Black Friday specials and other offerings during the holiday season make it tempting to spend money — sometimes lots of money — on gifts during a shopping binge when thriftiness might be more appropriate.

The “Gift of Thrift” is spotlighted in the USA Weekend magazine supplement in today’s edition of The Ottawa Herald. It offers tips on how to keep the holidays affordable, though many of the lessons are applicable year-round.

One such tip is to think long-term rather than short-term — in other words, look at your “life list” rather than a “Christmas list” when making gift-giving decisions. Rather than buying a trinket on impulse, for example, instead think of accomplishing bigger picture goals.

This suggestion of changing your mind-set works in various parts of life. Does the money that could be spent today for a baby gift make more sense to use to start a savings account for the baby’s college fund? Similarly, the same lesson holds true at the state and national level of lawmaking and politics, too.

Rather than treating every day like Christmas with a seemingly bottomless pit of money, it is wiser to step back from the proverbial fiscal cliff and make spending decisions that help accomplish long-term goals rather than short-term desires. That shift in thinking means that it isn’t OK to keep spending money just because checks remain in the checkbook. It also means not continuing to spend just because money remains in the bank account, but instead looking at expenses and determining whether they truly are wants or needs.

Eliminating duplicate and overlapping programs, as well as programs or expenses that have outlived their usefulness, should be at the top of the list for elimination. Addressing Americans’ $16 trillion in debt — more than $51,000 per citizen — is imperative, and it must be done now.

The United States has spent far too much on wants during its own shopping binges without narrowing the focus to needs. Congress and the president must take threats of a fiscal cliff seriously and embrace controlling impulses and adjusting spending accordingly. To do otherwise leaves taxpayers with ample expensive baubles but little for the long-term health and stability of the country.

 

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher