7 Tips to Keep Financial Stress at Bay over the Holidays

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Tis the season to be jolly…but let’s face it. The frenetic pace of the winter holiday season on top of the pressure of holiday finances can sap the happy out of anyone. You’re not alone if you find yourself feeling a little depressed and grumpy, but you can take control.

There’s No Such Thing As the Perfect Holiday

Forget how movies, television and carols depict the holidays. The reality is that everyone has some version of that cantankerous uncle they dread having dinner with, and who hasn’t tortured themselves to find that “perfect” gift for someone only to have the recipient wince or roll their eyes when they open the box?

Consider starting a new tradition that’s less expensive to pull off if you simply don’t have the funds this year to do things the old way. Go ahead and shake things up. Everyone might be happier for it, especially if the old way wasn't really working.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking your guests to contribute a dish to that big holiday dinner. You might even discover that a particular family member has a long-undiscovered specialty dish that's to die for. You might also want to ask loved ones what they want this year instead of taking a flyer on something that’s not going to be appreciated and that will cost you a small fortune. They’ll be happier, and so will you.

Consider starting a gift exchange tradition if you have a big family and an unmanageable gift list. Does every single brother, sister, aunt and uncle really have to buy something for each family member?

It’s Better to Give

The gift of time rather than or in addition to big-ticket gifts can be priceless. Memories last. The latest craze in electronics probably won’t. According to the University of California, Berkeley, committing altruistic acts makes the pleasure centers in the human brain simply glow.

Emptying the change in your pocket into that Salvation Army pot will probably give you a bit of a boost that will last all day. You might even make a donation to a charity if you really discipline yourself spending-wise and manage to actually come in a little under your budget wire. There’s a bonus here for you: The gift could be tax deductible. You’re effectively taking from Uncle Sam and giving to someone in need, subject to certain rules.

It’s OK to Say No

Go stand in front of a mirror and practice saying the simple syllable “no” without tensing up and frowning. Stress, resentment and even anger often result when you say, “Sure, I’ll come to your party,” or “Absolutely, I can organize the annual office bash” when, in fact, you really can’t commit the time without eliminating something else from your holiday to-do list.

If you can’t do it all, try negotiating. Agree to help with the office party, but admit that you don’t have the time to do it all singlehandedly and ask your boss to assign you a partner. Suggest getting together with some friends after the holiday instead when budget and time issues are hopefully moving behind you. You might even enjoy the get-together more.

That Dreaded Budget

You can’t give what you don’t have. If your holiday gift budget is $2,000, spending $3,000 is probably going to put you in a tight spot come January. If nothing else, the minimum monthly payments on your credit cards will creep upward if you charge the some or all of what you spend. And remember, it’s not just an extra $1,000 if you put the overage on plastic because credit card lenders are going to tack on interest.

Get Physical

Consider shopping the good, old-fashioned way, braving brick-and-mortar retail stores rather than grabbing your laptop or tablet to have all those gifts delivered to your door. You’re limited to buying only what you can carry out to your car. This can help safeguard against impulse purchases and some splurges.

The tactic can work even if you’re a parent playing Santa. Yes, you want that Christmas tree to be buried angel-high in gifts for your child…and that’s great if you can afford it. But if you can’t, ask yourself if you can really maneuver that motorized kiddie car to your vehicle yourself. Will it even fit in your backseat? Maybe treat Junior to an afternoon at an amusement park for half the price instead.

The other thing is that physical activity is a stress-buster, even if you’re just walking around a mall. Just don’t convince yourself that your stress is so great you really need to carry that motorized kiddie car to your SUV on your back.

Preparation Is Key

A great way to manage holiday spending is to begin buying well in advance. Start in October or November instead of hitting the mall to purchase everything on Dec. 15.

Set a weekend afternoon aside to run out and buy just one gift on your list weeks ahead of time, or swing by a store on your way home from work. Depending on the size of your gift list, you can break the expense down into weekly increments rather than try to figure out how you can skip paying a utility bill in December.

You can plan your menus in advance, too. Grab a few ingredients like spices or canned goods weekly instead of letting it all go to the last minute. Leave just the perishables until right before the holiday meal. Again, you’re stretching the cost out.

Reward Yourself

Bottom line: Don’t neglect your own wellbeing as you wade into the season of giving. Include something for yourself on that gift list, even if you don’t end up buying it until January. You might need it more then, anyway.

Psychology Today warns of “post-holiday syndrome,” that huge letdown that can come when all the fun and celebrating is over and real life lands at your doorstep again. If nothing else, try to give yourself a day off right after the hustle and bustle is over. Stay in your pajamas or your comfiest yoga pants. Binge-watch your favorite movies or spend the day playing with your kids, enjoying all those new toys Santa brought.

After all, Santa wants you to be happy, too.

References

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.