For many of us, the holiday season means that we can shop 'til we drop, but for lots of women, holiday shopping isn't just about making a list and checking it twice.
Canadians spent an estimated $19.5 billion on holiday gifts in 2005, according to a survey conducted by Visa, and women will have to brave the crowds and the cold to do it all over again this year. "Women have an innate desire to please, and there can be a lot of pressure to get all the gifts on everyone's wish lists," says Laurie Campbell, executive director of Credit Canada, a credit counselling service based in Toronto. "Women are the care givers in society, and it's usually up to them to do the gift giving," she points out.
The survey also showed that many shoppers got caught up in the holiday spirit; 21 percent of shoppers bought gifts with no recipient in mind. While the holiday season can trigger binge shopping and the resulting debt, there is a difference between trying to emulate Santa Claus and compulsive shopping.
"If you find yourself buying things you cannot afford or need but have a strong compulsion to buy it anyway, this can be a sign that you are compulsive shopping - a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder," says Dan Prodonick, who runs the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Helpline in Toronto. "A lot of the time, compulsive shopping results in a person that will hoard their purchases, or they become obsessed with buying on specific thing. This is a nesting instinct that has gone berserk."
Obsessive shopping can cause major disruptions in the shopper's life, creating tension with family members and severly impacting their finances. But there is hope for sufferers. Compulsive shopping can be treated wtih medication and behavior therapy tha tis tailored to each patient. With proper treatment, people with OCD can go on to lead normal lives.
To keep holiday spending in check, it's important to have a plan before heading to the mall. "It's so easy to overspend during the holidays," Campbell says, "January, February, and March are the busiest months for credit counseling, because people blow their holiday budget. They just don't realize how much they are actually spending."
Formulate a holiday budget, and don't forget to include non-present costs such as family dinners, decorations, babysitters and entertainment, or you can end up spending a lot more than you planned. Another tip: leave the credit cards at home. "Some people will continue to pay for their holiday spending will into the next holiday season," Campbell says.
So, to avoid paying later for this year's holiday excesses, use cash or debit whenever possible, and try to avoid crowds. This will give you time to shop deliberately and without pressure; you will have time to comparison shop for the best prices, and keep track of your spending.
Above all, if holiday shopping is causing you stress, try to remember what's really important during the holidays, says Campbell. "Instead of focusing on gifts try to focus on traditions - family gatherings, getting together with friends, and building memories for your children. Ultimately, these are the things that you will remember and cherish."