Just Charge It – Instant Gratification and Holiday Spending

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charge it

Well, Christmas is tomorrow, so I hope you have all your holiday shopping done. If you’re like me, then you might not. Just as John wrote about not exchanging gifts this year with his wife, we are doing something similar. Instead of a gift, my wife and I are going to be going out on a date night. With a two year-old running around, we don’t get to enjoy many of those these days.

I feel this “gift” is even better than some trinket or other gift. I get to spend time with my wife and have a nice date night. Either way, as I have driven around town going to work and back, I pass near some very busy retail establishments. I haven’t seen them this busy in years. It appears some kids and loved ones are going to be very happy this year with the presents under the tree!

When I do pay attention to this holiday shopping craze, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that I don’t particularly enjoy. In both TV commercials and in storefronts, I have seen a massive push to get people to “charge it” and deal with the payments later. Hell, I even listened to a commercial the other day that just told people to charge it and wait until the new year to pay it off. I hadn’t heard such a brazen commercial before. It was for jewelry, of course!

Why the ‘charge it’ Strategy Sucks for Most People


I used to live by the “charge it” now and pay it off later strategy. This seems to be the general consensus when the holidays come around. There are many who can’t afford to pay for Christmas gifts, so they will pull out that little plastic card and get to swiping. Remember, I was in a lot of debt, about $50,000 in just credit card debt alone. This mentality is what landed me in that position. My terrible decision making and spending habits went on for years. I didn’t just wake up and have massive credit card debt, it took years to put on that financial weight. It also took years to pay it off. My spending and decision making sucked back then.

When the economic outlook gets better, people start spending more money. While most haven’t gotten paid more, they resort to just using credit cards or credit in general to fund their spending. This is just a bad idea, especially when it comes to nominal gifts for Christmas. My reasoning back in the day for spending so much when I didn’t have the money was I wanted to please my wife. I just wanted to see the look on her face when she opened a brand new digital camera or nice trip. I spared no expense. Unfortunately, those expenses didn’t spare me. I had to pay them back over time, even though I didn’t have the money to do it.

The “charge it” strategy is just not good for most people. Yes, it provides them with the instant gratification of getting a gift for their loved ones, but it also adds more to their piling debt. For those who carry a balance, the average US credit card debt in the US is $15,611 according to NerdWallet. That’s a lot of money and a lot of debt. What’s the point in adding more to that number just for Christmas gifts?

Consumers Want it Now, but Don’t Want to Pay for it


Our terrible spending habits are really just a result of our culture. We, as Americans, have access to different forms of credit. We can leverage our credit cards, home equity lines, personal loans, payday loans, and many other forms. If we need to find money, there is more than enough companies willing to provide us with funding. This all comes at a steep cost to us. Interest rates are high for many of these credit forms, but it’s all about convenience right? Our thought processes are backwards and this needs to be reversed. I used to be this way. Buy it now and pay it off later or over time. It’s all wrong if you ask me.

While I don’t mind using my credit card to purchase a gift for my son, the difference is I have the cash on hand to pay for it. I just want the rewards points. I pay off my credit cards every month and have since I paid off the last of my credit card debt over two years ago. I switched my thinking about debt and the repercussions it brings to me and my family. The retailers are trying their hardest to get me to spend money I don’t have as long as it adds to their coffers.

Well, I don’t want to play that game. My spending will not be dictated by what awesome sale I can get or discount I can find. My spending will be dictated by me and when I want to part with my hard earned money.

It’s time to stop this “charge it” holiday spending spree mentality. Credit cards are useful tools when used in the right way. Unfortunately, many of us don’t use them the way we should. Why not try “charging it” only when you have the funds available to pay it off or when you want to earn rewards? Let’s bust this “charge it” mentality for the holidays and get our budget back on track and our financial lives in order for the new year.


Have you “charged it” lately or seen the advertisements pushing consumers to just use their credit cards to get Christmas gifts? What are your thoughts on this marketing practice? Are you planning to start the new year off with less debt? If so, how?


Photo courtesy of: JeepersMedia

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

Latest posts by Grayson Bell (see all)


  • Nothing worst then the Holiday debt hangover come January. I have seen and heard the push to charge it this season, never a good strategy if you don’t have the cash to pay for things in the first place. I was there too and now I know better.

  • I have been really annoyed with all of the smartphone ads and commercials this year. They’re all advertising new phones with “no money down.” Why on Earth are people making payments on phones now?

  • Oh man the amount of spammy marketing crap that has appeared in my inbox the last few days is so annoying, and yeah many are promoting charge it and/or making monthly payments in case you can’t afford to purchase the whole thing right now in cash kind of thing. Ugh! Lots of folks are going to be waking up on Jan 1st with a financial hangover.

  • I think car dealers are the worst. I guess the economy is improving and gas prices are low so they are pulling out all the stops to get people to go buy a new car. I bet there are more people than you would believe who surprise their spouse with a new vehicle from listening to an ad.

  • Amos says:

    Date night with your wife is a great idea. I am planning to have some good time with my wife too. Luckily we don’t have any kid around us so we have a lot to expolit 🙂

  • Jason B says:

    I haven’t used my credit cards in a couple months. I don’t plan on using them anytime soon either.

  • As long as I use credit cards to buy my needs, it still fine with me. It’s really about how and how much we use our credit card. Mine, I used it this season so frugally. Merry Christmas!

  • I think one of the best credit card campaigns I have seen so far was offered by CIBC where you could get a credit card that would accumulate points that could be used to buy your food or coffees at Tim Hortons. Oh the stupidity…. I have this picture in my head of a guy going into Tim Hortons and charging it than looking over at his friend smiling, telling him “my next coffee is free now because of this card” This rewards card promotes frivolous spending.

  • I’m SO grateful that I’ve learned after two years of working at this to completely ignore the lure of hard-core sale spending. I couldn’t care less, and it feels AWESOME. 🙂

  • Myles Money says:

    Credit cards are great for those with the willpower to stick to a budget and to pay off the balance at the end of each month, but for everyone else cash is king. A little restraint at the checkout wouldn’t go amiss either…

  • Alexis says:

    I’m going to work on creating and sticking to a tighter budget for 2015. Happy Holidays!

  • I paid for (nearly) everything in cash this year. I did charge a couple last minute things I forgot about, but I knew I had some income coming in next week to pay for it. I will make a payment to my card to cover those few things as soon as I get the money deposited from my side hustles next week.

  • I’m SO grateful I never fell into the “charge it” trap. I use my credit cards, but only when I know I have the money TODAY to pay them off.

  • I think very few would disagree with you on this point. Changing the mentality is important. I think what’s even more important is to provide tools and resources for those who are currently in credit card debt.

  • We use our credit card all the time, but only for purchases in our budget that we pay off in full each month. The best part is that our rewards go directly to pre-paying our mortgage principal, which is our major debt at this point. But for those who don’t have the cash to pay for those purchases, this kind of marketing is really dangerous.

  • Alex @ The Happy Homeowner says:

    I’m definitely guilty of this, but I’m proud to say that I’ve (finally) made the decision to stop making poor financial decisions. It’s a long road but so worth it in the end!

  • Next year, I am cutting off my one of my credit cards, leaving me with only one. With it, I promise that I will rarely use it for poor spending decisions unless it’s really important. Hope it works.

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