Most people look forward to the holiday season. Delicious meals, presents and gatherings with family and friends – what’s not to love? Unfortunately, a joy-killer shows up right after the holidays, disguised as bank statements and credit card bills. The post-holiday financial hangover leaves people avoiding their mailman and wishing they could just burn those statements in a festive bonfire.
Heavy spending during the holidays is a nation-wide phenomenon. Consider that this year, an average American plans to spend $936 during the holiday shopping season – and that’s just planned spending for gifts! For many, this has the potential to sabotage budgets for several months. The good news is that there are steps you can take to create peace of mind and avoid the financial feast-or-famine cycle that comes with reckless holiday spending.
Start with cleaning your home.
This might look like an unconventional holiday shopping recommendation, but it is surprisingly effective. Getting in touch with your physical possessions is a grounding exercise that can help you stay present to what your family already owns. So, clean your home (yes, that does include those closets) and don’t forget the garage and the storage shed. Coming face to face with gifts from holidays past that have gone unused can help you plan differently this year. You might also find a few items to donate – which can get you a charitable contribution deduction at tax time!
Make a list of presents and a holiday budget.
Are you shaking your head because you have tried this one last year without much success? There may be a reason for that. This step often fails to deliver results if your holiday budget is unreasonable. If you begin with a number that is just too low, you are less motivated to take is seriously.
I recommend pulling out last year’s credit card bills and bank statements to get a full and accurate picture. That should give your budget a starting point that is based in reality. In addition to making the holiday gift list (fun part), consider those pesky non-gift expenses that come every winter. Higher energy bills, work holiday parties, special meals at home and out – they are often left out of the plan, but they surely do sneak up on you after the fact.
Once you have your new budget, keep it where you will see it every day. A shopping list and a spending commitment tucked away in your desk drawer won’t do you much good when you see that latest gadget at the store! You might set up a small notebook to use as a spending diary. If you like technology, consider trying an app like Totalist. It lets you set a budget, deduct spent amounts and track the remainder in real time.
Stick to the budget.
This is the hard part. Avoid impulse purchases, and don’t get pulled into buying things simply because they are on sale. From giving yourself a mandatory 24-hour waiting period on any gifts not on your list, to freezing your credit cards in a block of ice (quite effective), build in habits that will give you a chance to take a deep breath and consider every decision carefully.
Holiday time can be stressful. When stressed, some people clean, some people eat, and some people shop. If you sometimes overindulge in shopping in an effort to relieve stress, find other ways of managing your mental state. Even if you have never tried meditation, now may be a good time to spend a few minutes every day focusing on your breathing and tuning in to your internal dialog.
Lastly, be alert for those gifts you get for yourself. We have all purchased things for ourselves “because it’s the holidays and I deserve it”. The truth is that you deserve to not be terrified of opening your mail come January!
My last bit of advice is to go back to what this time of year is about for you. Reflect on what is most important about the holidays for you and your family. Most people remember meals and laughs shared more than gadgets and socks they have received as presents. Don’t feel that the holidays will be ruined if you don’t spend $1,000 on gifts.
Also, find the time to take care of yourself. By paying attention to your nutrition, drinking plenty of water, exercising and resting, you can improve your health and be ready to enjoy all the wonderful things that you love about the holidays.