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Some Post-Holiday Debt, but No Regret

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s the end of December and Charlotte and Marcus Pride still aren’t sure what Christmas cost them this year.

“We haven’t sat down and really calculated how much we spent,” Charlotte said. And she doubts that her husband wants to pencil it out.

“I don’t think he’s really in a hurry to do that,” she said.

The Los Angeles couple, like millions of other Americans, plunged into the 1998 Christmas shopping season without a defined budget, charged most of their purchases and continued buying even as Santa was loading his sleigh.

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On Christmas Eve, Charlotte, 37, was making one last run to the Fox Hills Mall to buy leather jackets for her mother and sister. In all, she estimates that they bought about 35 gifts, mostly for their five children. Still, Pride thinks they may have spent less this year than last.

Regardless of the amount, the couple plan to pay the entire bill in January to avoid interest charges, Pride said.

Nationwide, shoppers were expected to pile $97.3 billion onto their credit cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to CardWeb Inc., a payment card research firm in Gettysburg, Pa. By the end of January, $80 billion of that debt will be paid off, the group predicted.

Paying their bill with one swipe isn’t an option for Orange residents Ken To and Thuy Phan, however. The couple charged about $600 in Christmas purchases. But with a combined annual income of $44,000, it will be tough to pay down the debt, Phan said.

“It will probably take about a year to pay it off,” she said. “But I’ll manage.”

Phan, 33, had vowed from the beginning not to let financial worries darken the holiday season for her family of four, which includes sons Sean, 8, and Justin, 6.

This was a particularly joyful Christmas for the family compared with last year, when Justin was hospitalized with cancer. The disease is now in remission.

The couple’s financial picture has also brightened. Last year, To, 36, quit working to stay at his son’s bedside. With Justin’s health improving, To got a new job a few months ago as a loan coordinator at a mortgage firm.

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With all this good news, Phan had planned to spend at least $500 on gifts for their sons. Ultimately, she and To charged about $100 more. They also paid about $200 in cash for presents for doctors, nurses and young patients at the hospital where Justin was treated last year.

However long it takes to pay off the Christmas gifts, Phan said she has no regrets.

“The kids loved the toys,” she said. “We didn’t have to exchange anything, nothing at all.”

Credit card bills are one thing Carmen Hernandez, 50, and Sergio Aguilar, 54, won’t have to worry about as they enter the new year.

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The Laguna Beach couple paid cash for all of their Christmas purchases and trimmed expenses by gathering some gifts from garage and yard sales.

While they found plenty of bargains on their Saturday trips through their seaside community, they still managed to spend more than planned, partly because of side trips to Sears and Kmart and partly because their gift list kept growing.

The couple initially expected to spend close to $800, including money for family in Mexico. Ultimately, they spent about $900, Hernandez said.

But they have no bills waiting, and are happy with the gifts they gave as well as those they received.

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“Everything was great for us,” said Hernandez, who keeps house for a Laguna Beach family. “We were not disappointed with anything.”

That sentiment was echoed by Charlotte Pride.

Her husband, 36, was thrilled with the diamond cuff links she got him this year and wore them into his chiropractic office on Monday, his first day back at work.

Though the family has a “six-figure income,” Pride’s most memorable gift didn’t cost a thing. On Christmas Day, her children performed a surprise song and dance routine they had been practicing for weeks. They capped it off with a rendition of “Silent Night” that 12-year-old son Mychal performed in sign language, which he learned as part of the gift.

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“I wasn’t even aware that he knew sign language,” Pride said. “It kind of blew us all away.”

With no returns to make, she is now left to savor her memories.

“This year was pretty good,” she said.


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