My Journey out of Debt

Featured customers currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Relief Plan, share journey to become debt-free; hear how they juggle family, finances, and more.

The Hangover

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It's been almost two months since the calendar flipped, hailing the beginning of a new year and the end of yet another holiday season. 

Like the morning after a late night out, I feel the throbbing of a hangover.  Except this hangover isn't in my head, it's coming from my wallet.

You may know what I'm talking about. You've finally come to the realization that you need to sit down, really survey the damage the holidays have had on your financial landscape, and think about how you canThe Hangover prevent the same thing from reoccurring.

My wife and I tried really hard this year and did a lot of things right.  

But here I sit again, needing a prescription-sized dose of financial ibuprofen.  How did this happen?  Where did I go wrong?

My first downfall was the stocking stuffers. As a child, we never had stockings. My wife did. 

Apparently, stocking stuffers will be purchased, regardless of how hard I try to ignore the stockings hanging from the fireplace right in front of my face as I watch TV every day during the entire month of December.  Yes, the cats need a new toy as well. I have been made aware that it breaks some sort of secret Christmas code to have a fireplace, hang stockings, and not put anything in them. 

After 14 years of marriage I should know this. I guess I'm a slow learner. Fortunately, these gifts usually aren't real expensive - boxes of the kids' favorite candy or something similar. 

No problem, I thought.  Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a series of unexpected expenses.

During the second week in December, one of my wife's brothers got married. We had to travel about three hours into northern Iowa for the event. 

If you live in the Midwest, you'll remember that as the blizzard weekend. We received 17" of snow in Rochester, MN. We braved the elements as much as we could, but ended up taking on some unexpected expenses like eating in restaurants instead of at relatives' homes due to the weather. 

The highlight of the weekend was sleeping on the floor of the reception hall because the roads were completely impassable. We could not get back to the small town 15 miles away to our already paid for hotel room.  At least I was smart enough to load the back of the van with blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows.

Then came Christmas Eve. 

At Thanksgiving, a local supermarket had a "Buy a ham, get a turkey for free" sale. We made the turkey for Thanksgiving and kept the ham for Christmas. 

Our friends down the street are from Kentucky (we're in Minnesota), and were 8 months pregnant; their families were not coming for Christmas. Since we knew they were alone, we invited them over for Christmas dinner instead of waiting until January to visit once the baby was born. Unfortunately they were not so keen on the ham idea, and asked to change the menu. 

We split the cost, but it was another unexpected expense.

In the middle of all of this, our main TV broke. Repair bill? $250. 

At this point, I just wanted to close my eyes and leave them closed until the bleeding stopped. Our emergency reserve of funds was completely used up at this point, and we weren't quite done yet.

In the past, we have had some pretty extravagant New Year's Eve celebrations. 

This year, we were actually planning on staying home and keeping it low key. When we told our friends we were staying home they thought (incorrectly) that we were saying, "Party at our house!" This snowballed into a gathering of about 30 people. 

I'm not exactly sure how that happened at this point.  All I remember is that one day I'm explaining to the kids that the silly string we had purchased for New Year's Eve had to be used OUTSIDE, and the next I'm making dart and Wii bowling tournament brackets. 

  • I do know that somewhere along the way I was conscious enough to declare the party favors we already had were enough, and nothing additional had to be purchased. 
  • I also distinctly remember setting the party time for AFTER dinner so we didn't have to worry about dealing with dinner for a large group of people. 
  • Finally, I suggested that each couple bring one appetizer so snacks would be available. 

This ended up being a relatively inexpensive evening (and quite fun, too), but another outside-the-budget expenditure to add to the list.

When it was all over, the sum of all these unexpected expenses added up to a sizable holiday financial hangover.  The good news is that we did have the ability to pay for them, but at the expense of taking out virtually all of our reserves. 

Of all these unexpected expenses, only the broken TV was out of our control - and even that was not absolutely necessary to repair. I've heard people can live without TV. The rest could be avoided by better planning, and using that powerful word I have so much trouble with, "No." 

So, how do I avoid having a holiday debt hangover the next time around? 

The idea I came up with is actually pretty simple.

  • I have a list of all the presents we bought, when we bought them, and how much they cost  (those of you  who regularly read my blog should not be surprised by this). 
  • I then made a list of the unexpected expenses. 
  • Finally, I printed off a copy of this post. 
  • I placed all three of these in the plastic tub that contains our fall decorations. 

