Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scare Tactics

Scare tactics are effective on the elderly

One of the most remarkable things about writing a financial blog is how open people become when talking to me about their own financial struggles. Listening to other people’s challenges and successes gives me a lot of reassurance as well as tons of hope that I can continue to get ahead with this process. A common theme in the discussions I have with people who still carry debt is that most don’t have any idea how they can get their debt paid off. Fortunately I have tons of ideas to help them out. The part that usually baffles me though is how long people are willing to wait to pay off their debt in full.

For example, when I look at my current “repayment plan” for my student loans, my lender projects that I still have another 89 months (7 years and 5 months) of minimum payments to go before I will pay this off entirely. Not only that, the amount of interest I will end up paying is $1,837.78. I hate dumping any of my hard earned money onto interest payments so when I hear about people being comfortable with paying off a small amount of debt over such a long amount of time, I want to smack them over the head and tell them to wake up. I get it, we all feel entitled to the best of the best, and since we work hard, we should be rewarded. The problem is that if you keep resorting to credit to buy everything you want, you could end up with nothing when the debt gets quickly out of control.

If you were like I was, teetering on the brink of financial disaster, you need to stop and take control of your situation before it gets unmanageable. There are some major signs that you should be weary of such as: not being able to make more than the minimum payments on your bills; not knowing how much debt you have; living paycheck to paycheck; having no savings; creditors constantly call you for payments; you remortgage your house every other year; and the list goes on. I recently read an article (I’m sorry I can’t remember where) where most financial advisors said they wished that people would have come and seen them sooner to deal with their finances rather than later because most of the time, they are too far gone to be helped and they have to file for bankruptcy. This couldn’t be any truer. If you are like I was with my money, look for something that will motivate or inspire you to get your debt repaid. For me, I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $1,800 other than use it for interest (like a mini vacation), and not to mention how less stressed I get as the debt numbers go down. Debt repayment is work, but when you build a strong support system like I have, it is completely possible to do.
Canada's Debt Clock!
Ok, so you may be wondering what is with the scare tactics/pep talk? In one of the conversations I had recently with someone who I don’t even really know, she told me about Canada’s debt clock at debtclock.ca. This site has a scary tracker of Canada’s ever-rising debt total. The site claims that by March, 2012, Canada’s debt will have skyrocketed to over $585 BILLION dollars. According to the site, “That’s $61,454 per minute, $3.7-million per hour, or $88.5-million every day!” Right now that means that on average, every Canadian is carrying $16,000 of debt. Now, with spending projections this holiday season, we can only expect this increase to rise even further.

But what can we do to reduce this number, right? We can’t be responsible for other people’s neglectful spending, but we can certainly do our part to encourage others to start spending money smarter, especially over the holidays. In a country where we buy everything we want on credit, I find it surprising that people have anything left to buy for each other at Christmas that they don’t already have! Just like last year, I want to emphasize that there are so many ways that you can save money this year during the holidays.

Make a shopping list like Santa!!
When you are out shopping, be like Santa and make a list. Making a list when you shop will help keep you on track with what you want to buy for your loved ones. Try to keep the list as specific as possible, and write down the items that you want to buy even for the stores where you know what you want to buy and put a price limit on how much you want to spend. If you want to go the extra mile, look for deals online for items that you want to buy and save yourself even more money (as long as the shipping isn’t ridiculous). If you can stick to a list, you will have an easier time staying on budget.

Leave the credit card at home. This is a general rule for me everyday, but it’s even better to put into practice during the holidays. You shouldn’t have to go into debt just to buy everyone you know a gift, and nor should they. Don’t ever feel bad about giving a friend a card or simply asking your family to do a gift exchange instead of buying each of them a gift. And if you’re doing a gift exchange with friends, think doing what my friend Gigi does and have everyone re-gift something that they don’t use! This idea is not only a great way to recycle, but it is also a hilarious way to spend time with your friends during the holidays!

Be thoughtful with your gift giving. Can you think back to 5 Christmases ago and remember everything you got? Even better, can you remember all the things that you bought for your loved ones? I find that the gifts I remember the most are the ones that were made by someone.  I remember one year when my brother blew up a picture of us as kids working with my Dad. He was so moved by that photo, which it really made the whole day a wonderful and memorable experience for us all (and no, it wasn’t even Christmas day). I can’t tell you what I got for the past few years other than maybe some money but I don’t even remember the amounts. What I do remember are the fun times that I had with my family which I guess is why I go back home year after year.

The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year, or they can be the most exciting and memorable. With the debt counter climbing higher, take time to stop and think of ways that you can contribute to reducing your debt instead of augmenting it this season. The holidays will become less stressful if you plan ahead and use your own money, not the banks’. If you’re reading this and thinking, “well $hit John, it’s too late now”, then perhaps you should make it your new year’s resolution to put $25 a week into a special “Christmas Savings” account and by this time next year, you will have $1,200 to spend ‘til your heart’s content. 

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