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The holidays are the time of year when we are encouraged to spend money. Even before Halloween, we’re bombarded with ads on what to purchase. It’s also a time we’re most likely to rack up unnecessary debt. But you wouldn’t be alone. The national credit card debt has reached almost a trillion dollars. (1)

While some people must use their credit cards to deal with inflation and the costs of essential goods, others are spending for fun. When debt can’t be paid promptly because of overspending, it’s an addiction – continuing to do the same behavior, despite negative consequences. Spending money to get high or more than you can afford always results in negative consequences: depression, fear, limited choices, poor credit score, inability to pay off bills, lowered lifestyle due to debt, inability to properly care for family, and many self-inflicted traps.

There’s no such thing as retail therapy. This year, instead of suffering when you get your credit card bills, you could find alternatives that will save you money and bring a smile to the faces of those you include on your holiday list.

#1 – Use Cash Instead of Credit

It’s far too easy to whip out a credit card to pay for something without facing the reality of spending. There’s something magical about buy now, pay later. But if you can’t pay later and never achieve a zero balance because of interest rates, the magic works against you. You certainly don’t get points or other perks for the thousands of dollars you wind up paying in interest.

If you pay with cash, you have real benefits. With a set amount to spend, your mind won’t create imaginary limits. With cash, you’re less likely to be reckless than using plastic. You will know exactly how much money is available, and you will be able to designate a certain amount for each person on your list. You can use the rest of any excess income to pay off debt instead of increasing it. You also have the best benefit of all. Peace of mind that you’ve taken control of your financial health and won’t be faced with a bigger mountain of debt.

If you are forced to use credit cards, maintain a zero balance.

#2 – Old Fashioned Gift-Giving

Store-bought presents aren’t the only way to give. And many people take the presents they’ve received and never even use them. They often store them in the closet or give them to someone else.

Instead of spending excessive money on material gifts, handmade gifts cost less. You’ll save money and contribute to the recipient minus the personal debt.

The average cost of homemade decorated cookies in a nice box wrapped in a bright ribbon is less than $10.00 per person. One person I know bakes large, frosted angel cookies and wraps them in cellophane packets tied with a silver bow. She gives one to each person on her list, garnering many smiles. For people who can’t eat gluten or sugar, there are lots of recipes (easily accessible online or through cookbooks) that substitute these ingredients. If cooking isn’t your thing, try crafts. Some of my best memories are of making ornaments with my grandmother. Going to the craft store was fun, picking out Styrofoam balls, sequins, and beads, then creating something beautiful. Her gifts were received with utter delight. Whatever your craft, people realize the effort it takes to make something, and it’s sure to garner appreciation.

#3 – Set a Budget and Stick to It

One of the tools Debtors Anonymous teaches is setting a budget and sticking to it. Use the rest to pay down debt. If you have a shopping addiction, you might be tempted to do the “one for you, two for me” method. You get caught in the high of shopping and forget the consequences. Before shopping, make a list, set an amount to spend on each person, and stick to it.

Catalog shopping can help curb spending because it’s not as impulsive and offers less immediate gratification than in-person shopping. Make a list of recipients and how much you will spend on each. Then look through catalogs or online for the best prices for the items of interest. Then, if possible, find a store where you can get the item in person to pay with cash instead of purchasing online.

If you have extra money, like holiday bonuses, gift it to yourself and use it to pay off debt. You’ll then be giving yourself the gift of freedom.

#4 – Spend Time Instead of Money with Someone

The holidays are the busiest time of the year. We overestimate the value of spending money and undervalue the gift of spending time with loved ones. Converting shopping time to quality we-time is often the most wanted gift of all.

There’s nothing wrong with doing a special favor for someone instead of a material gift. You can say, “your gift this year is for us to build a memory.” Help them finish a project, run errands, take them somewhere, or at their favorite coffee shop. A lovely Christmas card with a heartfelt note and a cup of hot chocolate or a latte can be as fulfilling as any store-bought item. One man I know put up a fence for his mom. She’d bought the materials, but they sat in her backyard for over a year. She was ecstatic to have the fence up and especially happy to have the extra time with her son. Another person cleaned out the garage for her elderly uncle – a project long overdue.
If your time is limited, and you can afford to purchase presents, be sure to enjoy that experience as well.

#5 – Stay Away from Places that Might Trigger You

You know where you spend most of your money. If you avoid those places, you’re less likely to be triggered. Alcoholics stay out of bars so they’re not tempted to relapse, and shopping addicts stay away from areas where they’ll be tempted to splurge.

#6 – Think About the Consequences Instead of the Fun

If you’re tempted to relapse and forget your budget, think about how it will feel when you get the bill instead of the temporary high you’re getting from spending. Best to get rid of credit cards except one with a low limit for emergencies. Interest on credit card debt accrues, often over 14%, making it difficult ever to pay off. The more debt, the lower your credit score and the higher interest rates you pay on major purchases. You can wind up spending hundreds of dollars for a $20 item with accruing interest—a good recipe for depression.

Before you make any purchases, refer to your gift list and stick to it. If you’re tempted to deviate, instead of spending impulsively, step back, take a deep breath, and remember that a good choice results in feeling good about yourself. It also leads to greater wealth down the road.

You deserve to enjoy the holidays, and by putting forth effort instead of shopping, you can enjoy this special time of year without a spending hangover. Don’t let addictive spending give you a momentary high, then bog you down in a heap of debt once the high subsides. Your holiday can be filled with many good memories minus the negative consequences of a shopping addiction. This year, commit to getting into a deeper meaning of the holidays and give of yourself, not just your wallet.



Dr. Donna Marks has been an author, consultant, public speaker, and psychotherapist for over thirty years. She was licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987 and then certified in Addiction, Gestalt Therapy, Hypnosis, Sex Therapy, and Psychoanalysis. She currently has a concierge psychotherapy practice in Palm Beach, Florida.
She has appeared on numerous podcasts and local television. She is the author of two books, Learn Grow Forgive – A Path to Spiritual Success, and Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Solution (revised), and winner of multiple book awards. Her next book, The Healing Moment: Seven Keys to Turn Messes into Miracles, will be released in 2023.

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    One Comment

    • Avatar photo Kerri Hamilton says:

      Hello Dr. Marks,

      I’m enjoying listening to you on Coast to Coast AM right now. I’m in Wellington Florida. I will surely be ordering your book. My boys own and operate an addiction recovery center in Palm Springs and I love your information. Thank you

      Kerri Hamilton

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