The worst is over. It’s January – time to assess damage and develop a plan for economic recovery. No, I’m not talking about the effects of Hurricane Iniki. That was in ‘92. I’m talking about my plan to get back on my feet after the shopping 

flood that destroyed my bank account, Christmas ‘03. It looked something like this:

Gifts ........................................ $600
Gift-wrapping supplies ............. $40
Christmas cards ....................... $50
Stamps ...................................  $15
Cocktail dress for party ............ $90
Beautifying facial regime ............ $100
Shoes to match cocktail dress ... $60
Total package . PRICELESS

Of course, this is what credit-card companies and their ad agencies would like us to believe. But in reality, this total package is not priceless. In fact, December 2003 cost the average American $689. To make it even worse, most of it was charged, so let’s add 17 percent to the total. The whole month was a whirlwind of shopping, organizing, wrapping, charging, sorting, parties, beautifying – followed by even more shopping.

I had big plans to lock up the credit cards, but I am weak when faced with temptation – and there were so many cute things this year! Did you see the new Lucky Jeans in Ala Moana? I went to Las Vegas early in the month, too, and the outlets are great! Polo, Coach, Puma and Nike…it was too much. Goodies from Trader Joe’s for Dad, a nightie and slippers from Maidenform for Mom, T-shirts for the boys and initialed purses for the girls. The list goes on.…

It was really fun at the time! I rationalized my excessive credit-card use by telling myself that we only live once. After all, it’s just money! I guess advertising really does work.

Now the adrenaline rush is over, the shopping high has subsided and the credit-card statements are starting to arrive. I’m reminding myself that “It’s just money,” but that doesn’t seem to relieve the tension or my sleepless nights. This money is what pays rent, gas, food and everything else that makes the world go ‘round. And it feels heavy to be weighed down with debt.

I do this every year and every year I tell myself I am going to do it better next year. Sounds like my last 10 diet resolutions, but seriously, next year I am going to do it differently! Next year, I am going to plan and budget and not wait until the last minute. Next year, I am going to use cash only. Next year, I am going to give up ice cream and pumpkin pie. Next year, next year.

 Well, next year is here, and I’m making a plan and sticking to it. No more “tomorrows,” no more “next times.” Welcome to 2004!

Malisa Uchida is a graduate of Boston University. She now reports news and traffic on the “Lanai & Augie Morning Show” (Island 98.5 FM), as well as producing “The Mike Buck Show” (KHVH 830 AM). She can be reached at