Dear Retailer: I’m In Financial Trouble So You Won’t See Me Much This Christmas

Dear Retailer:

I know that you’re really counting on me to spend a lot of money in your store this Christmas season, so I thought I should give you a heads up that I’m not going to be.

Media reports say I’m supposed to do my part in spending this holiday season. But I have to be honest and let you know that we’re no longer on the same financial page here. You see, for my family, reality is starting to set in. I’m broke. There, I’ve said it out loud. Now I’m going to start saying, “I can’t afford it” – a lot!

I’ve heard it said that often an alcoholic has to hit bottom before he or she will change their behavior. Financially, that’s pretty close to where I’m at. Myself, and the average person aren’t saving much, our debt keeps growing, 25% of us are cashing retirement money just to pay our regular bills, and it’s not like I can increase my income much in the coming year. My credit card balances are high, way too high, and I’m saddled with my car payment and my line of credit that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Right now I’m surviving and not thriving.

That leaves the one thing I can do, and that’s to look in the mirror and choose to make some different financial choices – some better financial choices. It starts with what I knew as a teenager: I can only spend the money I have – and I don’t have much left over at the end of each month. In fact, right now, if the truth were known, I’ve got a lot more month left after my money is gone.

The merry go-round is over and it has stopped being fun spending all that money I don’t have. I need to, and choose to, make Christmas more about Christmas and less about, well – your store and more stuff. Facing my financial reality has made me realize that all the stuff I’ve bought from you hasn’t gotten me any more happiness. In fact – it’s quite the opposite. It’s created a financial hell for me right now.

You want me to do more of what isn’t working in my life: more shopping, more debt, more instant credit and no payments for a year. But be honest: What do you care about my higher credit card balances, longer term car loans just so I can juggle all my payments, my exploding property taxes, utility bills, increase in food I do HAVE to buy, and the line of credit I needed just a few years ago?

You see, I no longer trust you. We’re not on the same page here. Your goal is to get me to spend as much as possible. If you want proof, it starts right at the cash register when you force your staff to push your credit card on me so I can save 10% today. But I’ve realized that the five bucks of savings today is costing me hundreds of dollars of interest since I can’t possibly afford to pay off my balance. And, according to a recent survey, two-thirds of us will still be paying that balance off a year later!

Your ads say I can “save” 20% – but I’m starting to realize all these savings are making me go broke. It’s the 80% I SPEND that’s killing me, and that I can’t ever “save” when I set foot in your store. Besides, by the time I pay off the stuff I’ve bought, even with the “savings,” I’ll have paid over double the amount on my credit card.

But right now all I can pay is the minimum monthly payments and sure wish I could live the words of that Rod Stewart song: “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” So if you’re going to advertise with some of those “don’t pay for 14 months,” “best savings of the year” or “no-money-down” deals, I’m more likely to throw up than show up.

I know I’m accountable for my own actions, and financially I haven’t done a very good job. It’s as though I’ve been at a great party and had a little, OK a lot, too much to drink, and it’s now the morning after.  I am going to look after my financial needs in healthy and constructive ways. I am going to face it to replace it, instead of looking to spend my way out of it with more refinancing, another line of credit or cash advances.

The financial reality is that I’m in trouble and in a big hole. And when you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging!

What I want most for Christmas this year is to get my financial house in order, to be able to sleep again without worrying whether I can make my payments next week or next month. I want to be able to not jump when the phone rings wondering if it’s about a collection issue. I want to look forward to getting my mail again, instead of dreading what bill is arriving today and I want to know, and not hope, that my family will still be able to afford to be in our home this time next year.

I’m going to start to do more of what my parents did: Work hard, pay off my debts and start saving my money. I didn’t – so far. Now I get to work like a dog because I’ve already lived like a king – with borrowed money, buying a lot of stuff from you in the past.

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