Like most families struggling to climb the never-ending series of financial peaks along life’s path, we are in a constant state of semi-panic.
Mortgages, car loans, school tuition, music lessons, credit card payments, repair bills, sports fees, application fees, grocery bills, insurance bills, and all the other costs that encumber the typical middle-income family, can pile up into a seemingly overwhelming mountain of expenses.
We trudge up that treacherous peak, wondering if we’ll ever get out of debt, save enough for college, and make it to retirement. We keep at it, hoping that one day, we’ll reach the summit and plant a flag signaling that our personal financial goals have been achieved. And it’ll be all downhill from there.
In the meantime, we keep climbing from one tiny crumbling precarious ledge to the next, in a continuing struggle to balance our income and expenses. And just when we think we’ve found a foothold, something comes along and knocks us into another crevasse of debt.
No, it’s not a polar bear, a mountain goat, or the Abominable Snowman — it’s the Holiday Shopping Season and there’s nothing more dangerous to our financial security this time of year.
“Now, kids, your father and I are not going to buy a lot of Christmas presents this year,” I’ve told our children on numerous occasions, and despite their “we’ve heard this before” eye-rolling, I’ve sincerely meant it every time.
The problem is: once I get out there in that frenzy of holiday shoppers, I lose my way. Despite careful budgeting and planning, I am bombarded by a blizzard of twinkle lights, eye-catching displays, irresistible special pricing, fuzzy slippers, cheese log samples, ingenious gadgets, two-for-one deals, and unsolicited perfume spritzes.
I’m not an experienced shopper, so like the preacher’s daughter at the frat party, I sometimes don’t know when to stop.
One minute, I show up at the mall armed with a budgeted list of specific items and a plan to be home before dinner. The, next thing I know, I’ve overdosed on department store fragrances and Harry & David samples. My husband and kids have called numerous times, wondering why I haven’t come home yet. My minivan is stuffed with shopping bags full of items, half of which I bought for myself.
Woozy and confused, I chew the remnants of peppermint bark a vaguely recall buying from a female elf at Macy’s, make the humiliating “drive of shame” back home, and wonder when the avalanche of credit card bills will start rolling in.
What happened? Will I ever learn financial self-control and stay on course? Or will I always be blinded by the blizzard of holiday shopping temptations and go adrift?
With three teenagers in the house and college tuition bills looming in our future, I’m making a pledge to stay on course this year: I WILL NOT try on boots, agree to a free exfoliating hand massage, sample gourmet mustards, or inhale even the tiniest whiff in the perfume department. I WILL stick to my list, pay in cash, avoid anyone dressed up like an elf, and save a few dollars left for the Salvation Army bucket.
I may not have Rudolph to guide me, but there’s no need to cancel Christmas. This misfit shopper will make it through the holiday spending blizzard of 2013, and live to tell the story.