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Sat, Oct. 19

Column | I’m dreaming of a debt-free Christmas

Merry debt-fueled Christmas, America! According to a recent NerdWallet study, nearly 40 million Americans are still struggling to pay off credit-card debts from last Christmas.

Here’s what’s worse: NerdWallet finds that this Christmas, “American consumers plan to spend more, charge more to credit, and take a longer time to pay it all off.” Good grief!

The grand irony is that the gifts we go in hock to give our kids and each other are often forgotten before the debt is paid off.

I was a kid in the ‘70s. But aside from a Huffy “Spyder” bike I got when I was 10, I can’t remember a single gift I received – though I vividly remember the extraordinary blessings my parents bestowed on me.

I remember going from lot to lot with my father in search of the perfect Christmas tree. We’d bring it home and set it on a sturdy plywood platform he built. We’d decorate the tree as a family, and my mother would explain the history of antique ornaments handed down by family members no longer with us.

I remember that our next-door neighbors, the Kriegers, would always visit on Christmas Eve. Tremendous festivity would fill the air. Donny Krieger, the big brother I never had, would make me laugh out loud (and would be taken from this Earth far too early).

I remember that sleeping on Christmas Eve would be nearly impossible. My father would stack the old stereo console in the dining room with every Christmas record we had – Mitch Miller, the Munchkins, Snoopy and the Red Baron, and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” The scratchy old records would finally lull me to sleep.

I remember it suddenly would be morning. I’d jump out of bed and run around, waking my sisters. Opening our gifts, torn wrapping paper would fill the living room. We’d laugh out loud as Jingles, our beloved mutt, rolled around in it. But I don’t remember the gifts.

I remember my five sisters, my parents and I were together and happy and healthy. All family conflicts and disputes were set aside on Christmas morning. My father would make a massive breakfast and we’d sit around, laughing and talking for an hour or more. Then, despite his repeated warnings that we’d better arrive at church early, we’d stand in the aisle because some once-a-year churchgoing family would be sitting in our regular seats.

Aside from the spiritual element, memories are what Christmas is most about. My Christmas memories are about togetherness, joy and gratitude for my family’s many blessings – things that cannot be acquired through credit-card debt.

Which makes our growing debts all the more ridiculous. By the end of 2018, American debt will exceed $4 trillion for the first time – $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $1.5 trillion for auto loans and other debts that do not include mortgage debt, and $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt that is wreaking havoc on the average millennial’s cash flow.

We should spend less on Christmas, not more. We should give more of our time and love, and be charitable, with some of the limited funds we have, to those in greater need.

We certainly should not borrow money we don’t have to purchase things that will soon be forgotten.

All I want for Christmas this year, and every year, is the health and happiness of my loved ones – and more memories, of course.

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