Believe it or not, it’s November and that means the holidays are fast approaching. Just walk into ANY store and you will not be able to miss the explosion of holiday décor, food, gift-sets, wrapping paper, etc. It amazes me how many people from year-to-year seem to be caught off guard as if the dates of the holidays change. Nonetheless, we all know from Halloween until New Year’s, it is a whirlwind of activities, spending, and stress. So while the holidays are supposed to be fun and a time for gathering with family and friends, people will feel undue and other self-induced levels of stress. Information published by Clarity Clinic in 2021 noted that of those surveyed, “45% of those people living in the United States would choose to skip out on the holidays” to eliminate the stress that comes with it. One of the biggest contributors to this feeling of stress is money. In fact, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, “69 percent are stressed by perceiving a ‘lack of money,’ and 51 percent are overly stressed by the ‘pressure to give or get gifts.’”
So what can be done to help alleviate some of the stress about money and, instead, really enjoy the holidays? First, stick to your budget. The holidays are not about wrecking your budget and then having to struggle to pay off holiday bills until the summer rolls around. Take a step back and think about what the holidays really are all about. Keeping in mind that the purpose of the holidays is to gather with family and friends, it does not have to become an over the top spending and gift giving frenzy and fiasco.
Also, keep things real and be honest. It is fine to have a conversation with your family – immediate and extended – about your budget and your financial goals you are working toward. Chances are others may even be relieved to remove some of this burden as well. Your family should support your efforts to pay off your debts, save for a house, stay on a budget, or whatever your budgeting focus is. However, if gift giving is something that is really important to you and your family, keep it in check and make sure you budget for it well in advance. It is much easier to set aside a certain amount each week, biweekly, or monthly, ahead of time rather than having to come up with all of the money for decorating, gift giving, and entertaining beginning in November or December. Hopefully you worked this into your budget before the holidays were looming over you, but there are also things to help you enjoy the holidays and stay on a budget, especially if you didn’t.
Entertaining: Entertaining will definitely cost more this year, so you will want to plan ahead to find the best bargains. The Farm Bureau’s 36th annual survey notes that there will be a “14% increase from last year’s average of $46.90 for a classic Thanksgiving dinner for ten.” Christmas will likewise be more expensive due to continually rising food costs. So, you know the cost is going to be higher which you need to account for when setting up your November and December budgets. In addition, watch the ads and shop around. Grocery stores will have key items on sale to bring in the crowds. Remember that you don’t always have to buy the most expensive brands. Many of the store brands are equally as good, yet less expensive. Another budgeting tip is to have everyone bring something to the meal. Spreading the expense helps everyone. Plus many people enjoy bringing a new or favorite food item. Lastly, keep it simple and remember you do not have to have the “traditional” meal. Don’t buy into all of the hype. Do your own thing. It is okay! This will also cut down on the stress level of having to do too much as well as the stress of blowing your budget. Lastly, live in the real world rather than trying to create a Thanksgiving meal that is straight from the pages of a magazine or some Pinterest post. Keep it uncomplicated, so you can spend more quality time with your guests rather than trying to create something that is overdone and excessive.
Decorating: Just like entertaining, decorating does not have to be some major expense. Personally, I am a pretty simple guy and don’t put much stock in this. I also don’t buy into all of the hype dictated by big companies trying to tell me I need to do this or buy that in order to be happy or to be able to have a good holiday. It is not how I roll. For my wife and me, I can honestly say the more we simplify our lives and go against the norm, the happier we are. But if you so choose and feel the need to decorate, there are many discount places that have decorating items that you can buy that will keep your budget in tact. Again, keep in mind what is important. Assess your plan. Is it really necessary to have things decorated to the nines or can you use what you already have? Is it really that important to you or is sticking to your budget and paying off your debt more paramount? Maybe this is another time to keep things simple and understated. You may find that this is also a wonderful way to reduce stress and to free up your time. Keeping in mind the real focus of the holidays will help you here. Often a candle or two, some greenery that you can usually get free from places that give a fresh cut to Christmas trees, and a plate of cookies or an appetizer is really more than enough. Lastly, planning ahead and buying wrapping paper and other “necessary items” after the holidays for the next year when the stores discount it is a good way to save money. Just make sure you buy ONLY what you need. It is not going to help your budget if you buy more than you need just because it is on sale. That is not being frugal or staying on a budget. .
Gifts: If it is a must to give gifts, see how you can tapper back. As you can imagine, I am not into “stuff,” so I don’t need or want others to buy me gifts. Obviously, this is a personal thing and clearly children are a different consideration. How do you feel about gifts? Instead of buying things to fill a quota or a dollar amount, get creative. Are there things you can do for the person rather than give to him or her that would be equally or more appreciated? Gifts of time and experiences are usually valued far more than tangibles that eventually break, are shoved in the back of the closest, or are thrown out. Really think about the person. What does that individual treasure? Food items are a great gift and can be made fairly inexpensively. For example, collecting all of the dry ingredients for cookies, muffins, brownies, or gourmet hot chocolates and putting them in a Ball jar with the directions is a gift that is economical and thoughtful. Often you can make several of these gifts, marking many people off your list while also keeping you out of crowded stores filled with cranky last minute shoppers. It is the thought that is important – not the cost. Another fairly inexpensive and very thoughtful gift is tickets to a movie with the promise to care for little ones for a needed date night. The list is endless. You don’t have to break the bank if you are innovative. However, maybe it is time to stop giving and begin new traditions. One that my wife’s family started several years ago was everyone bringing a new game to share that we then played that night. Every couple also brings an appetizer, so it is really just a relaxing evening that is not overly complicated. Think outside of the box. Dare to break away from the norm and don’t buy into believing that you have to do things that are not good for you and your situation.
Bottomline, the holidays are meant to be time to gather with family and friends. Refuse to buy into all of the hype and commercialism. It is not helping you financially, emotionally, or personally. Take stock in what is important and stick to that. Celebrate the holidays in the way they really should be celebrated. To me that is simplistic, stress free, and with the people I value most in my life.