Holiday shopping budgets are taking a bit hit in this year's "Twelve Days of Christmas" shopping list. The annual survey from PNC Wealth Management found that rounding up the leaping lords, drumming drummers and a flock of assorted birds from the classically annoying Christmas carol was up $1,168 this year, or 4.8 percent, to $25,431.18.
The largest increase was the cost of six geese-a-laying at $210, up nearly 30 percent. This is a relief to me, personally, since anyone who wanted to give me six geese has likely been priced out of the market.
Mistletoe and medical care
This disgusting gaggle of waterfowl sums up the total pointlessness of "The 12 Days of Christmas" from a gift-giving point of view. Who needs ladies dancing and lords a-leaping unless you're casting the road show for "Glee"? Instead, take your holiday shopping cues from another December tradition: the mad rush to use up your health care flexible spending account dollars.
Flexible spending accounts, as you recall, allow you to avoid paying taxes on a couple thousand dollars by depositing the money into a special account through your employer. Your cash is then used to reimburse you for qualified medical costs throughout the year, but you lose any money that's left unspent by Dec. 31. Participants will forfeit an average of $138 each this year, experts say.
My suggestion: Combine your holiday shopping list with your unspent health account wad. You'll find that nothing says "Christmastime" like treating an elderly relative to new hearing aid batteries. That way, they don't miss a single rum-pum-pum-pum when "The Little Drummer Boy" blares for the 47,000th time in their lives. Grandma will either thank you profusely or beg for the sweet mercy of getting run over by a reindeer.
So discard that worthless "12 Days of Christmas" list and let's hit the drugstore! Sing it with me, folks:
"On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
12 ear wax treatments
11 stool softeners
10 denture cleaners
9 pregnancy tests
8 breast pump batteries
7 swimmer's ear remedies
6 hammer-toe straighteners
5 hemorrhoid creams
4 topical ointments
2 head lice shampoos
And a nasal decongestant spray!"
As you can see, merging your gift purchases with draining your flexible health spending account can save time and money during this hectic holiday shopping season. It's the perfect way to kill two calling birds with one stone.
(Brian J. O'Connor is an award-winning columnist for The Detroit News. Contact him at email@example.com.)