Ah, ‘tis the season of giving. And receiving. And taking on debt. Did you know that nearly 1 in 10 Americans is still paying off last year’s holiday debt? An October 2019 survey on creditcards.com of about 2,500 consumers found that:
- 51% of those with credit-card debt think holiday spending is a valid reason to add to their debt;
- 65% of those with children under 18 said they were fine with adding to their credit-card debt for the holidays;
- among those willing to take on more holiday debt, 46% said it was to please a family member or friend, and 42% said it was to make themselves happy; and
- 38% cited their childrens’ or partner’s happiness as a valid reason to add to their debt.
But does this really make sense for most of us? An article published on January 8, 2018 by the British newspaper Independent dubbed the first work Monday of the new year as “divorce day,” noting that there’s a growing uptick in couples seeking divorces after the stress of “Holiday festivities.” And money is the #1 reason for marital arguments and divorce. That fact makes taking on debt to satisfy a partner (or yourself) a little less fun, doesn’t it?
Why do we do this? Why do we put our futures at risk, ramp up our anxiety, and set ourselves up for disappointment? It all comes down to expectations. In this age of social media, unachievable expectations have become the norm. A millennial who worked for me years ago once said that social media is “performance art.” I’ve always remembered that statement since it’s so true. Even someone who’s as transparent as I try to be doesn’t go into the excruciatingly boring or ugly bits of my life on a daily basis. Face it, a lot of life is mundane: brushing your teeth, picking up dirty socks, or watching your dog poop in the backyard. Instagram and Twitter have become the carefully-curated moments that make your life seem so much better and more exciting than anyone else. (Or perversely, worse than anyone else. We all seem to have one friend whose feed is nothing but angst and drama.)
All of this has resulted in a sense of loss or displeasure, even when we have fun or enjoy ourselves. We’re not having AS MUCH fun, or getting AS MUCH stuff. So we fill the hole we’ve created with stuff; presents, food, drink, and so-called fun. Meanwhile we find ourselves unhappier or more stressed than ever.
So do yourself a favor this season. Turn off social media as often as you can. Stop comparing yourself to everyone. Stop humblebragging. Spend within your means, however quaint that might be. Enjoy time with people you love. Don’t drink too much. Don’t go to your company Christmas party if you don’t want to. Try to eat good food. Get some sleep. And give yourself permission to avoid any toxic relatives.
Your kids won’t remember for long that they didn’t get that toy, or game, or bike, but without a doubt they’ll certainly remember nasty screaming matches between stressed-out parents come January, when those credit-card statements come rolling in, as inevitable as the tide. You don’t need to be a character from an O. Henry story, but find ways to show your feelings instead of trying to buy the feelings of others. You’ll thank yourself all the way to next Christmas.