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How to Not Freak Out About Your Finances This Holiday Season

How to Not Freak Out About Your Finances This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly… until you see your bank balance in January. Despite every post-holiday cliché of folks looking despondently at their credit cards still smoking on the kitchen counter as they morosely fork more ramen noodles to their mouths, we don’t have to suffer the same fate.

It’s fairly common in pop culture to laugh off bringing your lunch all through January because you’re so broke from the holidays you have to eat beans to pay it all off. If you know this is the pattern you’ve established… isn’t it also within your power to break the habit and beat it? Yes! It just takes a little planning and self-reflection to get around this hurdle. Today, we’re talking about staying calm, cool and collected about our holiday spending – by taking a cold, hard look at the kinds of issues you might be struggling with – and how to overcome them!

Do You Have to Go Broke to Have a Happy Holiday?

Are you spending every last dime to impress people? What’s really important to you? Can you make a splash without spending so much? Are you spending more money out of convenience? Do you not have time to put into shopping, let alone making presents?

Ask yourself a tough question: what’s your focus – staying financially healthy or impressing everyone you know with expensive gifts? Knowing why you veer into broke territory can help you find the path to feeling great about your spending, instead of regretful and worried.

Are you stuck on protocol and social mores? If you’re dishing all your dough bringing hostess gifts to every weekend party, there are simpler ways to stand out from the crowd, wow your hosts and save some coin at the same time. It just takes a little forethought…

Make a List – & a Budget

Planning ahead can save you some bucks and give you that rush of accomplishment. Plus, like grocery shopping on a full stomach, you are less likely to throw add-ons into your cart if you are confident you have what you need.

Budgets aren’t difficult to make but can be hard to stick to. Have a good conversation with your family or friends about putting limits on capping how much you spend. They might be as relieved as you are to be given the OK to not go crazy! You can do a simple budget per person, say, $50 each, or you can come up with an overall amount you are comfortable sticking to and work backwards from there.

Because some of us find it harder to equate value to credit cards (after all, we don’t have to have that money now – it’s future money!), once you have your budgeted dollar amount, take it out in cash and put it in a jar. You only have that much to spend. You’ll have a visual of what you have left and because you are using NOW money instead of FUTURE money, you won’t have to pay it off later. This can be a fun game too – when you save a little on one gift, you have more for another. How much can you get with only that amount?! Here comes value again.

Go Easy on Holiday Sales – or at Least Use Them to Your Advantage

THIS AMAZING WHATCHAMACALIT IS 90% OFF!! OLD PEANUT SHELLS NOW HALF OFF FOR 5 MINUTES!! Huge pre-holiday events like Black Friday can be super tempting but can leave a huge hole in our wallets. Why are we so excited for sales, even if they sound weird and we know we don’t actually need what we’re buying?

Is it the thrill of getting a bargain, like that IKEA commercial where the couple got such a great deal, they have a getaway car outside the store because it felt like stealing? We do get a legitimate happiness response here, as our brains release dopamine when we feel we’ve achieved something and 90% off is no joke – unless you’re just buying more crap you don’t need. Would you get the same release from saving that $17 for your next vacation? Could you set it up in a way that you do?

If you find yourself caught up in the manic tornado that can be CROWD MENTALITY, but still want a tight deal on a new flat screen for your family games room, try the more civilized Cyber Monday deals. Same stuff – no lineups. You just have to wait a bit for delivery, so if you can get around the whole urgency thing, this may be a great way to buy presents early and not get kicked in the head by lunatics who would throw their children over a crowd to claim a cheap deal on a couch (Yes, this actually happened.).

Boxing Day is a thrilling excuse to spend the money/gift cards you got the day before – especially because stores have marked down the very things you bought at regular price 3 days ago. As one of the folks who waited and watched the horde of bright-eyed shoppers hopped up on coffee and the promise of bargains line up outside our doors hours before opening, I can tell you what we were thinking – ‘I can’t wait to sell a bunch of old junk from the back room so we don’t have to count it for inventory.’

