Good news abounds everywhere as it is the time that Santa is making his list and checking it twice. The elves are hard at work and visions of great times are rolling through our brains. It's the "Holiday Season". What could be nicer? The postman bringing tons of goodies, from wonderful wishes in the cards, to the gifts we get from friends and family in distant places. Last but certainly not least, the weather starts emulating the Currier & Ives paintings of winter wonderlands. Let's face it, except for California and Florida, snow is falling…even in Seattle!
What comes to mind next is an old Charlton Heston movie, which I believe was called "Soylent Green". In the movie, he discovers the mystery of soylent green and proclaims "soylent green is people”. Unfortunately I discovered at too young of an age "Santa Claus is also people" – Us. My brother, who I still hold responsible for crushing the illusions in my life, told me the secret, and life was never as mystical again. (Actually I don't remember who told me, but he is a great and convenient scapegoat).
The stage is set. The play is about to begin. We are all ready for the time of our life and in a few short weeks it will be here. Food, beverage, gifts, laughter, family and just plain fun. You work your fingers off wrapping presents to make sure that they are perfect, you buy the food and make sure the meal is perfect and the action takes place and then it’s over! Hopefully somewhere along the line there was time for worshiping our maker, time to give charity to those who don't have all of our blessings, and some quiet moments to reflect on the wonders of our life. As you grow wiser you find this is the true meaning of the "Holiday Season". But alas I have strayed. Back to the bright lights, music and aromas of the season.
There is nothing like the month of December, and that's probably why it comes last. I remember when I was young, I saved the best on my plate until the end, and the best of the year, like my favorite food, also comes at the end. If we could stop there it would really be the most joyful time of the year by far. When I was in college I loved the break and the festivities, but lingering in my mind was the homework I needed to do and never found time, and the finals that were coming in January. And so, I must be the bearer of reality. January is the next month of the year and that's when it all becomes due. No one parties for free! Tickets to the year-end celebration have to be paid. The postman cometh! Are you ready?
Some are, but most aren't. How do I know? Judging from the number of emails, applications and phone calls from across the nation, we as Americans are up to our foreheads in debt (We surpassed eyeballs approximately 2 years ago). Some inane suggestions to avoid paying the piper are: move quickly without a forwarding address; change the numbers on your house or the name on the mailbox; suggest to your neighbor to trade houses for six months, etc. It won't work, but it will give your mind a rest from the worry that starts just before Christmas dinner (substitute any Holiday dinner if you wish) and reaches its apex just after the postman drops the thin, but explosive bills off in your mailbox.
I must tell you at this point, a number of readers are loosening up their fingers getting ready to tell me that no debt is the answer and if you can't pay cash don't buy it. What is interesting about that point of view is that if we Americans all adopted that philosophy, the gross national product would shrink by (you pick the number) and countless millions would be out of work for years, if not for the rest of their lives. Yes, the nation could change to a cash-and-carry economy over several decades, but I don't think anyone would like the outcome. Take just one point – air travel – and realize that the government subsidizes that industry so that we can continue to travel as we have in the 20th and 21st centuries. The government gets its money from the taxes of the citizenry, one way or another, and tax collections would shrink to a point that would put an end to airline travel and hundreds of other things we have made part of our lifestyle. This is just one example, and a brief, non-detailed one as well, to make people realize that changing back isn't the answer. Learning to live responsibly with credit is the answer.
Back to other nonsense to avoid the problem: you could win the lottery, break the casino, win the NCAA basketball pool (don't enter if you are a college football coach), borrow from someone who is especially well off (I have dibs on Bill Gates), start selling your prized possessions on Ebay, or give it up and face the music!
There really is a lot that you can do to rectify the problem, but for many or most of you it would require breaking through your preconceived ideas. Something has to be done because personal debt is growing to a point that is more than worrisome. It has reached an area that could force a recession into a deeper one or even a depression. This could occur because people have insufficient reserves and excessive debt. Any change in the labor picture, meaning layoffs and lack of new job opportunities, could really start us snowballing into a very bad economic situation.
I have written many articles about handling your personal economic situation and three are worth checking out at this juncture: "The Half Life of a Mortgage Loan" from 9/9/06, "Next Year I Am Going to (fill in the blank)” from10/20/06, and “Equity is What?” from 11/10/06. How you pay your credit cards and other bills is your personal decision. I just want you to understand there are better ways available if you take the time to find out about them.
Enough from me, I think you get the picture. No matter what your situation is, you can either improve it, let it get worse, or keep it the same. December is a critical month in the battle of the personal balanced budget, so a little warning should go a long way.
Presents are for kids, a present is for adults. Why we get so carried away is simply a tribute to the retailers and advertising agencies who are waging the war of their life, and we need to realize that the war is against us. The final litmus test is to try to remember what your parents or your spouse gave you last year and the years before last. Anyone who can remember, correctly, more than last year’s gift is way ahead of the class. I will be cleaning the erasers and the chalk off the board because not only do I not remember what my wife got me last year, I don 't remember what I got her!