Next September, when that tub is taken off the shelf and opened up I will instantly see and read the contents of my little debt time capsule

This will remind me of what went wrong during Holiday Season 2010. This will help me plan better, and remind me how easily things can get out of control if we don't stand firm in our budget. Armed with these reminders, I will be able to plan better and hopefully avoid having another hangover next year.

Related Links:

Holidays in September

 My Holiday Wish List

 New Year- New Financial Goals

 Travis PizelTravis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the CareOne community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan (DMP). Travis very candidly shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

Follow Travis on Twitter @DebtChronicles


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  • Another great post!!  I guess I was lucky to have had to work all the holidays last year.  I didn't end up with the holiday hangover.  Instead I increased my income since working holidays we get double time and a half.  I may have to plan on working another holiday season to make sure I don't experience the hangover.  I am hoping this will be my last year for being in debt during the Christmas holidays.  Let us know how it works next year for you.  :-)

  • Thanks for your comment mdavis1964 - I'm happy to hear you are not experiencing the Holiday Hangover.  :)   Adding additional income (however one decides to do that) is a great idea to help prevent the hangover.  For those that are unable to do so, planning way in advance is crucial.  I definitely will revisit this after next year's holidays to explore the subject of whether I learned anything!

  • t_pizel, I know for a fact if I didn't work the holidays I would be experiencing the Holiday migraine hangover.  It was easier for me to just ignore the holidays and tell everyone I had to work (wasn't a lie).  All because I am too chicken to face what you are facing now.  So you sharing does help me out a lot.  Thank you for that.

  • Thank you Travis for that honest assessment of your holidays. I feel better that I'm not the only one with trouble saying no. As you said the trick is to learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them. The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing over, the exact same way and  expecting different results. Best of luck to you and all of us! Thank you!

  • mdavis1964 - I have an idea, let's connect later in the year and lend each other some support as the holidays grow closer.  Maybe we keep both of us from having a Holiday Hangover in 2012!

  • Thanks for your comment, ScottMo68!  I truly believe that knowing that there are others going through the same thing is one of the first steps on the road to recovery.  If I'm not alone, and there are others out there on the way to fixing their situation, then I can do the same.  That gives me hope, and hope is priceless. Thanks for sharing!

  • I would love to connect later in the year and support one another during those difficult  times.  Maybe then I wouldn't run so fast.  I know my family was hurt this last year as I avoided all of it.  Thank you!

  • I was also lucky in that I didn't have to worry about a holiday hangover.  After all these years, I should have it down by now!  Since I have had to take a cut in pay though, I have definitely cut back on gifts for people.  

    The first time I told friends I was not exchanging gifts, I was surpised at just how agreeable they were and how easy it was!  Some of those friends, in turn, did the same thing with extended family, etc,, and found that they were just as relieved to not feel the pressure of gift giving.  

    As difficult as it may seem to say no, I think most people will be happy to find that others are feeling exactly the same way.  Sometimes, it just takes one person to take the lead!  Good luck on your holiday goals for next year!

  • Monica, I went back into my debt time capsule and made a note to connect with you in the fall.  I'm feeling better about next year's Holiday Season already.  :)

  • Cheryl, you are so right in that sometimes it only takes one person to mention changing the gift giving structure, and everyone else follows suit because they were thinking the exact same thing.  My wife's side of the family has a huge get together each Christmas.  It was near impossible to buy meaningful presents for everyone that attends without going broke.    We mentioned a few years ago that we should do a secret santa for the kids, and play a game for the adults.  I believe relief was felt by all.  When you're a kid, you look forward to presents - at this point in my life I could care less if I get a single thing.  I just want to spend time with as much family as possible.

  • The pieces of paper contained information about last year's spending. The purpose being to help keep this year's holiday spending on budget, and remind me of expenditures that I had not planned for last year, but which would certainly repeat themselves

  • Sticking to your budget during the holiday season is hard. Really hard, I know. Sometimes money just flies out of your bank account with you hardly even realizing it.

  • To stay on point this year I'm attacking holiday shopping with a dual-pronged approach of both saving money and generating additional funds. I want to share with you some of the highlights of my shopping so far.

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