As you start to plan, budget and save for next year’s holiday season, or for any gift giving, keep these myth busters from The New York Times and other sources in mind.
The perfect gift is the one that the person asks for, so ask. It is really not the thought that counts, unless the person considers it to be a great gift, then the thought behind it is a bonus. If they don’t like the gift, they don’t really care about the thought. Cash is actually a great gift. For many, it is even better than a gift card, which can be more limiting. There is one exception, however, to giving cash: your spouse or significant other.
Here are a few more things to think about. Over 40 percent of clothes given as gifts are returned. In fact, clothing accounts for over 60 percent of all holiday returns. Also, a MarkMonitor survey from nine countries found that 23 percent of consumers have unwillingly purchased a fake product online.
Before we turn to the subject of resolutions, which we have all been reading and hearing about this past week, I have to revisit a recent subject, from a financial, rather than from a personal, perspective, because I have had some great pets in my life. In past columns we have discussed how much we spend on our pets, for holidays and otherwise, and how much a pet can now cost over its lifetime. In the column that ran on Christmas Day, I mentioned a television report which noted that more and more people consider themselves to be a pet parent, not a pet owner. Since then, I have seen a television commercial which actually referred to its target audience as just that, and another one where a woman referred to her dog as “her boy.”
Again, this is not a statement about pets, since they are great, other than to say that, if you personify and think of your pet that way, you will no doubt spend more on it. So, if that is you, you need to “up” your pet budget for your existing and future pets.
I am sure that by now you are up to your eyes in pieces about New Year’s resolutions — why you should or should not have them; if you do have one or more; what are the most important ones for specific aspects of your life like health, finances, career advancement or relationships. In addition, there are those pieces about the keys to succeeding with resolutions in general.
I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe that, periodically, everyone should sit down with pen and paper — yes, pen and paper, not your computer — and honestly review where they are in the important aspects of their life, and then commit to making any necessary changes. From my experience, a written plan with short- and long-term realistic goals is helpful, because it gives you something to hold yourself accountable with. That, to me, is key. Always be honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. As you go forward, write down your progress on the margins of your plan or on a separate attachment. For some things, you may be writing down your progress every day. For other things, you will review your progress less frequently.
I have found that this method works especially well for financial and health commitments.
You really don’t need to hear me tell you one more time that you should consider paying down your debt, saving more, carefully reviewing all of your financial statements every month, looking at refinancing any high interest debt, buying fewer unnecessary things and getting rid of things you don’t use or need.
So, instead, here are some financial-related resolutions that you should avoid. First, playing the lottery more, because you are one of the 17 percent of Americans according to Bank of America who believe that they need to win the lottery in order to achieve their financial goals in retirement. Second, refusing to learn more about technology. The reality is that you just have to, because it will affect your finances more and more in the future. Third, being less engaged in politics, because government action or inaction will definitely affect your finances more than ever in the future.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program.