5 Ways to Lower Your Financial Stress During the Holidays

Today’s post is — for me anyway — a sweeter treat than a slice of warm apple pie after Thanksgiving dinner.  Sharon O’Day is here with expert advice on not going into debt during the holidays.

Sharon is hands-down, the most interesting and wise person I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Born in the U.S. and raised in Brazil, Sharon possesses a unique blend of hard work ethics and living for today.  Just a bit of her story includes school in Rio de Janeiro, doing aerial photography in the Amazon, backpacking across Peru, living in a thatched-roof hut on Isla Mujeres while Cancun was being built in the 1970s.

At 30 she got an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance and went on to do some shaking up at Godiva Chocolatier in Brussels, marketing a Cognac from France, living in Paris, and starting consulting with foreign governments.

I don’t even know if I’m allowed to tell that part!

Anyway, when someone with this kind of life experience talks…. this green blogging mama is smart enough to hang on every word.  And when she agreed to share practical financial advice with you – my dear readers – well, that’s the ice cream on top of the warm apple pie.

5 Ways to Lower Your Financial Stress During the Holidays

by: Sharon O’Day

complete tree 5 Ways to Lower Your Financial Stress During the Holidays

Money doesn’t just burn a hole in your pocket.  It can also burn a hole in your stomach … from stress.  How does that work?

Well, worrying about having (or not having) money is one of the major stressors all year round, but it deals a double-whammy during the holidays. The increased level of advertising for all those shiny objects combines with memories of better Christmases in the past. The temptation is huge to ignore your present reality and just put everything on a credit card … and worry about it later.

But you know what happens when you’ve done that in the past.  The stress in January is even worse as you open (or don’t open and just worry about) your credit card statements.

Time for a change?  What if you could avoid this entire scenario?

Despite the temptations of holiday spending, you can take actions that will keep your financial situation from getting worse … and lessen the grip that stress has on your everyday life … without sacrificing what’s most dear about the holidays.

1. Put Together a Spending Plan You Can Stick To

Have you set aside any money over the past few months for holiday spending?  Is there anything you can cut this month to free up some cash for the holidays? Anything you can sell on eBay that would make a great gift from someone else?  Any services you can offer during this busy season that would bring in some unexpected cash?

Once you’ve identified what you can get your hands on, make that your holiday spending plan and stick to it. Unlike the U.S. Government, you can’t print money. So you really do have to cover any extra expenditure with a cut-back somewhere else.

If you find it impossible not to pull out a credit card when you go shopping, leave all your cards at home and take just cash … in the amount you’ve set aside for discretionary holiday spending.

When it’s gone, it’s gone.

The tough part is having the discipline to go home at that point. These are the moments that separate “the women from the girls” and “the men from the boys.”

2. Get Help from Friends and Family

I’m not talking about asking for loans. I’m talking about asking for support.

Talking helps. But if you’re uncomfortable talking to anyone who knows you, consider joining a support group. Some specialize in issues, like shopping addictions, while others deal more generally in financial distress. Whoever it is, just talking to people who have been in a similar predicament (and have gotten out) will lessen the burden as you get out of your own.

Where I think your friends and family could make the greatest difference is if together you all agreed to redefine what makes up the year-end holidays: it’s not about the gifts and it’s not about how much someone spends on lavish entertaining. But it is about showing others you care … spending time together … sharing old memories and making new ones.

Create a new way to celebrate. Make it reflect who you and your loved ones truly are. Maybe you get up early on Christmas Day and drive to a vantage point where you can see a sunrise. Pack up a thermos of hot chocolate for each person.

Or be of service: volunteer to help serve a holiday meal at a shelter. Who knows, you may be creating a new family tradition. Whatever you do, break the old patterns in which a huge pile of unneeded (and often unwanted) gifts were piled up under the tree.

3. Banish Your Credit Cards

If nothing stops you from pulling out a credit card when your “want” buttons are pushed, cut up your cards (but don’t cancel them). If that seems extreme, give them to a friend or family member who doesn’t live with you. Ask them to hold the cards until after January 1st … and make them promise to ignore all your pleadings.

I know, I know, you probably have the number memorized and can shop online without the card itself. But we have to want to get out from under the financial stress, and that requires some grown-up gumption!

Just knowing you’re sticking to your spending plan will lower your stress. Maybe the feeling is good enough to continue that behavior after the holidays. Hopefully it will trigger starting to pay down your debt as fast as you can, not paying off just the monthly minimums. You already know that having a massive load of accumulated credit card debt weighs heavily on your mind—and on your nerves—each time you think about it.

Do think about how good you’ll feel if you get through the holidays without adding to it.

4. Change How You Look at Money

Positive thinking won’t lower the dollar value on the bills you have to pay. But it will lower the stress around the fact that you have to pay them, just by breaking the worry-stress-worry-stress cycle. And the less stress you’re carrying, the more creative you can be about finding solutions that will change your reality to something better.

