Recent surveys from NerdWallet, Consumer Affairs, and Credit Karma all say nearly the same thing about the holiday season: Americans expect to go into debt. This is a different statistic than the fact that, historically, about half of U.S. households go into debt to celebrate the holidays. The difference is that people now expect it and accept it as normal. Leaders at all levels should be aware of this fact not just because of what it means fiscally, but because of what it says about their workforce during the holidays.
CEOs and their direct reports need to accept that their teams are not the same for the last four weeks of the year. How can they be? They know they are coming up short and don’t plan to do anything about it. Try to imagine the stress that comes from buying gifts and paying for holiday travel knowing you can’t afford it. Imagine the strain created by putting items on layaway or wondering how you’ll pay a utility bill after buying a new outfit for the family’s holiday gathering. It’s not enough to say, “They are just making bad choices and it’s not my problem” because the organization’s ability to perform is directly related to the effectiveness of its human workforce. This all begs the question, “What can leaders do to help alleviate this pervasive, nationwide issue?”
Consider an annual, fourth quarter focus on fiscal stewardship aimed at educating employees and ultimately guiding them toward the kinds of choices that help lower stress and improve morale. A concerted effort that’s shared and highlighted through appropriate company channels would send the entire organization two very clear messages:
- the company cares about its people and recognizes the challenges associated with the holidays at the end of the year; and
- going into debt to celebrate the holidays isn’t acceptable and it doesn’t have to be that way.
An excellent way to drive home the second point would be to circulate a checklist that offers a fun set of basic instructions to navigate the end-of-year holidays. Here’s a great example to help get started, but you’ll want to add your own stamp to this to ensure it fits with your team’s culture and specific needs.
Our Company’s Super-Duper Financial Checklist for the Holidays This Year
- Did you save throughout the year for the holidays? If not, start now. Don’t let next year sneak up on you again. Every month, set aside some funds for your celebration and then follow rule #2.
- Stay in your budget! If you don’t have the funds, don’t spend it. Use cash or debit cards instead of credit cards. Wondering how to make sure you stay within your budget? Read on for great ideas to make your holidays easier on your wallet and, ultimately, on your health.
- Why not share the load? If you team up with your brother or sister to buy mom a present, that means it will cost you less and there will be less gifts under the tree. Don’t we all want to get away from the materialism of the holidays? If you like this idea, don’t forget Rule #4!
- Start early! If you spread the purchases out over three or four months, it will impact your budget a bit less. Also, if you’re going to share buying gifts with others, you want to have that conversation with them early on. Otherwise, you might call them to arrange a joint gift, only to find out they’ve already made their purchases.
- How about you come to my place? Traveling is never cheap. If you host the family celebration at your home, you could potentially save a lot of money. But there’s an even cheaper way to do this, so make sure you read rule #6!
- Technology is your friend! Hook your computer and camera up to a large TV in the family room and use Skype or Facetime to be able to see and hear everyone even though they are not in your home. With just a little effort, you could share the holiday experience with loved ones on the other side of the country without even buying a plane ticket.
- If you’ve read this far, congratulations on being so serious about your finances this holiday season. What’s stopping you from calling your loved ones right now and asking for a year to focus on each other, instead of gifts? Do we really need another pair of socks in our drawer or a new blender in the kitchen? Find the real magic of the holidays that comes from paying attention to what really matters: the people that care about us.
In order for a program like this to be successful it needs to be more than a checklist. Consider that ninety percent of Americans plan to keep secret the fact that they are going to use debt to cover their holiday expenses. In some households, this means one spouse doesn’t even know what fiscal burdens their partner is carrying. The above checklist is a great way to start the conversation, but to really make a difference with employees, leaders need to get involved and truly have the conversation with their workforce through the appropriate channels. Identify resources, ask questions, offer feedback, be more than just a boss this holiday season… be an example.
Written by Christopher (Chris) Manske.
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