By G. Anthonie Riis
Special to GUIDON
How often has your merry Christmas turned into a nightmare after Christmas as the credit card bills start arriving?
According to a recent survey by NerdWallet — a personal finance company cited by publications such as Forbes and the Associated Press — 35 percent of 2018 holiday shoppers who accrued debt are still paying off last year’s Christmas gifts.
What’s worse, they still anticipate a six percent jump in spending this season despite that.
Sadly, some in the first group will be among those in the second group, and the trend will cost them even more next year.
The staggering debt many people accrue during the Christmas season often ushers New Year’s resolutions of “Never again!”
Let’s hope it’s a resolution they will keep.
In the meantime, one of the most effective ways to get out of debt is not to acquire any new debts until you’ve paid off your old ones. That’s what my family resolved to do about five years ago.
We first examined how much we could realistically afford to spend for Christmas — and doggedly stuck to the budget.
We then learned that we had to say “No” to spending any money outside the nucleus of our immediate family. This was hard to do, but it also gave other cash-strapped extended family members permission to do the same and reduce their debts.
Third, we decided to take our focus off of gifts and gimmicks and make the holiday about religion and family.
We did this by researching traditions that celebrated Advent or played to our quirky family rituals, like lighting candles and singing Christmas carols together.
Fourth, and probably most important, we adopted the four-gift rule. The rule, which we first heard on a radio broadcast, comes with a clever mnemonic device that is hard to forget: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.”
There is a new twist to the rule trending on the internet that we plan to incorporate into our gift-giving this year: “Something to share.”
Sharing is always a good thing for siblings to practice at Christmas — or parents, for that matter.
The four-gift rule not only has saved us money, it also has helped us qualify our gifts with thought and purpose, helping us stop mindless quantifying just to put more packages under a tree.
Probably the best thing it helped us to do was exhale.
No stress, no mess. We asked each child for the specifics, bought them and we were finished.
And de-stressing turned out to be the best gift I could have given myself and my wife.
My children have learned that the Christmas holiday is not about getting gifts, but about family traditions and celebrating the religious aspect of the holiday.
There were no complaints, because the money left over funded a trip to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
The annual gift-giving rule and subsequent trips (it will probably be to DollyWood this Christmas since we moved to Kentucky) have become new family traditions.
As well, we’ve determined to put away a set amount of money each month to diffuse the cost for next Christmas
It is easily figured by totaling last year’s Christmas costs and dividing that number by 12.
Even if you don’t reach your total, expenses are greatly reduced this way.
There are other plans to help you get out of Christmas debt and stay that way, but any plan worth trying will require determination and discipline to enter 2020 without 2019 Christmas shopping debt.
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2018 on Army.mil by G. Anthonie Riis, who is with the Fort Knox News out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. The article has been updated to reflect more recent holiday shopping debt data.)