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Fight Debt, Give a Gift You Cherish

Modified Forever 21 T-Shirt

I love reading Boston College’s Squared Away blog and a recent story about consumers who haven’t paid off LAST year’s Christmas (2011) grabbed my attention.

Squared Away cites a Consumer Reports’ study that “13 percent of Americans are still paying off credit cards that they ran up to buy 2011’s holiday gifts.”

My guess is the number is even higher – when I help individuals and families create household budgets, they confess to me they don’t have a clue how much they spend on gifts for the holidays and birthdays. If you don’t know how much you spend on gifts, then it’s impossible to determine whether the amount has been paid off.

Debt brings anxiety and stress into a home. Who wants that? If you don’t have money to allocate for gifts, I encourage you to think of alternatives. A card with a caring, personalized note. Or a treasured item shared with another.

My favorite gift is a family item passed down to another family member where you’ve written down the history and the meaning of the gift. This type of giving sidesteps the dysfunction connected to the inheriting of precious items in many families. The gift is successful on two levels: a cherished family item is passed to the next caretaker and you share a moment talking about something special with another person.

This type of gift is also good for a budget! If your money is already allocated to important areas in your budget, or you’re working hard to achieve this goal, give yourself a break and don’t buy that gift. Instead, take the chance and simplify your gift giving by giving only a thoughtful card or something of your shared history.

I’ve done this and given photos and letters back to the ones who sent it to me. The most surprising part is sometimes a person doesn’t have anything from their past and they wish they did. This type of gift can help bridge that type of emotional hole.

The point of holidays and birthdays isn’t about gifts, it’s about affirming, renewing, and continuing connections with treasured friends and loved ones. Fight the urge to just give “stuff.”

Wishing you the best,

PS: The shirt above is a Forever 21 shirt from a couple of years ago. With our line of work and what we’ve seen, the message made us groan. MaryAnne and I bought two and modified them to reflect our true feelings. I haven’t worn it outside, but maybe I will one day.