Courts across the country report that more divorces are initiated in January than any other month. Based on my work with thousands of couples over the years, I believe that a leading contributor to the January breakups is the (largely avoidable) December spending binge.
There is an old saying that ‘When money is a problem, EVERYTHING is a problem’ — this is borne out by research. The American Psychological Association revealed that three-quarters of those surveyed, reported “high levels of stress over finances,” and nearly half of us suffer from a severe cash shortfall. Need more proof? A survey by the Federal Reserve concluded that 44% of Americans would not be able to put together $400 cash in an emergency.
If we don’t even have $400, how is it possible that the average shopper plans to spend roughly $1000 on gifts this holiday season*?? The answer, of course, is to whip out the credit cards.
This couldn’t be a bigger mistake. According to Nerdwallet, the average household credit card debt is $16,091, with an average interest rate of 18%, which means that you will be paying $1,292 per year to the folks at the credit card company. Not a good result!
Why do we do this? An army of brilliant advertisers is paid handsomely to flood the airwaves with images of luxury cars with big red ribbons, and beautiful smiling faces opening jewelry boxes. We are being manipulated into feeling like losers for not being able to afford these things! Rather than succumb to this manipulation, we can take steps to regain control over our holiday spending.
The first step is to recognize that your partner and other loved ones are likely feeling the same financial squeeze, and I promise that you will be a hero by suggesting a more responsible approach to gift giving. Three years ago, I asked my husband to agree to limit our spending on each other to less than $50. I thought this would be a great example of simplicity and moderation for our kids. This limitation has spurred creativity and enabled us to make significant holiday contributions to those in need. I can also report that this has made me much happier than dealing with yet more stuff! Last year, I initiated a similar “mutual gift-down compact” with my sister, Lorri. We now limit our gifts to a book that we think the other one would love, but wouldn’t necessarily choose (thank you for Clan of the Cave Bear!).
The bottom line is that we are doing no one any favors by giving gifts we can’t afford. By being honest, regaining control and tapping our creativity, we can enjoy the holidays without the relationship crippling post-holiday bills.
Ann Margaret Carrozza (@mylawyerann) is a renowned Asset Protection Attorney who served for 14 years as a New York State Assemblywoman. She is a TV legal contributor and the author of Love & Money, Protecting Yourself from Angry Exes, Wacky Relatives, Con Artists and Inner Demons.
* American Research Group 2017