The Pressures of Holiday Spending
The holiday season is swiftly setting upon us. For many of us, this provokes anxiety as demands on our time, energy, and finances escalate. The reciprocity between give-and-take is put to the test this time of year. For some, the act of giving presents is a love language and the joy they get from it is reward enough. But for an unsuspecting recipient, this can cause tremendous pressure to reciprocate. When someone receives an unexpected gift, he or she may feel obligated to return the gesture, subsequently extending his or her pocketbook. And the stress of finding "the right present" can be daunting, diminishing the joy of the experience. In any event, it almost always—but not always!—takes money to participate in these rituals.
For better or for worse, we live in a consumer-centered culture with easy access to credit. Many of us will blindly put a purchase on credit and worry about it later. Unlike older generations who grew up on the concept of a layaway, it seems we can have whatever we want now. In this age of immediate access to merchandise, it is easier than ever to engage in frivolous spending. The outcome of such spending has a similar feeling to buyer’s remorse. In other words, we feel guilty when we realize that we may have blurred the line between needs and wants.
While it is pleasant to give and receive presents, it can easily create a drain on our bank account that may take us months to pay off. In addition to the stress of family politics and the complex emotions that surround the holidays, we may also find ourselves hundreds or even thousands of dollars in debt. The hangover effect of overspending hardly seems worth it.
As MFT's, we know that relationships are a core part of our well-being and that the health of our relationships is connected to how well we care for ourselves. When we engage in healthy practices, our partners, children, friends, and family benefit. Taking care of our finances is one of many healthy practices. If the holiday season is going to throw you into debt that takes months to reconcile, don't do it!
Here are some suggestions for managing the financial stress of the season.
Set a Budget: Take a closer look at your income and expenses. Use a piece of paper, word document, or excel spreadsheet and set a budget based on what you are comfortable spending. Examine your fixed expenses —rent, food, electricity, heat, and transportation – first. Now, look at what is left for holiday spending. If your budget isn't as large as you had hoped, consider how you can cut spending and, if desired, think of ways to build additional savings for next year. Keep in mind that you need to be comfortable with how much or how little you spend during the holidays.
Make a List and Stick to it! Make a list of the people you want to give presents to, as well as the social events you would like to attend. For some, the social aspect of the season adds to their financial stress. While it can be hard to say no, it is perfectly reasonable to set limits on what you can and cannot do during the holidays. If someone unexpectedly gives you something, be gracious and say thank you. If you feel guilty because you didn't get that person a gift, ask yourself "why" you feel that way? Remember that we don't all have to do the same thing in order to care about someone.
Engage in Mindful Spending: Think about the meaning of the gift you are buying. In most cases, there is such a rush to get things done that we spend without thinking about the usefulness of what we are buying. Sometimes, the smallest and least expensive gift can be the most meaningful. For example, offering childcare to a friend who needs a night out is of great value without spending money to do it.
Use Cash: Another way to engage in mindful spending is by using cash. When we pay for something in cash, we are more likely to stop and think about the purchase we are making. It also reduces the risk of overspending when seduced by the various items that bombard us in the checkout line.
DIY Projects: If money is tight this year, consider do it yourself gifts. Baked goods are thoughtful and likely to be well-received. This is an opportunity to be creative. Make an ornament; use photos you have in a picture frame you painted. For those that love to knit or crochet, making a cozy scarf or hat is another way to give on a budget.
Give Within Your Means: At the end of the day, you are the one who is left paying the bills of the season. Just as one is more likely to save money by adopting a live-within-your-means approach to life, giving within your means will help you manage the financial stress that comes with the holiday season.
Vanessa Bradden, LMFT is a staff member at AAMFT, collaborating with the Communications Department as a product development specialist. She has a private practice in Chicago and is an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. Vanessa’s clinical interests and expertise include working with individuals and couples coping with perinatal mood disorders, pregnancy loss as well as grief and other losses.