughter.
But I was very serious.
I’m concerned about people’s debt load after reading the third-quarter report on household debt and credit by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data. The Fed reported that total household debt increased by $92 billion to $13.95 trillion.
The report also noted that delinquency rates grew in the third quarter, with 4.8 percent of outstanding debt in some stage of delinquency.
The Fed said of the $667 billion of debt that is delinquent, $424 billion is at least 90 days late, or “severely derogatory.” This includes debt that has been charged off but is still being sought by lenders.
Maybe you aren’t delinquent on your credit card bills, but you’re just making the minimum monthly payments. Or, perhaps you are making a dent in the debt; if so, good for you. However, you shouldn’t be holiday shopping until all the debt is gone.
A Bankrate.com survey found that 63 percent of U.S. adults say they have felt pressure to overspend on gifts or travel during this time of year. And when is the pressure felt the most?
You would be right if you guessed November, which is when the shopping guides, holiday commercials and sales go into overdrive to entice people to conspicuously consume. Throngs of people race to snatch discounted items on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which this year falls on Dec. 2.
A survey by CreditCards.com found that 61 percent of consumers who carry a credit card balance are willing to add to this debt for the holiday season. And millennials were more likely than older adults to justify adding to their debt because it’s the holidays.
If you want to get out of debt, continuing to use a credit card that has a balance you can’t pay off makes no sense. As the expression goes, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
“I was surprised at how many people are in denial regarding their debt,” said CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. “Credit cards typically charge anywhere from 17 to 25 percent. Would you make the same buying decisions if every item you bought cost 17 to 25 percent more? Because that’s essentially what you’re doing when you carry credit card debt.”
Sixty-five percent of cardholders with children under 18 are willing to accumulate credit card debt this holiday season, according to the CreditCards.com survey.
I understand that the holidays inspire generosity, or guilt buying. You don’t want to disappoint the people you love. But debt puts a drag on your budget. The credit card payments prevent you from building a sufficient emergency fund. Or, your retirement savings suffer.
Try something different this year. Don’t go shopping in an effort to please people who pretty much have everything they need.
Pass on holiday hosting if it means you’ll have to add to your credit card debt to entertain. In the Bankrate.com survey, 36 percent of the people who host holiday parties felt pressure to spend more than they intended.
Several years ago on Twitter someone started the hashtag “#BlackFridayIn3Words.” Here’s what some people wrote:
— “Jingle Bell Broke”
— “Crazy consumer consumption”
— “No more stuff”
— “American Shopping Olympics”
— “Spend less. Really.”
— “Watch that debt.”
“I don’t want to sound like Scrooge and tell people they can’t have any fun this holiday season or visit their family or give presents,” Rossman said. “But I do think you need to be smart about it. Everybody wants to have a great holiday season, and they should. But they don’t need to go into debt to do so. Too many people are financing gifts on expensive credit cards. This is especially common among parents, which I understand because holidays with kids are magical, but you still shouldn’t break your budget.”
I don’t mind playing the part of Scrooge or the Grinch, because both these stories ultimately show that it’s more about your loving presence than the presents.
So, despite the promises of deep discounts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, if you have a revolving credit card balance, stop making excuses. Resist the pressure to go holiday shopping. It’s not worth the debt.
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