December 25, 2013

By Margaret H. Johnson

It’s Christmastime in the city when we start seeing and hearing much more than little green elves and jolly jingling bellies dressed in red suits. This is a time for both reflection and prediction. We look back and say to ourselves, “Was it a good or a bad year?”

 

The most forgiving or unforgiving yardstick of measurement is not our height or weight, but rather, our bank account. Did we make more money last year? Did we buy a house? Did we get that new car?

The good news for many is this. We still have time to dig out a happy answer to some of these questions before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s eve. Yes. Optimism, good cheer, glad tidings and hope fill the air with the belief we can change our past and fulfill our future now. Don’t wait any longer. Rush out to the malls. Fill your shopping carts with all those things you want (and have not had all year) and your children and family want (and have not had all year.) Yesssss. Let’s make it right now. Christmas is no time to hesitate. Let’s fix up the disappointments, the missed school activities for our children, the appreciation we have for friends and families – by, buying and giving – things and stuff.

Our love is actually measured at Christmastime in height and weight just like the size of our bank accounts – how big is the gift? Big plastic trucks, big dolls, and, the best gift to receive of all has a big price tag. Yay.

This kind of thinking masks a nagging sense of desperation in a society deeply in debt and worried about their future. We must deliver the goods at Christmas because, well, we are Santa. Without us, there is no Christmas. So many of us lay down our defenses, push our family budgets aside, hold our noses and go crazy with a shopping frenzy that attempts to prove our worth – to ourselves and our families. We are trying to prove we are not poor, we are not bad money managers and we love our families. Nobody wants to attract the label of Scrooge. This is the time to be generous.

The retailers desperately depend on Christmas for a profit, so the pressure is on to sell us everything in sight, and for us to give (buy), give (buy) give (buy). You won’t see too many credit counsellors or bankruptcy trustees warning anybody about financial restraint right now, especially about going into debt. The banks and the retailers would be furious. No. Back off with any negative messages about buying and borrowing. Instead, we receive reflections about how well or poor the economy has been over the last twelve months - and predictions about the future. Be quiet about Christmas shopping.  

So you can see the conundrum. Christmas is a positive time of generosity, not one of negative restraint. The $514 billion outstanding in Canada in consumer credit (excluding mortgages) as reported December 13 by the Bank of Canada is a silent reminder that many if not most middle and lower income families carry significant debt loads. A Globe and Mail article published December 16th reports that most Canadians say they are no better off financially in 2013. How could they as we owe $5 billion more today than we did a year ago.

And, simmering beneath the surface of the family budget, is a huge worry that interest rate hikes could destroy or seriously damage their fragile financial worlds.

So, the best thing to do is develop a plan to reduce and eventually get out of debt. It begins now, before Christmas, not after. Let’s give our hearts and time to our loved ones this year and use material things as a token of our love – not a substitute for it.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

It’s Christmastime in the city when we start seeing and hearing much more than little green elves and jolly jingling bellies dressed in red suits. This is a time for both reflection and prediction. We look back and say to ourselves, “Was it a good or a bad year?”

The most forgiving or unforgiving yardstick of measurement is not our height or weight, but rather, our bank account. Did we make more money last year? Did we buy a house? Did we get that new car?

The good news for many is this. We still have time to dig out a happy answer to some of these questions before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s eve. Yes. Optimism, good cheer, glad tidings and hope fill the air with the belief we can change our past and fulfill our future now. Don’t wait any longer. Rush out to the malls. Fill your shopping carts with all those things you want (and have not had all year) and your children and family want (and have not had all year.) Yesssss. Let’s make it right now. Christmas is no time to hesitate. Let’s fix up the disappointments, the missed school activities for our children, the appreciation we have for friends and families – by, buying and giving – things and stuff.

Our love is actually measured at Christmastime in height and weight just like the size of our bank accounts – how big is the gift? Big plastic trucks, big dolls, and, the best gift to receive of all has a big price tag. Yay.

This kind of thinking masks a nagging sense of desperation in a society deeply in debt and worried about their future. We must deliver the goods at Christmas because, well, we are Santa. Without us, there is no Christmas. So many of us lay down our defenses, push our family budgets aside, hold our noses and go crazy with a shopping frenzy that attempts to prove our worth – to ourselves and our families. We are trying to prove we are not poor, we are not bad money managers and we love our families. Nobody wants to attract the label of Scrooge. This is the time to be generous.

The retailers desperately depend on Christmas for a profit, so the pressure is on to sell us everything in sight, and for us to give (buy), give (buy) give (buy). You won’t see too many credit counsellors or bankruptcy trustees warning anybody about financial restraint right now, especially about going into debt. The banks and the retailers would be furious. No. Back off with any negative messages about buying and borrowing. Instead, we receive reflections about how well or poor the economy has been over the last twelve months - and predictions about the future. Be quiet about Christmas shopping.  

So you can see the conundrum. Christmas is a positive time of generosity, not one of negative restraint. The $514 billion outstanding in Canada in consumer credit (excluding mortgages) as reported December 13 by the Bank of Canada is a silent reminder that many if not most middle and lower income families carry significant debt loads. A Globe and Mail article published December 16th reports that most Canadians say they are no better off financially in 2013. How could they as we owe $5 billion more today than we did a year ago.

And, simmering beneath the surface of the family budget, is a huge worry that interest rate hikes could destroy or seriously damage their fragile financial worlds.

So, the best thing to do is develop a plan to reduce and eventually get out of debt. It begins now, before Christmas, not after. Let’s give our hearts and time to our loved ones this year and use material things as a token of our love – not a substitute for it.

Merry Christmas, everyone.