How to Cope & Plan for Holiday Financial Stress

As soon as Thanksgiving is over and my husband pulls out the Christmas decorations, my anxiety goes through the roof. My parents are divorced so my husband and I have to balance the holidays with visiting three families.  We also have a wonderful circle of friends that we want to celebrate with.  We have church functions, work parties, preschool parties and since we are a military family, an Army party. How much will this year cost? How many events can we cram into each week? Are the gift exchanges set up yet? What are the spending limits? The questions are endless and I don’t want to be this stressed about the holidays. I want to enjoy the simple pleasure of decorating the tree with my kids. I want to mindlessly sing all my sons favorite Christmas songs while teaching my daughter about the reason for the season. I want my family to spend way more time giving than receiving and I want to bake cookies and wrap presents without moving so fast I burn the treats and cut my fingers.

There are things we can do this year, even late in the season, to ease our anxiety.  We can start with a fresh approach to making holiday plans.  There are a few conversations my husband and I have at the start of each holiday season regarding our schedule.  The first one usually is how will we keep track of commitments and what will we commit to? Some years, we have used a wall calendar to manage our schedule.  Other years, electronic.  This year was a very messy combination of both.  My husband returned from an overseas deployment just one day before Thanksgiving.  We started making holiday plans before then and I did not know if he would make it home for the holidays so I had to keep track of things in multiple places.  I had my wall calendar to help our children learn about planning and I also had an electronic shared calendar with my husband to ensure he felt included in our plans and also give him things to look forward to when he got home.  I also had my work planner so I could manage my vacation time with all of our activities. Although I felt a little overwhelmed, having things written in so many places has worked well for us so far. I’d rather not have so many calendars in the future but surprisingly, we have not missed a Christmas party yet. However, I did forget to bring a gift to a white elephant party the other night.

It’s great to have a strategy for how you will keep track of your plans.  It helps ensure that no one double books a weekend or forgets an ugly sweater contest.  But it’s also really important that your family decides how you will choose what events to attend.  Parties may be fun, but they all usually come with a cost and even though it’s the holidays, this is not the time to toss out your budget. Not letting holiday events run away with your wallet is a great way to combat anxiety.  My family accepts invitations if we can afford it and of course if we want to go.  Sometimes we use the excuse that we can’t afford it to get out of something we don’t want to do. When we think about the cost, we are thinking about what food or gift we would need to bring, how much gas and tolls would cost if it’s a long trip, how much is a hotel if it’s an overnight trip.  We also think about non-monetary costs like missing other commitments, stress of a long car ride, or time away from home.  If the event is outside our budget or the non-monetary costs seem too steep for us, we politely say no.  The most important thing is to talk as a family before committing to anything.

Because of our situation this year, I had to make some decisions without my husband. In one case, I committed us to a holiday party that was going to be a little outside our normal event budget.  I took the time to do a cost estimate and I also considered the non-monetary gains of attending the party. I felt like I was making a decision that was in line with our family’s values and would not present a financial hardship.  Luckily for me, my husband agreed!  He is also determined to win the ugly sweater contest at that party.

There is one other thing I want to share with you that I regularly do to keep anxiety at bay, especially during this time of year. I keep a notebook handy to write down random things I need to do before Christmas.  Sometimes it’s a distant family member I forgot to get a gift for, or an activity I heard about in October that would be great with the kids in December.  Now, I am a little old school when it comes to lists and I much prefer a little notebook in my purse to an electronic list on my phone but you just find what works for you. The only thing I do not recommend is post-its. They may be colorful and adorable but if you write Aunt Lisa’s gift idea on one, I almost guarantee it will never be ordered on time.

As we enter the last two, and most intense, weeks of the year, take a few minutes to think about what brings you the most stress this time of year. Try finding an approach that works for your family to ensure you don’t over commit and ultimately overspend. Reduce rushed and impulse spending by designated a spot to jot down items you still need to buy before December 25th. Once you identify the parts of the holidays that are hard for you it is much easier to develop a strategy to combat the anxiety and truly enjoy the blessings this season has to offer. Merry Christmas.

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