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This might sound a bit bah-humbug, but I have to ask: Have you considered canceling Christmas this year?

No, I'm not suggesting that you hack up your evergreen wreath for kindling or pretend you're not home when the extended family arrives on your doorstep dressed in their holiday finery. But think about it ... what would it be like if you did kiss off Kwanzaa, say “sayonara” to your menorah, or give a big fat “feh” to Festivus?

What rhymes with "jingle bell"?
Canceling Christmas is not just my way of getting out of mall gridlock this year. In fact, it's not even my idea.

Adbusters.org has promoted "Buy Nothing Day" (see also: Black Friday) for more than a decade to counter the idea that shopping is our patriotic duty and to call attention to this country's overconsumption, our high debt levels, and the effect our shopaholism has on other parts of the world. They've extended Buy Nothing Day into December and now promote Buy Nothing Christmas to de-commercialize the holiday and emphasize alternative ways of giving.

No matter what your political leanings, from a strictly financial point of view, cancelling Christmas might be the best gift you ever give to your family: "Hey honey, help me wrap financial stability and fiscal awareness amid uncertain economic times and put it underneath the tree before the kids wake up!"

Unfortunately, that's not the gift-that-keeps-on-giving kind of present most people have in mind this year.

Owe, owe, owe -- Merry Christmas!
According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. consumers will shell out $437.6 billion on holiday cheer. That's an average of $682.74 for stuff that'll likely be consigned to one of three piles -- regift, donate, or store-until-we-move.

Yeah, we're cutting back on our holiday buying, but only slightly -- a mere 3.3% less than we spent last year. Simply put, we're relying more on credit cards to carry us through month-to-month. According to CreditKarma.com's November U.S. Consumer Credit Score Climate Report, among those who have credit cards, the average credit card debt increased 4% from October and has risen 14% since June.

So what would the future hold if you actually committed to not shopping 'til you dropped this holiday season? Cue winter-themed dream sequence music ...

The Ghost of Christmas 2000
Let's take a stroll into an alternate reality -- the one that would have been had the cancel-Christmas idea come to you in the year 2000. That's the year you were planning to spend $836, according to a Deloitte & Touche survey at the time.

In our dream sequence, you decide not to blow $800-plus on that year's must-haves -- the Razor scooter, a robotic pet, Fashion Model Barbie, a PlayStation 2 and various Harry Potter-related gewgaws. Instead of sending your hard-earned cash to Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , Mattel (NYSE: MAT  ) , and those other giftmakers, you invest that money in your family's future financial stability. Here's what you'd have to show for it nine years later:

  • Had you simply put the dough in a savings account earning a measly 1% a year in interest, you'd have $914.32.
  • If that lump sum had been committed to an S&P 500 index-tracking ETF, sorry, you'd be out $39.18. (Hey, it's been rough for everyone!)
  • If you had avoided the crowds at Target (NYSE: TGT  ) and instead zipped online and bought shares in the company, today you'd have $1,234.22.
  • You could have really bummed out your teenager and bought $299 in Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) shares instead of the PlayStation. But the kids probably wouldn't be pouting over the $1,398.77 the investment morphed into nine years later.
  • As long as we're in Alternate Realityland, let's say you had the wherewithal to stash away that money for four years and then buy $836 in shares of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) when it went public at $85. Hellooo, $5,773.81!

Although none of these investments were complete lumps of coal, obviously some brought more glee than others nine years later.

One thing's for sure, though, you could have done worse. A lot worse.

The Ghost -- and cost -- of Christmas Reality
Now we're back in the present day. Remember that $836 worth of holiday cheer you put on your credit card nine years ago?

Merry Christmas: You just finished paying it off in June!

Instead of earning interest (or even losing a bit due to the S&P's lackluster 10-year performance), you spent 115 months making minimum payments to fund a holiday binge in 2000. Oh, and at 15% interest, that $836 holiday loan ended up costing you an extra $594 in interest. (No, that's not a typo.)

While celebrating a buy-nothing Christmas may not play so well on Dec. 25 -- "Thanks for the big box of nothin', gramps!" -- there's still plenty you can do to dampen the holiday damage without completely crushing some kid's holiday memories.

Think outside the big box
It's not too late to change your holiday tune. And, honestly, I'm not suggesting you completely abandon gift-giving. (I'm sure those of you who already braved the Black Friday frenzy are happy to hear that you don't need to go spend a weekend in the returns/exchanges line.) Think about ways to inject fiscal prudence and the true holiday spirit into your December.

Here are some suggestions. Please share your ideas in the comments box below:

Separate the meaningful from the meaningless. Before you add one more item to your online shopping cart, pause and reflect. Envision your ideal holiday if you had the chance to start planning from scratch. What would really happen if you had fewer gifts under the tree? Mentally remove all the things that cost money -- the travel, parties, new clothes, fake frost on the windows -- and then add back in, one by one, the parts that really matter to you and your family. What is it that you remember most about previous holidays? What toys are your kids still playing with? What activities stand out as the ones that brought the most joy? What would you do if you had more time to spend with family and not at the mall?

