The holiday season is filled with traditions dating back hundreds of years and differing from Family to Family. Yet, there are less desirable traditions that appear with those celebrations — waistlines grow and wallets shrink. Neither of these Yuletide repercussions is very conducive to the military lifestyle.
The Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program recognizes the importance of planning and saving for holidays, which they discuss during the holiday portion of the monthly Budget and Debt Management Workshop.
“The season itself brings on those feelings of giving and sometimes we can get carried away and over extend ourselves,” said Lynn A. Olavarria, program manager of the ACS Financial Readiness Program.
Holly Petraeus, assistant director of Service Member Affairs, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wrote her blog, “December in August,” to inform readers of the benefits of saving money for the holiday season. The blog outlines tips to monitor and curb spending around the holidays, when some individuals and Families find themselves creating new debt.
“You have to plan — bottom line, but most people learn that from experience,” said George Mejia retired Army sergeant major.
As with all aspects of life, the easiest way to prevent problems is to make a plan, which includes holiday spending.
“Figuring out who’s on your gift list, creating a holiday budget and gradually setting money aside can help you avoid overspending, unwanted debt, and financial stress,” wrote Petraeus.
“It’s best to try to get gifts early, that way you’re not distracted close to the holidays and can spend that time with Family,” said Pfc. Aaron Deloach, information technology specialist with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “You should also make sure to watch your money because you always want to have emergency cash.”
When a budget does not exist, or individuals are forced to spend their emergency cash earlier than planned, people will either sacrifice wish-list items or create new debt.
North Carolina National Guard Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Griffith, platoon sergeant with 113th Sustainment Brigade, was unable to save money for this Christmas and had to choose between giving gifts and creating debt this season.
“This year I’m not spending money on gifts, but I’m going to start a Christmas savings fund next January,” said Griffith
Spending only the money one has saved is not a concept shared by everyone, however. North Carolina National Guard Staff Sgt. Ellen Williams, signal noncommissioned officer with 30th Brigade Combat Team, agrees with the idea of not making purchases with credit cards.
“I’ve been saving money in a holiday fund every year for 10 years,” said Williams. “When you’re younger, you use credit cards, but we’ve learned from that and only spend what we have now.”
Still, planning ahead can be a struggle for some, especially when unexpected bills whirl in with the same chilled air that marks the start of this expensive season.
“Consider less expensive gift options like homemade gifts,” wrote Petraeus. “If you have a large, extended family, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition of picking one person out of a hat to buy a gift for, rather than everybody buying a gift for every single other person in the family.”
Whether the Family is large or small, traditions, travel and gifts add up to an expensive time of year for many. Petraeus warned readers against compromising future financial goals for the short-term pleasure of celebrating the holidays with heaps of presents.
“Saving your money for long-term goals like home ownership, college or a comfortable retirement may be the very best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones,” she wrote.
Active military or Family members at Fort Bragg who would like to learn more about financial budgeting for the holidays can set up an appointment with a Financial Readiness Program’s accredited counselor at 907-3670.