By Cpl. Jovane M. Henry
Calif. -- Every holiday season, consumers spend millions of dollars on travel, gifts and meals, leaving their wallets to feel the pain as the new year rolls around.
For military members, many of whom are stationed away from their families or hometowns, paying for transportation or sending gifts to family members around the world can make or break the bank, especially for the junior enlisted.
Fortunately, there are resources in place to help Marines and their families navigate the sea of wasteful holiday spending. The Personal Finance Program, a part of Marine and Family Programs, offers the free services of two financial management consultants who hold classes on all things finance, from buying a first car to setting up a realistic budget.
Beth Middleton and Gerald Williams, both financial management consultants with Marine Corps Community Services, shared several crucial tips to keep spending under control during the holiday season.
Tip #1: Think rationally
"Service members, along with the rest of the nation, are in a festive mood during the holiday season, and that tends to lead them to spend without thinking," said Williams. "Often times, Marines will overextend themselves trying to ‘do it big' and end up spending money they normally wouldn’t. Don’t get caught up in the hype of buying blindly. Stay away from store credit cards and think about each purchase before you commit."
Tip #2: Plan ahead
Even with Christmas still several weeks away, now is the time to start planning for next year.
"Trying to scrape up funds for Christmas at the end of October is planning for failure," said Middleton. "You should always be mindful of your spending. Do some shopping for next year's gifts and decorations the day after Christmas when everything has a deep discount. It’ll save you money now and a headache later."
Tip#3: Travel wisely
Depending on how far away a service member is stationed from their hometown, roundtrip tickets there and back during the holiday season can break the bank.
"You have to think smart when it comes to trying to get home for the holidays," said Williams. "If you're broke and your family can't help you offset the cost of a ticket, the best decision may be to save your money and go home another month when the prices are lower."
Tip #4: Redefine family
All hope isn't lost for service members who find they can't afford to go home for the holidays, said Middleton.
"The Single Marine Program always has events going on during the holiday season and on Christmas," said Middleton. "Marines can also take advantage of the many families throughout the community who offer to 'adopt a Marine' for Christmas dinner or just hang out with friends. Sometimes being with family, whether you are related by blood or Corps, means staying right where you are."
Tip #5: Change your focus
Resisting the urge to give in to societal pressures to buy multiple expensive gifts and focusing instead on spending quality time with your family can not only result in a truly fulfilling holiday, but an undamaged wallet as well.
"Instead of buying expensive gifts, do nice things for your family instead, such as cooking, cleaning, writing a letter, or just telling them how much you appreciate them," said Middleton. "When it comes down to it, it's not the stuff you get, but the time you spend with each other."
For more information on financial resources and courses, contact the Financial Counseling Office at (760) 725-9790.