Holidays: Keep Santa out of the wallet

Military families come together bringing with them many different traditions, styles of celebrating and methods of holiday shopping. A common thread for holiday planning among Laughlin Airman is to begin saving early. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

(This is the first part of a six-part series about several aspects of the holiday season. This series will discuss everything from budgeting, to traditions, to food safety, travel, and resolutions to help alleviate the season’s potential ails and woes.)

To some, the holidays are a festive time of year focused on tradition, family, fancy meals, decorations, giving—and spending.

Whispers of Christmas begin in the fall—more or less after school starts—and really pick up after Thanksgiving.

Military families come together, bringing with them many different traditions, styles of celebrating and methods of holiday shopping.

Sometimes, surviving the avalanche of holiday craze is not the piece of pumpkin pie it would seem. The festivities of the season include many things to consider such as travel, meal-planning, gifts and more.

According to Manuel Camacho, 47th Flying Training Wing judge advocate office paralegal secretary, emotional obligation plays into who he buys gifts to convey his appreciation for those who are close to him.

“Budgeting over the holidays is challenging because there can be a feeling of obligation to go so much farther above ones average monthly spending limit,” said Don Lenmark, Airman and Family Readiness Center personal financial counselor.

According to Lenmark, in some cases, people will go into debt in order to make everyone else happy. The “January effect,” as he calls it, comes when the credit card and bank statements arrive after the season and festivities have past.

One of the difficulties 1st Lt. Tiffany Sykes, 47th Flying Training Wing judge advocate office assistant judge advocate, faces is deciding who among her family and friends she should buy gifts for.

“My dad has a big family–nine siblings–and I have to decide what to do for each person or if I can,” Sykes said.

A past holiday hiccup for Tech. Sgt. Rafael Franjul, 47th Flying Training Wing judge advocate office non-commissioned officer in charge, was opening credit cards to get his kids gifts.

“One of the phrases that has risen up over the past years is, ‘best Christmas ever!’ like [each Christmas] has to be bigger and better than last year,” Lenmark said. “I would recommend dialing those ever-increasing expectations back a little.”

Franjul agrees that money is not everything. He esteems family and friends in higher regard than money. However, he mentioned one may need funds to be able to visit family and make more fun memories.

“I would much rather be with family than get gifts from family,” Sykes said. “Money’s nice, but it comes and goes, but you can’t get time back. I’d much rather spend time with my grandmother whom I don’t see as much than for her to send me a gift card.”

Senior Airman Raymond Greenleaf, 86th Flying Training Squadron aviation research management, explained his family didn’t buy expensive gifts. Often, they bought something we think the person will like or take them out and spend quality time with each other.

People at Laughlin have come up with numerous ideas of ways to celebrate the holidays without going overboard.

Camacho, Williams, Sykes, Franjul and Greenleaf all strongly suggest saving in advance as one solution to controlling holiday expenses.

“What I usually do is start out thinking about the upcoming holiday season in January, and I also have a limit on what I spend,” said Anthony Williams, A&FRC personal finance counselor. “It makes me more creative.”

Tying back to what Lenmark said about each Christmas not having to be bigger and better than the last, Master Sgt. Corey Reimer, 47th Operation Support Squadron flight chief, described having a family of four children can be challenging to shop for.

“We spend money on the kids, but if they don’t need anything, we try to put money in their savings,” said Reimer. “We don’t make a point of spending on the latest and greatest when we do get gifts. We look for things that mean more than things that have a greater dollar value.”

Greenleaf has multiple methods for remaining financially sound over the holidays.

“I go to a financial manager at the A&FRC, and he is guiding me through the different steps to get me where I want to be in the future,” said Greenleaf. “But even before that, I would make a spreadsheet preparing up to six months ahead.”

When it comes to holidays, Greenleaf travels to see family and friends in Chicago. He recommends buying tickets as soon as possible before the expenses rise, and he gets dates arranged with his supervisor for leave.

On a different note, Sykes prepares for the holidays through use of coupons and apps designed to help save money while shopping.

“Another thing I do is I make gifts,” said Sykes. “I’m not very artistic, but I like to think I’m crafty. For the last three or four years, I have made Christmas wreathes for my aunts. It’s a gift they can continue to use and it’s special to them.”

Franjul has a simple solution to saving for the holidays throughout the year.

“I bring lunch to work,” said Franjul. “Both my spouse and I work so when we make dinner, we make a little extra for lunch. If we do that, then we won’t spend 7-10 dollars a day for five days a week. That tends to add up, being roughly 100 dollars a week for the two of us.”

Finances can either bring stress and turmoil to shopping Airmen, or they can reward the careful spender with joy and peace of mind.

“If you’re aware of the need to be financially secure during the holidays, then you’ll make it a priority—even a fun priority—to stay within your budget,” Lenmark said. “Don’t let your holiday spending become the “Scrooge” that steals all the fun out of this joyous time of year.”

The Airman and Family Readiness Center is a resource providing financial advice, guidance and more for base members and their dependents during any time of the year. The Airman Family and Readiness Center can be contacted at 298-5620 for a free and confidential session with an Accredited Financial Counselor.