Make a pay-back pact. If you've already done your shopping or it's too late to change your travel plans, take an evening to figure out how to pay off the holiday spending as fast as you can after the holidays. Write down what sacrifices you are willing to make in the early months of 2010 (e.g. eat out less, use watered-down shampoo) and plot your Credit Card Plan of Attack. (This How to Get Out of Debt Guide has a step-by-step battle plan.) If you're going to go all out in December, realize that it will require a few tradeoffs -- unless you've reserved a few pages in your family photo album for your credit card bill.

Put Santa on hold. The calendars may all say that Dec. 25 is the day. But what if, say, you put off the holidays for another day or week? Those with jobs that require them to be away for the holidays know that the most important part of the celebration is not the datebook, but who's in attendance. The bonus for those willing to wait is even deeper discounts at the stores.

Remember, good tidings don't have to come with a gift receipt. Try something different for the holidays this year.

Hey, if it doesn't work out, at least everything you wanted will be on super-sale in January.

In the mood for more holiday cheer?

If you're looking for an alternative way to give to others this holiday season, it won't cost you a dime to make a difference at a local public charter school The Motley Fool has "adopted" for our annual Foolanthropy campaign. For every article comment, blog post, blog comment, and discussion board post throughout the campaign, The Motley Fool will donate $0.10 to our adopted school (up to $20,000). So please share your best no-cost holiday ideas -- or your favorite memory from years past -- in the comments box below.

Dayana Yochim has considered joining the pro shopping circuit, but she couldn’t stick the parallel parking requirement. She owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a bargain at twice the price.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (14)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 3:34 PM, pondee619 wrote:

    "Cancel Christmas! By Dayana Yochim

    December 9, 2009:... the average credit card debt increased 4% from October and has risen 14% since June."

    "The Daily Walk of Fame: Consumers By Tim Beyers

    December 9, 2009:...October marks the 13th consecutive month in which credit card balances have fallen,"

    Can we PLEASE get some consistant facts from the fool?

    Which of you are wrong/lying? If you are both right, there is something wrong with the stats. Lies, damn lies and statistics. Let's stop picking and choosing or stats to make our story, let's try to be truthful, correct and complete. I hope that is not too dificult. Are Americans being careful with their personal credit balances or not?

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 4:01 PM, JonnyWebster wrote:

    Don't cancel Christmas. Just cancel the idea of giving stupid stuff. Do something meaningful instead. Go to www.TisBest.org for customizable charity gift cards. Put your family's photo on the card, a travel picture, whatever. The recipient chooses which charity gets the money. It's the best gift ever for the person who has all the stuff they need. Spread your good fortune around and give a great gift at the same time. That's what our family is doing this year.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2009, at 6:32 PM, amy3e wrote:

    Great and very humorous article. There are so many ways to save money when you are shopping for your holiday gifts.. just takes some effort and organization. THere is a great article here http://www.celebrationideasonline.com/index.html

    with some tips and a really unique idea of how to run a holiday CHARITY gift exchange within your own family.

    Plus fun free Holiday themed games that you can print and play,. what better gift that a night home with friends and family together..

    Was glad to see you are donating when people post comments.. good for you Motley Fool!

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 3:48 PM, pondee619 wrote:

    "Now we're back in the present day. Remember that $836 worth of holiday cheer you put on your credit card nine years ago?

    Merry Christmas: You just finished paying it off in June"

    But, what if I paid it in January when the bill came? Instead of walking around with *836 in cash, which is likely to be p***ed away, I buy my gifts with my card, rack up some points, and write a check for the charges when the bill comes. why am I waiting to June to pay my card?

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 3:48 PM, pondee619 wrote:

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 10:01 PM, laurif wrote:

    JonnyWebster - Thanks for the great idea. www.TisBest.org looks like a wonderful site for charitable giving. Now we have something meaningful we can give that will help others.

  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2009, at 3:41 PM, brickcityman wrote:

    Question... under you thesis you would invest in the chief beneficiaries of Christmas expenditures...

    This professes a clear disdain for your fellow man... (e.g. he/she is not smart enough to follow your example).

    After all, why invest in companies whose revenue is going to plummet if your suggested approach is followed?

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2010, at 2:37 AM, webmonkeydc wrote:
  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2014, at 8:32 PM, edwardskinner wrote:

    I don't know how I feel about canceling Christmas, but I think being responsible with your finances is absolutely important during the holidays. I am using Credit Sesame to manage all my debts and loans and have been able to boost my credit score significantly over the past year.

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