This article was published on 19 November 2011. Some information may be out of date.

Two thoughts about Christmas shopping

Look at any graph of credit card spending over the years and you see a clear pattern — spikes each December as we put Christmas gifts, food and drink and holiday spending on our cards.

Then look at the data on how many people pay their credit card bills in full. You’ll see some people doing that always, some people doing it rarely, and a fair number doing it pretty much every month except for the January-February bills.

I always wonder whether children would prefer their parents to spend less over Christmas in exchange for having less financial stress in the new year. So I was pleased to see a recent Dun & Bradstreet survey that found that “nearly half of all consumers will use their own savings to pay for additional expenses over Christmas.”

General manager John Scott said this was higher than usual, adding that there is also “an unusually conservative attitude to new lines of credit or limit increases heading into the holidays.”

But it wasn’t all cheering news. “Many are strugglling to manage existing debt levels, in particular the most vulnerable housesholds such as those with children or a low combined income,” said Scott.

He also noted that younger people are more likely to rely on buying on credit, “with more than two-thirds of 18–19 year olds expecting to use credit over Christmas.” Hey you guys, please don’t get into that habit!

While we’re on Christmas spending, here’s this year’s list of charities that offer Christmas gift programmes.

Through such programmes you might, for example, donate money on behalf of a friend or relative to buy an animal or farming equipment for people in developing countries. You receive an acknowledgement to give to the person to show what they have “donated”. It’s a much more meaningful gift than most of the unwanted stuff we buy one another.

I’ve asked each charity to “sell” their programme in 20 words or less, as follows:

  • Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand: 0800 22 10 22 or www.caritas.org.nz. “Caritas Gifts — after Christmas when the excitement is over the gift you gave will still be changing lives!”
  • ChildFund New Zealand: 0800 223 111 or www.childfund.org.nz. “Purchase ChildFund’s celebrity-authored book teaching Kiwi children the joys of alternative gift-giving, browse the range of life-changing gifts on offer.”
  • Christian World Service: 0800 747 372 or www.gift.org.nz. “Change overseas lives for the better. Choose from chickens, goats, water, gardens and more. It’s simple, fun and it works.”
  • Leprosy Mission New Zealand: 0800 862 873 or www.reallygoodgifts.org.nz. “Our vision is a world without leprosy. Really Good Gifts will help people to break free from leprosy — for good.”
  • MEND: 027 329 8368 or 09 407 8395 or www.mend.org.nz/giving. “MEND helps disabled persons in developing countries become mobile, healthy, employable and independent to achieve dignity in their communities.”
  • Oxfam: 0800 600 700 or www.oxfamunwrapped.org.nz. “Change the present, change a future. For fun-tastic gifts that really make a difference, check out Oxfam Unwrapped.”
  • TEAR Fund: 0800 800 777 or www.giftforlife.co.nz. “TEAR Fund’s gift items transform the lives of the poorest by providing essential education, healthcare, water and other needs.”
  • The Fred Hollows Foundation: 0800 227 229 or www.hollows.org.nz/Miracle_of_Sight. “For $25 you can give a beautiful Miracle of Sight card and help restore sight to someone in the Pacific.”
  • UNICEF: 0800 537 739 or www.inspiredgifts.org.nz “Your Inspired Gift is guaranteed to reach children — and UNICEF will let you know where it’s changing a child’s life.”

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it.