Grimacing All the Way: The Truth About the Holidays


Dashing through the mall

With a long list in your hand,

You cannot find the shirt

You want for brother Dan.

You hardly slept all night,

 Arrived here at the dawn;

The shelves they were a sight,

The best deals were all gone.

Oh, holidays, holidays, they sure are a stress!

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.

Your shopping bags are full

Of stuff you pray they’ll like;

A shawl for mom in wool,

Billy wants a bike.

A sweater for your sis,

In pink, though she likes blue;

It’s really hit or miss,

You wish this day were through.

Oh, holidays, holidays they sure are a stress!

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.

The iPad price was sweet,

 But they disappeared by one

(A.M., that is); You think,

"Who said this day is fun?”

Oh, holidays, holidays they sure are a stress,

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.               

You nearly snagged that toy,

The last one at half price;

That woman grabbed it first,

She wasn’t very nice.

Oh, holidays, holidays they sure are a stress,

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.

They had to call a cop,

There almost was a fight;

You had that Kindle first,

He didn’t have a right.

The elbow to your side

Was more than you could take;

You shoved the jerk right back,

Just for good tidings sake.

Oh, holidays, holidays they sure are a stress,

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.

Your arms and feet they ache,

At last you finally find

A vest of fur that’s fake,

But fate just isn’t kind.

It’s just what Colleen wants,

However, there’s a rip;

You’re on the verge of tears,

You’ve got to get a grip.

Oh, holidays, holidays they sure are a stress,

You eat too much and spend too much

When you should do both less.

As you head back to your car

You shout for all to hear:

“I am siding with the Grinch,

Gift cards for all next year!”

Despite- or perhaps because of- all of the hype and pressure of the year-end holiday season, there are more Ebenezer Scrooges among us that we realize…or want to admit.

According to the Holiday Jeer Index from Consumer Reports, 1 in 4 Americans can’t stand mandatory visits with relatives. It also shows 16% say the thing they dread the most about the holidays is “having to be nice to other people,” says Tod Marks, senior editor of the magazine. Topping the list of complaints on what folks most dislike about this time of year is “crowds and long lines.”

On the lighter side (or, more accurately, the heavier side) “getting fat” and “getting into debt” were each cited by 38% of survey respondents as what they don’t like about this time of the year.

Despite the fact that nearly 30% of the respondents say they hate shopping for gifts, this year’s Black Friday brought in record crowds. Not only has the day-after-Thanksgiving-shopping bonanza expanded to encompass the entire weekend, it now includes Cyber Monday and now Thanksgiving itself.

Pretty soon Black Friday will start in October.  Don’t believe me?  This year I saw Macy’s (NYSE:M) putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween!  “Since the recession, about half [of those polled] said getting a good deal this year is more important than last year,” according to Marks. And retailers are responding offering deep discounts for more than a month now.

But if shopping sanity or football insanity kept you away from the malls this past weekend, fear not. The price cuts will keep coming, predicts Marks, who flatly states, “There is no ‘best time’ to buy.  You’re going to get a deal.”  In fact, a study commissioned by Consumer Reports found that last year, the prices of many of the electronics models that made the magazine’s “recommended” list were actually lower between Cyber Monday and Dec. 13.  The surveyed items included, TVs, laptops, cameras and similar items.

The shoppers who will get the biggest bargains are those whose lists are the most flexible. ”The holiday season is the key make-it-or-break-it time for virtually all retailers.  The only people who will feel disappointed are those who have to have a specific item, size, color, and style,” says Marks.  In other words, if the only thing your wife/husband wants is that puce and lime green argyle cardigan, you might have to bite the bullet and pay full price.  (Or find a spouse with better taste.)

Of course, if you’re pinched for time- or simply find walking on hot coals a more pleasurable activity- there are always the ever-popular gift cards. The good news is that the most onerous fees associated with them are gone.  Thanks to federal legislation passed last year, gift cards cannot expire before five years.  Issuers also cannot start to subtract “inactivity” fees until after 12 months have passed. This means that although consumers have been given more time to use a gift card, it can still slowly and surely erode away to nothing.

Suppose, for example, you give someone a $25 Starbucks (NYSE:SBUX) gift card. They forget they’ve got it.  If the issuer’s inactivity fee is $2 a month, at the end of 24 months the card is worth $1. After 25 months, it’s worthless.

Surprisingly, according to Consumer Reports, 1 out of 4 consumers who received a gift card last holiday season hasn’t spent the entire amount on the card.  More than half of us have two or more unredeemed since last year!  The top reasons:

1. I forgot I had the card

2. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy

3. I didn’t have time

So here’s what the experts say to gift card recipients: Spend it as soon as you get it!  Ben Woolsey of says, “One of the reasons retailers love gift cards is they get the cash up-front and often consumers don’t use the card.  It’s a double win for the retailer.” He suggests using any gift cards you receive to take advantage of post-holiday sales.

If you have a gift card and don’t know the balance remaining, Bill Hardekopf of

says it’s easy to find out: call the  toll-free phone number on the back of the card.  Be sure to also ask about fees or other conditions associated with the card.  And, guard a gift card as you would cash.  “Use ‘em before you lose ‘em,” says Hardekoph.  “Anyone can spend it.”

It’s possible to replace a lost gift card, but the burden is on the consumer.  When you receive a gift card, “write down the card number, the access/security code and the amount on the card,” advises Woolsey. You’ll need this information to get the card replaced.  If you don’t spend the entire amount on the card, keep your last receipt.  It will provide a record of the same information.

Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist and an instructor in Franklin Templeton Investments' global Academy. The views expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the content. 

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