Be a smart seasonal spender

Take a moment and consider; what’s your motivation for spending at Christmas?

Habit, social conditioning, to keep up with the Jones’, to win approval from friends and family or because you feel you ‘should’ or ought’ to?

For some of us it may be simply the joy of giving, whether it’s gifts, planning a dinner or you may be responding to some deeper psychological drive in yourself. Despite the trees and lights now popping up all over Grand Cayman, we can easily forget that for many 2011 has been a year of continuing financial uncertainty. The past 12 months may have been a year that required belt-tightening.

Maybe you have continued to be careful as the future may seem unclear or perhaps financially it feels easier, seeing the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

The reasons for spending are always interesting, personal to us and embedded in our personal psyche. Our attitudes will have been shaped by our own beliefs, experiences, influenced by attitudes of our parents and elders. Recent generations have also been subject to an increasingly powerful sales-pitch (literally) by the media; companies through advertising and clever marketing spend millions to convince us we need, not want, the next generation electronic gadget, need to provide lavish gifts at Christmas, need to put on a feast fit for a king or the ceiling on our material world will cave.

So, if you take your own attitude and mix it with that of your partner or family, and the issue of how much we spend on Christmas can quickly become a contentious issue. Spending habits can roughly be divided into four groups; ‘savers, spenders, builders and givers’.

‘Spenders’ love money for the things it buys them. They prefer to have something concrete like cars or trendy gadgets over having something as abstract as savings. Often spenders may get into trouble when they spend everything they have – or more. Spenders have the most difficult time saving money. A spender who doesn’t pay off their monthly credit card debt, for example, may find themselves on a slippery slope toward bad credit or bankruptcy.

‘Builders’ however, see money as a tool. They use it (and sometimes risk it) to turn their dreams into reality. Builders receive joy from the creative process involved in their projects. Most entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are builders and make excellent mentors because of their creative endeavours. However, they can miscalculate the funds and risks involved in their projects and neglect to leave themselves a margin of error.

Thank goodness for ‘givers’! Society couldn’t get along without them, as they make up the volunteers, charity donors, and do-gooders of the world. However, they buy extravagant gifts, especially at Christmas for friends that they would never purchase for themselves and deny their own wants to give to others. Givers tend to get in trouble because they may ignore their own needs. Their habits may not be good for their children, by not teaching them how to take care or appreciate the value of money.

The final group ‘savers’ are lifesavers. Without them, who would the rest of the world borrow from? Savers create a fortune in the bank quickly, while still living a comfortable life, sometimes even on a tight salary. These types are organised and not impulsive buyers. They don’t like risk and require a cushion of savings for their own peace of mind. But they also may postpone enjoying their money for so long that it is soon too late, or miss out on some Christmas treats they can well afford.

For couples with different spending attitudes, this can cause problems as much as two people in the same group. For example, if two spenders are together, then they expect and will ensure they want for nothing over the festive period. However, this may be living beyond their means, incurring large credit card bills or loan payments in January. Money has been noted as the No. 1 issue of disagreement between couples. So, how do you remain true to your value, maintain the peace and enjoy your Christmas?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ rule. But the first step is to look deep and identify your personal attitude toward spending at Christmas, where this comes from, and how realistic and practical your aspirations are. Recognise where the motivation for spending comes from and make a conscious decision whether to go with it, or make a change.

Not being tied into other’s expectations can be liberating. If you are buying as a couple, agree a budget or on your own decide your own budget and stick to it. Remember, it’s just one day. Reflect on Christmas’s you have enjoyed in the past and as you recall the memory ask yourself what it is about this memory that feels special. Often it’s not the gifts, huge tree, light-show, expensive gift or fancy food.

Good memories are more likely to be about sharing time with family and friends, the presence of those who can no longer be with us, a joke, children and enjoying their excitement. So, the challenge is to do something different this year, enjoy Christmas but be a smart seasonal spender and I guarantee you’ll have a happier New Year.

Emma Roberts is a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme. For more information about EAP, please visit our website at To speak with one of our professional counsellors, please call 949-9559 or email us at [email protected] to schedule a confidential appointment.

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