Holiday survival: weathering the financial blizzard

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Greg Nash
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
It's that time of year again. As the holiday season approaches, we will be bombarded with alluring advertisements, extensive winter holiday shopping lists from family members and store holiday sales enticing us to spend big.

Are you prepared to spend money during the holiday season? Are you nervous because you're still paying bills from last year?  Do you want to avoid last minute holiday shopping while singing holiday jingles for the millionth time in long check-out lines? If questions like these have invaded your thoughts, several resources are available to help alleviate stress and to easily experience a rewarding and relaxing holiday season the way it's intended to be.

Every year we have 364 days to prepare for Christmas, but most people manage to only gain the shopping and holiday spirit after finishing the ham during Thanksgiving. However, everyone can successfully have a pleasant and financially beneficial holiday season by being proactive, planning ahead and budgeting.

As a lower-tier service member where money isn't as plentiful, I look for various ways to save for holiday spending. The holiday spirit encourages an aura of giving and spending at will, which is hard not to do. I ensure that I 'pay myself' by putting my money in savings before I make purchases. I use last year's income tax return and savings to get reasonable holiday gifts for my loved ones. On the other hand, military personnel higher up the rank structure may face similar problems with financial decisions despite a higher salary. Regardless of your median income, planning and saving your money is helpful.

The median wage in the United States is approximately $27,000 per person. The average American will spend approximately $700 on holiday gifts, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates. With that being said, it's not recommended for people to spend more than 1.5 percent of their annual income on holiday spending, according to Practical Money Skills. However, if you decide to spend more money, you can use your savings account to help meet your spending goal.

Having an estimate on how much you plan to spend is a good first step. Keep in mind the costs of things such as gift wrap and expenses associated with hosting a holiday party. Using a checklist to budget for expenses such as shipping costs, new holiday clothing, baking, traveling and restaurant dining can also help gauge your financial plan. From there, you need to decide what items to get for whom or what they'd appreciate most. Outright asking is always a good indicator, but being spontaneous and creative can make that gift more memorable.

Take the opportunity to reflect and cherish your most memorable holiday experiences. Try to recreate that same holiday spirit for a wonderful experience with your family. Additionally, keep deployed service members in your thoughts and prayers as they won't have the opportunity to enjoy their families. Give something sentimental that will be valuable to someone. Everything isn't about expensive gifts. The gift of giving can be much more impactful when there's no price tag attached. Volunteering to feed the homeless can be therapeutic and humbling experience. Have a family day. Call a friend you aren't on the best of terms with and be the bigger person to resolve the situation and take the blame. Do things that will truly bring meaning to your life as you lead up to the New Year to help making those new resolutions seem capable of attaining.

Financially 'surviving' the holiday season can bring the New Year into a positive light with well needed peace of mind if you don't have to worry about extra bills. During the holiday season, financial stress shouldn't be in your thoughts or be an obstacle you have to overcome. The season is designed to give people the opportunity to celebrate their religious beliefs, cherish special moments with family and friends, enjoy time off from work and try to figure out how you're going to pass your physical training test after eating seven different types of macaroni and cheese. I encourage you to please be proactive and assess your finances to properly rejuvenate and enjoy your Thanksgiving, winter holiday and New Year's.

Whether you're active-duty, civilian, a guardsman or reservist, it's important to be financially savvy and in control of your holiday spending. Every bit of extra money you may have doesn't mean you have to blow it. Think about the future and value the importance of not being stressed from money issues. Don't have a consumer's state of mind. You don't have to spend money as soon as you get it. Always remember, today's holiday gift can be next year's credit card bill. Enjoy a successful winter holiday.