Credit card debt: downside to holiday shopping season

The holiday gift buying season is almost over, and for many it becomes a major expense that’s reflected in monthly credit card bills.

Stores have countless assortments of expensive items. It’s hard sometimes to find a meaningful gift for less then $20. It takes imagination.

It’s hard to be critical of gift buying. For one thing, it’s a major factor in the economy. When people spend, it generates money for employee wages and for potential reinvestment in businesses.

Gift buying is also a way to show appreciation for special people in our lives. It’s fun to try to find good, interesting gifts that they’ll like.

It’s tempting to go all out, to go above and beyond in the quest for special gifts. There’s a need, however, to set some appropriate limits.

We live in an age when many people live from paycheck to paycheck. When they get paid, they have to make payments on many different bills. There’s housing, cars, computers, cable, phone, utilities, credit cards and often more than that.

Many people don’t save. They might own a lot of things, but practically nothing is fully paid. It’s a subject that’s not talked about all that much in the news. Instead money management is just regarded as a personal choice in a free society.

It’s almost always expected that a young person will go into debt to pay for a college education. He or she will then most likely want to invest in a house before the student loan is paid off.

Everyone dreams of saving up for a comfortable retirement, but it’s getting harder to start the saving process at a young age. The cost of living is considerable. Even someone who economizes has certain fixed expenses that can’t be avoided.

I’m not sure what we as a society can do to change that. One possibility would be reform in the process of financing a college education. Costs should be contained, even if it means limiting the amount of new facilities or new computers.

Another avenue could be reform in the mortgage system, particularly the possibility for requiring more as a down payment. If mortgage loans become harder to get, prices are more likely to only go up slowly and maybe not at all.

The key to everything is sustainability. Whatever decisions we make about money have to result in a manageable path toward future financial security. Nobody can borrow their way out of debt.

Reform in college costs or housing isn’t likely to happen instantly. There are many powers that be in society which benefit from having those systems stay in their current form.

Instead people can only control more minor decisions like gift buying. We don’t have to gravitate toward the most popular, name brand expensive options. We can look more closely, seek out the true bargains.

The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” gets used often. In the busy 21st century shopping process, we might wonder if it’s actually true.

I think it’s still true. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. Sometimes even an item that only costs several dollars can become a perfect gift for relatives or friends.

Part of the fun of shopping is choosing the right opportunities. It’s an adventure. You never know what you might find.

Often I’ll start out thinking I want something in particular for someone but then end up buying an item that’s totally different. It’s okay to do that. It’s good to be creative.

It’s nice later when you can open a January credit card bill and find that it’s not as high as you anticipated. That shows a successful balance. It’s satisfying to give good gifts and then still come out ahead.

I have a Christmas DVD set which includes old mid 20th century television shows. They really did a great job in those days of showing the real meaning of the Christmas season. We can still accomplish that. It’s still the thought that counts.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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