The stressfulness of the holidays is such a constant refrain from November through New Years that it’s become a complete cliché at this point, but the fact is that it’s much more stressful for some people than others.
For many people, getting from paycheck to paycheck and maintaining housing, bills, groceries, and loan repayments already feels like a task that is stretching them to their limits, without adding the holidays into the mix. Others can afford to put gifts into their budgets but have to control the amount they spend so closely that they wonder if the recipients of their gifts will think that they’ve been cheap, or that they didn’t care enough to get “real” presents.
Financial stress at the holidays can be one of the major contributors to holiday-related anxiety and depression. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to make holiday spending seem less daunting and more doable. These tips won’t magically grow your bank account, but they’ll give you ways of thinking about the holidays that will help you to spend responsibly and to consider your options so that you can make the most of whatever you have to spend.
Make a holiday budget that is accurate.
When you’re making your holiday budget, plan for all the expenses you’ll incur, not just gifts. Will you be traveling? If so, by air? Car? Train? How much will tickets and/or gas cost? What about extra fees for things like checked baggage? Will you be hosting any parties? If so, what’s a realistic estimate for how much you might spend on food? Will you be going out to eat more as you travel to places and catch up with people you haven’t seen in a long time? All of these expenses should be totaled into your holiday budget because they’ll help give you a more realistic idea of how much you can actually spend on gifts. A detailed budget like this might also help you realize that all of your holiday ambitions are just not possible. Maybe you were planning on throwing a party, but find that it’s just not in the budget this year.
Decide whether you want to go “narrow and deep” or “wide and shallow” with gift-giving.
This idea comes directly from Maryalene LaPonsie writing for the financial section of U.S. News. LaPonsie says that you can approach holiday shopping one of two ways: decide to get a bigger, more expensive amount of presents for just a few people or decide to get a smaller, less expensive amount of presents for many people. Unless you’re very wealthy, you shouldn’t attempt to do both. Some people just love gift-giving and want to spread that joy around as much as possible. If that’s you, then good for you and your generous spirit! Just remember that you’ll have to be very careful and restrict yourself to a certain not-very-high dollar amount for each person on the list.
Decide what you’re getting for people early so you can comparison shop.
If you have an idea of the gifts you’re getting for the people on your list preferably somewhere around mid-November, then you have plenty of time to comparison shop. You can check weekly paper ads and online vendors once a day or once a week to check for sales. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, there will be a sale, no matter what you’re looking for.
If you have to give gifts to a bulk group of people, consider going homemade.
Of course, you very rarely have to give gifts, but some work environments, for instance, have cultures where everyone distributes gifts to their immediate coworkers, and if you don’t you’ll feel like the one person at work who was a Grinch. To deal with this pressure, just go homemade. The internet is absolutely full of ideas for homemade baked goods, for instance, that have some kind of fun holiday decoration or theme.
Be honest with your loved ones about your financial situation, and propose a specific gift-giving arrangement.
For example, if you can’t afford to buy presents for all 23 of your extended family members who will gather together for the holidays, you could suggest doing a Secret Santa. You could also suggest other alternatives, like limiting spending to a specific low dollar amount for every family member or only buying presents for the kids, who are looking forward to them the most. If your family is extremely selfish and lacking in empathy then they might say no, but chances are they will understand and want to help you avoid adding further stress to your life.
Limit your use of credit, and keep track of purchases diligently.
Using cash is preferable because it doesn’t allow you to just keep spending and spending; when it runs out, it runs out. But using cash might not be possible for all people, so if you need to use credit, record each holiday purchase you make immediately. Do it with any method you like – plain old pencil and paper somewhere in your home where you won’t lose it, a money-tracking app on your phone, whatever. Just make sure that you track your purchases right away because you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll lose receipts or accidentally delete confirmation emails of electronic purchases, and it’s important to keep a continual eye on how much of your budgeted funds you have left.
If you use all these methods and still feel like the money won’t stretch far enough, keep in mind that it’s extremely possible to have a minimalist holiday season in which you don’t exchange gifts at all! Lots of people have this conversation with their families and come to a family agreement that just spending time together is the real point and joy of the season anyway. Obviously, not all individuals or families will go for this, but during the years right after the 2008 recession, an increased number of families started this tradition and enjoyed it so much that they just kept doing it; it helps them feel like they’re actually embracing the spirit of the holidays and significantly lowers their holiday stress.
Feeling overwhelmed by and unable to deal with the financial burden of the holidays? You can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how I can work through these feelings with you.