Dear Ms. Vicki,
I was already spending money on Christmas presents in October. I remember when I was little girl, I used to think that Christmas would never come and now it’s like Christmas is year round.
This causes a problem for me because I love to shower my family and friends with gifts. Afterward, I feel bad because I buy things with my credit cards and spend extra money from my pay too.
I haven’t even paid off my credit cards from last year when I’m buying presents for everyone this year.
I have to buy a presents for the secretary and other civilians in my office, one for my commander and the sergeant major, my three sisters, my brother, my parents, my best friend and her children and other friends and my parents.
Last year, I put about $4,000 on my credit card and I don’t know how to avoid the same thing this year.
I get so nervous and anxious when I think about not being able to give gifts to the people I love, but I don’t want to face the consequences of more debt. What should I do?
Sincerely, The Gift Giver
In the last two weeks, I have received seven letters from people like you. They express anxiety, confusion and stress that is brought on by the holidays and the need to spend money unnecessarily.
I’m concerned about the way holiday spending is financially killing military families. Each year, there is a growing marketing effort to start holiday spending earlier and earlier.
Excessive spending has many military members and spouses depressed by mid-January when they realize they have racked up an insurmountable debt that they will have for years to come. Here are the four steps I see servicemembers like you take as they slide into a financial "death."
1. Financial Hemorrhage. You are bleeding financially. Overspending during the holidays causes a slow death because it causes physical and emotional problems. Headaches, stomach aches, intestinal problems, problems with your memory and even depression.
2. Financial Anemia. The extra spending is unnecessary, and it’s draining you. You are weak and your vision is blurred so much that you can’t make wise decisions about what to put in your shopping cart or what to finance on your credit card.
You are becoming weaker and weaker, and it’s hard for you to fight back. Instead, you buy everything. You say “yes” to every purchase, including the store incentives to accept their store credit card to receive and extra 10-15% off your purchase. You are going downhill fast.
3. Financial Coma. You are nonresponsive. By now, you have received your first credit card statements.You can’t believe how high the balance is. Being in a coma is just what you need because you can ignore everything in a deep sleep and hope that when you wake up, you will discover this was a bad dream.
4. Financial Life Support. This is the point at which you can change your ways. You don’t have to overspend during the holidays.Your life support could include budget counseling and financial counseling, individual counseling to help you learn about why you have the tendency to buy gifts for everyone.
For example, maybe you want to be liked or needed, or maybe you want to keep up with the Joneses. Either way, counseling will be to your benefit. Let yourself call a counselor. Because what you don’t want to end up with is:
Financial Death. Excessive spending can kill you in many areas of your life. Excess debt and a high debt to income ratio and a poor credit rating can cause you to miss promotions and certain assignments when you lose your security clearance.
Stress from excessive holiday spending is deadly because it can cause a litany of health problems. Bottom line, you cannot function with “bad stress.” Stress causes each one of these problems to compound the other. It causes problems like poor job performance, non-promotion, increased alcohol use, guilt, shame and embarrassment.
Military couples constantly tell me that financial problems caused the death of their relationship. Financial problems cause poor communication and frequent arguments. Frequent arguments lead to separations, and separations lead to divorce.
The holidays are meant to be the best of times when we gather together with family and friends and reflect on our accomplishments and struggles of the previous months in the year. It doesn’t have to be a time of anxiety and stress.
Make this the year that you stop slipping into a financial coma and start taking better care of yourself.
Sincerely, Ms. Vicki