Spending

Secret Santa turning in to a cash killer: Get Mindful

Who doesn’t love a good scary movie? Trailers for a bunch of freaky but fun films are all over social media right now, but one particularly nasty personal horror show has probably just dropped into your inbox, or is about to: your credit card bill from Christmas and the so-called holiday ‘sales’.

Chances are you’ve been avoiding those gory details because when the bills land, the debts are in the thousands so few of us experience, what the gurus call, Financial Wellness.

It’s likely most of us got a bit impulsive in the past month and bought a few extra gifts, food and alcohol in the mad rush to try and guarantee a happy holiday for family and friends.

That pressure can flick a switch in our brains where we go into a kind of ‘trance’, handing over our credit cards on auto-pilot to supress that creeping feeling we really shouldn’t be spending so much. But it’s the holidays and we are supposed to relax…

The Australian Retailers Association expected Australians to spend $48.1 billion between mid-November and Christmas Eve (nearly A$2000 each) 2016. In December, CARE Australia claimed we spend $179 million on unwanted ‘Secret Santa’ gifts – dud presents the receiver will probably give away or never use. Aussie shoppers were tipped to spend a further $17.2 billion nationwide between Boxing Day and January 15.

A consumer survey by US company Statista found shoppers expected to spend an average of US$752 on Christmas gifts alone in 2016, not counting other holiday costs and sales spending. Americans were expecting 14 gifts each last Christmas and total US retail spending for the 2016 holiday season was estimated at $3.1 trillion.

The end result? The emotional burden of guilt and fear that comes with big debts. More than half of Australians identify personal finance issues as the leading cause of stress, according to the Australian Psychological Society.

So maybe, just to deal with the stress of it all, we buy ourselves a few treats. Who hasn’t tried to make life a bit more bearable with some ‘retail therapy’? In trying to make situation get better we can just make it worse. Ultimately it all seems like relatively normal human fallibility, but few would argue we abandon earlier good intentions to only buy what we need to. It almost feels Grinch-like to penny pinch at Christmas, so we blow our budget – and it’s probably not the first time.

The unsettling feelings we get from living beyond our means spill over to our work lives too. AMP, a financial services company, released a study last October which said financial stress costs Australian employers A$47.2 billion a year.

But what if we could get through the holidays not regretting our spending, not dreading the bloated repayments to come? What if at the same time we could still make ourselves and our loved ones happy, maybe even happier than usual?

Then we could show up at work without that nagging sense of fear that comes from surviving with financial stress. Sound like a fairy story? It doesn’t have to be.

The answer lies in applying the principles of mindfulness – the proven practice of moment-by-moment awareness – to our finances. It means training our minds to slow down and make decisions that we won’t regret later.

An Australian start-up – Financial Mindfulness – is set to launch a comprehensive personal program designed to revolutionise the way we think and behave with our money.

In the process we can stay within our means and feel better about ourselves by saying goodbye to the annual horror movie of unwanted debt.

Watch this space for a world-first solution.

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