Opinion Column

Ready, set, open wallets!

Tara Seel

With Grey Cup over (I don't want to talk about it), the fine dance begins. There are only 24 sleeps until Christmas. So, let's see, that means I only have 24 sleeps to do all my shopping, finish making gifts, attend two office parties, attend two non-work-related pre-Christmas Christmas parties, get the tree up, hunt down figgy pudding and, oh yeah, try and find some Christmas spirit.

It seems I might be among the minority in trying to find my Christmas mojo. According to an RBC survey released last week, more money will be spent on Christmas this year than in 2010. It is not a significant amount, rising to approximately $640 per person from $624, but it goes to show that I am not one to make economic projections - I would have been wrong. I was surprised to find out that people will be spending more on Christmas this year. With costs everywhere increasing and economic uncertainties throughout the world, I was sure people would cut back a little bit. But not only is spending on gifts increasing, so is spending on general holiday frivolity, including entertainment, decorations, travel and food. Last year, Canadians spent, on average, $512. This year, that number jumps to $612.

After seeing these projections, I got to thinking that perhaps people spend more during the hard times because they feel the need to focus on the good - family, friends, merriment. Perhaps when times get tough, people get generous. The thought of brightening someone's day with a gift, a dinner or a party may be reason enough to pull out the credit card (which is how more than a third of Canadians plan to do their Christmas spending), or raise the holiday budget. The psychology pertaining to the holidays must be quite complex. Why do we go into debt every December? Why are we so happy to do so?

Frugality and budgets seem to go out the window for the holidays. In 2010, Canadian shoppers went over budget by an average of $429. So, when you add all holiday expenses together - $624 on gifts, $512 on festivities, $429 over the budget - Canadians spent $1,565 on Christmas. And that number seems destined to grow bigger this year. People living in Québec are the most budget conscious, planning to spend an average of $461 this Christmas. Atlantic Canada has the most generous of citizens, with a planned average budget of $877. Albertans come in second, planning on spending $703; shoppers in BC, Manitoba and Saskatchewan plan on spending $680; and people in Ontario are opening their wallets to the tune of $663.

All of this sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but Canadians (excluding those in the Atlantic provinces) are misers compared to our American counterparts, who plan on spending $831. It seems that, despite all logic and sound economic reasoning, the Christmas spirit does not have a price tag. We budget big and spend even bigger. So, I guess it is time to creak open my pocketbook and enjoy the most debt-inducing season of all.

Tara Seel is a contributing columnist to The Daily Graphic.


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