Tips on managing financial and emotional stress amidst the holiday season.
Holiday Fun Can Lead to Stressors
This time of the year, there’s a lot going on.
Last month, I spent some time with my husband’s side of the family. We took advantage of the Thanksgiving break for the kids and a few days off work for the adults to get together from different parts of the country. We had good meals, laughing and fun experiences, and most of all I felt surrounded by love.
Then, there’s the end of the year Christmas holiday with my family, New Year’s plans, and school break for two weeks. It’s a lot to plan for, out of a routine, and it’s hard to get everything done yet still enjoy the special traditions like decorating homemade cookies with my nieces and nephews. I’m trying to take care of myself throughout by doing things I love – doing hot yoga and spending time outside.
Being out of a routine can wreak havoc on our mental state – when we’re not rested and taking care of ourselves, all the excitement can lead to some of the heavier emotions like stress, anxiety, grief and anger. In turn, this can lead to poor decision making because we’re not feeling our best and perhaps not thinking as calmly and clearly as usual.
Being out of a routine can also wreak havoc on personal finances. At this time of the year, we tend to spend more money than usual on dining out, big meals prepared for guests, travelling, gifts, babysitters or kids’ activities, and maybe an ugly holiday sweater for the contest at work. And the heightened emotions can sometimes trigger more regrettable and unnecessary spending.
A recent study by TransUnion found a 15% increase in bank card balances in Q3 2023 vs 2022. The average credit card balance is $6,088, the highest in 10 years. Inflation has had a real impact on our personal finances. And this time of the year, it’s easy to add to the credit card with disregard for how the purchases may or may not fit into what we know we can afford.
Here are a few suggestions to navigating the season. TLDR: Be mindful when making a purchase, and take care of your emotional health.
Balanced Budgets Can Still Create Joy
It’s easy to overspend at this time of the year – buying a gift for every niece or nephew, plus a couple extra for your partner. Agree with your family on how you plan to celebrate holidays between yourselves. If budgets are tight this year, make a game out of the most creative gift you can give for under $20. Instead of going out to eat, make a potluck where every attendee brings something they love and shares out what they love about this food. Even young ones can participate, with a little help from mom or dad. Another idea is to pause for a moment, and think about your future self. Are you making a choice right now that helps your future self?
The Gift of Memories
Are there older folks in your life (and by older, I mean older than you!)? Don’t buy them a gift. Instead, sit down and write them a letter expressing how they have impacted your life. Think about a specific story that illustrates their impact on your past, present or future. I promise you, they will appreciate this gift more than a trendy kitchen gadget.
Are there memories and traditions you can create with your own kids that don’t cost a lot? Ice skating at the park district pond, putting up holiday lights outside as a family, or making cards to hand out at a retirement community can all be new traditions.
The Joy – and Stress – of Travel
Are you planning to travel over the holiday season? If you’re buying a plane ticket or staying at a hotel, check whether there are lower rates for off-peak travel times such as late night or early morning. Check your credit card rewards or loyalty points or miles to see if you can get any deals. Maybe it’s too late to do this year, but if travel is important to you, set aside some cash each month for a Travel Budget. When it comes time to do the trip, you’ll be more prepared with the cash you need to cover the travel.
Also plan for your emotional well-being. Shorten the trip by a day if holidays and family visits feel stressful or overwhelming for you. Get enough sleep, even if it means being the first one to leave the party. Say no to one last drink. Take a walk after dinner instead of lounging on the couch. When your body is taken care of, you set up your mind for being able to make healthy and mindful choices.
This is the time of year when many folks consider donating to a charitable cause. Can you make a contribution that still fits within your budget? If not, consider making a little less of a contribution this year, and see tip above: going into next year, set aside something from every paycheck for the charity of your preference. Check with your employer to see if they offer a charitable contribution match – many large companies offer this benefit which is seldom taken advantage of.
Give Yourself Some Grace to Reflect
Did you slip up, and spend more than you planned? Don’t judge yourself with shame. Instead, look at the situation with curiosity: what happened, and why did I make that choice? Notice the other circumstances that led to making this decision which you now regret. Were you tired, stressed out, in a rush, feeling pressured?
Reflecting on your financial health can give you a moment to consider what worked and what didn’t work related to your personal finances this year. As you head into the new year, are there changes you can implement to start the new year off right? Learn from your mistakes, and choose to keep doing what’s working.