Cynical? Yes. True? In my case, yes. Now, that said, value is value and if you feel you are happy with spending your hard-earned money on 8 teddy bear keychains, then that’s awesome! If you leave a store with a bag full of said keychains and they get tossed in a closet until you try to regift them in 2021, was it all worth it? If you love the thrill of the bargain but want to be mindful of how useful the items you’ve bought will be, some simple planning can really come in handy.

Clever Ways to Save Money & Time – While Still Giving a Great Gift

If you have a large family, a huge group of friends, or a big office to shop for, consider your time, wallet and sanity by proposing a gift exchange. Instead of buying presents for everyone, you have one to focus on – and you’ve added a whole ton of fun up front, because gift exchanges/Secret Santas can be hilarious, depending on who gets who. It’s also a great way to put a limit on how much you spend, which can force some creative choices.

What talents do you possess? Baking, crafts, knitting, etc. If you’re short on cash this time of year, pour your energy and time – not your dollars – into your talent. Draw a picture, pull out your paints, build a side table instead of going to IKEA…homemade gifts (it’s up to you just how homemade you want it to look) can bring an extra special value to what you’re doing.

It’s easy to run to the store and grab the first thing you see, wrap it in a bow and put it under the tree (no shame here, we all run out of time and ideas at some point), but for you to spend 3 hours in the kitchen, plastered in flour and rocking a reindeer apron in efforts to make your bestie the most delicious Santa sprinkle marshmallow cookies says a lot about how much you care about them and takes little from your pocket.

According to thespruce.com, it’s still courteous to bring a gift when attending a dinner party, but the importance lies less in the size or price of the offering and more in how thoughtful it is via the interests of your host. The gesture is about returning the courtesy, not how much you’re able to throw at a glass bottle bearing fermented grapes. None of these gifts need cost much, so even if you’re attending every party in town, you needn’t go broke.

Switching your mindset from making an impression or connection based on what you can buy to where you can provide value to those you are celebrating with can change your entire outlook - not just around how much money you’re spending at the holidays.

And, why not host parties yourself? You control the menu, so you don’t need to spend a million dollars on jumbo shrimp and gourmet pesto croquettes – and everyone brings you a gift! For the more enterprising, this could be a good way to save money, stock your own bar and throw a bash where you control the eats and the beats. You won’t have to hear 18 progressively more cloying versions of ‘Santa Baby,’ by various pop bozos this year! On a less shady note, it might be a gift for some of your guests to not have to host themselves. Being able to just show up and leave after may be the best gift you can provide them.

Regifting

Regifting gets a bad rap. You’re judging right now, aren’t you?! As an avid re-gifter (gasp!), I applaud those who are thrifty enough to stay on budget and manage not to waste stuff out of some unnecessary sense of duty or courtesy. As long as your memory is wide enough to remember who gave you the unwanted gift in the first place so as to not present it back to them…what’s the big deal?

That golf store gift card you won in the office Texas Scramble – think Uncle Pete will make better use of it than you will? The wine glasses Doreen from your dodgeball team gave you in thanks for carpooling (she honestly didn’t know you’re trying to stay sober) are a perfect present to take to your office gift exchange. Why let things collect on your shelves when other people will get more use and joy from them? Save money, declutter, and give a useless item a life’s purpose.

Conclusion

What have we learned today? To avoid the Holiday Spending Blues, we can:
Can you break the chain of disappointment and letdown that is January’s fate to suffer and turn it into the first month of a new year where you are going to kick ass at your goals – and get a head start on saving for what you want, instead of worrying about paying off bills before your interest rate catches up with you? Of course you can!

  • Make a budget and stick to it!
  • Plan ahead to avoid last minute or desperate acts of gifting
  • Think about the value, not the price tag
  • Use your own talents, regift and repurpose
  • Set boundaries and control the amount of gifting you do in a thoughtful way

Start a new tradition of looking forward to getting some great gifts for the ones you love – and lose the cliched expectation of shop, shop, shopping ‘til your credit card gets cut up and you have to sell your car to pay for your spending. Tell us how you did and give us some of your own tips!

Sarah McCullough

Sarah McCullough

Sarah focuses on stress management, healthy sleep, and how interior design and colour contribute to relaxing environments. By day, Sarah works in Human Resources, eagerly absorbing knowledge about the human psyche and why we behave and interact the way we do. Sarah started her career journey with a single year... Read More

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