December 13, 2012

Do you like this?

The holiday shopping season is definitely in full swing. With that comes an outlay of income that may or may not be disposable for some. Seems that nowadays—given the option—no one (at least in my peer group) expects a gift. However, nearly everyone feels as if they need to give one for some reason.

When I was a kid Christmas was a big deal. We could expect a haul of toys and gifts because, other than our birthdays, we didn’t receive random presents throughout the year. If you wanted anything other than needed clothing, which no kid in their right mind ever wants, then you had to do chores, earn an allowance and save for weeks or months in order to purchase that new “Star Wars” action figure or Evel Knievel accessory. We didn’t get toys just for being good at the grocery store or just because we saw a cool ad on television.

I remember sitting down and painstakingly perusing the Sears catalog for weeks before Santa’s arrival contemplating various options and combinations of the things I just couldn’t do without for another year. I’d vigorously circle an item in Bic ballpoint pen and then fold the page corner down so much that no one even casually flipping through the catalog could miss the marker. These days, my daughter just sends me an email with Internet links to the items she wants. Still just as cute I guess.

No matter how big the haul, my daughter realizes how lucky she is to receive the amount of gifts (that she actually wants) this time of year. She’s the type of girl who would actually give up a gift or two if she knew of another girl who might not get anything for Christmas otherwise. While that makes me extremely proud of her, it also makes me wonder if any of us really need any gifts at all?

Watching television this time of year can be depressing, given the frequency of ads for alternative money management services—payday loans, car title pawns and the like. Expenses that come with giving gifts take a toll on everyone, but especially on those who couldn’t afford to do it at all without digging themselves into a financial hole that would be difficult, if not just plain impossible, to get out of. And it’s obscene to me how these vulture institutions prey on those much less fortunate.

Payday loans and title-pawn services charge ridiculous amounts of interest on such “friendly” advances on cash that people don’t have in the first place. So, in my mind, if you don’t have the money now, then how do you plan on paying it back—with interest—in the limited amount of time allotted? It can very likely become a vicious cycle that will last a hell of a lot longer than between two paydays. Shame on trusted celebrities like Montel Williams for making it sound so easy and convenient.

But the ad that really makes me mad is the Western Sky loan service. This company says it can put up to $10,000 in your checking account by tomorrow, then the fine print blips up on the screen for a few seconds. Curious, I read the loan terms once and noticed they stated that repayment would consist of 84 monthly payments of $384. Doing the math, this equates to a staggering repayment amount of $32,256 on $10,000. I’m no mathematician, but what is that—more than 300 percent interest or something? That’s just plain outrageous.

I understand that the desperation to obtain loans and advances like these go well beyond the need to buy Christmas gifts for the kids. The ability to pay basic monthly bills or unexpected expenses such as fixing a car are likely at play for these individuals, in addition to keeping up with the anticipated financial wrenches of events such as Christmas. But what this also tells me is that maybe we all ought to take a little pressure off of each other and just have ourselves a merry little Christmas for the right reasons.

Chuck Crowder is a local writer and man about town. His opinions are his own.


December 13, 2012

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