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Festive fork out

HEART OF THE MATTER
Typography
A busy Christmas shopping street

Festive fork out

Heart of the Matter
Claire Egan



Whether one likes it or not, there is no escaping the inevitable Christmas frenzy. Every village, town and city nationwide is busy putting up lights, trees and banners proclaiming the joyous news of the birth of Jesus Christ. Foremost in the mind of the public, however, is that the ‘Christmas rush’ is on and everyone - young and old, rich and poor alike - must jump on the bandwagon and hurtle along in a glorious splurge of spending, eating and drinking.
The festive campaign now seems to begin in mid-October, and picks up momentum with each passing week. Halloween bunting is pulled down and yuletide lights hung up before the ghouls and goblins have left the building.
According to a recent Irish Independent article, the Irish are expected to be top of the spending league this Christmas. In our rush to have the biggest and best, we will outdo our more cautious and frugal European counterparts and leave the Americans trailing miserably in our spending wake.
A survey conducted by Deloitte and Touche shows that, on average, Irish households will spend €1,399 this Christmas. Britain, by comparison, will spend €1,057 and Spain €904. When it comes to spending, we will shell out double the average European amount.
More than half of the total outlay will be spent on gifts and the remainder on socialising and food. On top of that, we will increase our overall financial outlay on Christmas by a whopping ten percent from last year.
Christmas in our ultra-modern society is a marketing dream, a bumper bonanza of selling and buying, spending and, inevitably, debt. The latter is a dirty word which many refuse to acknowledge during the festive period. Only afterwards is the reality accepted - when people are in crisis.
“We find people are more inclined to come and ask for advice after Christmas, rather than before. The thing is though that Christmas comes every year, on the same date, yet the reaction of the public is one of complete surprise. Everyone is swept up in a frenzy of spending and living beyond their means. Once Christmas is over people find that they have gone completely over-budget and need help,” says Monica Joyce, a money advisor for the Money Advisory and Budgeting Service (MABS), Castlebar.
To those for whom money is a constant worry, such as low income earners and those on social welfare, the Christmas period is a formidable obstacle to be overcome rather than a celebration to be enjoyed. Pressure looms to meet demands and expectations.
“There is huge peer pressure on everyone, both young and old alike, to have a Christmas of a high standard. There is such huge competition and the Christmas period really brings that to the fore. The funny thing is though that people invariably do not save up for Christmas. One of the things we advise is to try and put money aside each month for Christmas. It will help to avoid debt after the holidays are over,” explains Monica.
The widespread availability of borrowing options to those in the middle income category is also a cause of concern.
“Undoubtedly low income earners and social welfare beneficiaries are hardest hit, but problems also arise for middle income families. Those in employment are finding it harder to manage because when there is money coming in there is also a tendency to spend more and borrow to facilitate the extra spend. In turn lending societies are more than willing to offer money for borrowing,” said Monica.
Organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul work all year round to help alleviate the burden of those who are on the poverty line due to economic, social or financial difficulties, and for whom Christmas is a particularly difficult time of year.
“We work all year around but coming up to the Christmas period we find that we have our biggest spend, helping families out with various needs. For families who are struggling with the basic necessities such as food, clothes and heat even at the best of times, the Christamas season places a huge burden on them, ” says Stephen Breheny of the SVP, Westport and Mayo region.
The 21st century Christmas has become synonymous with spending rather than traditional religious values. And everyone is caught up in the hype.
“Advertising campaigns begin so much earlier and there is such an onus on people to spend and spend. It’s a huge psychological thing really. People feel they need more due to the pressure to buy more and more at one particular time of year,” said Stephen.
This is a sentiment echoed by Martin Keane, Westport Town Councillor and organiser of the ‘Fuel Appeal for the Elderly’ campaign in the Westport area.
“It’s a hugely commercialised event really and unfortunately it has become all about spending rather than Christian values. It can be a joyous time but also a sad time, particularly if people are struggling financially. I would advise people to avoid using ‘loan sharks’ for deals and loans. Better help is at hand,” said Martin.
While some may dismiss those who preach financial caution at Christmas as Scrooges or killjoys, the pressures imposed at this time of year can leave a terrible Christmas debt hangover.
“Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill, but we would advise people not to let goodwill over-ride common sense when it comes to spending and buying. Be sensible and avoid debt and if you are experiencing difficulties there is help available,” concludes MABS advisor, Monica Joyce.