What forms of positive thinking? Laugh. Look around you and count your blessings. Marvel at how that poinsettia by your front door knew how to grow as it did. Feel the warmth coming out of your radiator. Think about your cat’s purr or your dog’s cold nose when he comes in each morning to wake you.

Recognize that money isn’t everything in your life by appreciating what you do have, instead of focusing solely on what you don’t. Remember that we live in a blessed country where even people who are struggling are far better off than those who aren’t struggling in others. (And where many of us are waking up to the fact that we want to get out from under all our “stuff.”)

5. Recognize the Difference Between a Need and a Want

When we were kids, we wanted new sneakers for Christmas. Today we want Jimmy Choos. We wanted the new Barbie doll in her convertible. Today we want a Lexus in the driveway.

Our wants have grown exponentially and the lines between wants and needs have blurred. As a society, we have drifted so far from our real needs, mostly by using money we didn’t have in order to get there. (And then the entire country’s economy hit a brick wall, remember?)

When it comes to the holidays, it’s obviously harder to cut back when you have children around, but it doesn’t hurt for them to learn a lesson or two about money. (It sure would have helped if we had learned some at their age…)

Take a moment before going shopping for any gifts you’ve budgeted into your holiday spending plan. You have the choice of filling a momentary “want” for that recipient, or you could fulfill a more long-lasting “need.” After the wrapping paper is torn off and thrown away, which do you think will leave a more lasting memory of being loved and cared for?

As the holidays approach and carols fill the airwaves, we all have a knee-jerk reaction to make this a magical time. But that magic comes with a high price tag. By planning in advance and being creative, I challenge you to find innovative ways to create that same magic … but in ways that don’t leave you more stressed when the mailman delivers those credit card bills in January.

Let me know what ideas you’ve come up with to create that magic, and post them in the comment section below so we can all benefit!

Sharon Oday 150x150 5 Ways to Lower Your Financial Stress During the HolidaysConnect with Sharon at her blog Awakening the Financial Genius in Today’s Woman or on Facebook.

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  • Anonymous

    I love the introduction, Amity!  In fact, you so inflated my ego, I might have to guest post for you weekly!  Seriously, I thank you for entrusting me with your readers.  I hope it leads to pleasant surprises as some look at their credit card statements in January.  And, yes, you DO have to look at them!  ;-)   Happy (enlightened) shopping, everyone!

  • http://groovygreenlivin.com/ Lori Popkewitz Alper

    Thank you for these fabulous tips. It’s hard not to get caught up in the spending frenzy during the holiday season. Your tips are very practical. I like the idea of setting up a spending plan to alleviate any surprises. When it’s gone, it’s gone!

  • Antonina Geer

    These are wonderful tips!  Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.GreenGiftsGuide.com Amity Hook-Sopko

    It’s such sound advice, Sharon.  Someone posted on my FB wall that she didn’t know what she was going to do as this is her first Christmas without a job.  I told her what a wonderful opportunity to give the gift of her time.  
    I hope she reads this too!

  • http://www.manifestingmydestiny.com Lorii Abela

    These are definitely wonderful tips. Simple yet practical. Thanks for sharing your insights about lowering our financial stress during holiday season!

  • Anonymous

    Amity, taking my comment about “being of service” one step further, she might want to look for ideas here:  http://sharonoday.com/holiday-gifting-think-local/ (I really hate to see plugs in a comment, but that really might spark a free or low-cost idea or two.)

  • Mary K Evans22

    Great tips! This year we drew couple names for gift giving for the adults in the family, set a $$ limit, and made couple gift & individual gift ‘wish lists.’  Each family will buy for one other and can be as creative as they want within the limits we set. Saves time, $$, and reduces the stress of coming up with gifts for everyone without breaking the bank (or pulling out the credit cards!).  We are also all volunteering our time to serve those in need this holiday season ~ focusing on love and gratitude rather than the shopping frenzy at the mall!  Blessings to you and yours :-)

  • http://twitter.com/JaelDesignsInc Jen Lawrence

    These are all great tips! I just finished paying off a credit card bill and closed it. I’m trying to be good about the need vs. want and I can definitely put together a plan and try to stick to it. If there is one thing I want to take control of in the New Year it’s my finances. Better budgeting, SAVING, and being more frugal. ;-)

  • Lisa Birnesser

    Great article! I loved the tip particularly about how holidays are not just about spending money on lavish gifts. The spirit of giving and receiving can happen any day of the year and it doesn’t require money. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Some years ago, we shifted from a “big” Christmas to a more low-key celebration, including fewer gifts, but well-chosen for their recipients.  We decided to focus on family time and activities that would strengthen our family and bring us closer together. Besides ditching the financial stress, we’ve all had a lot more fun and a much less frenzied holiday season.

  • http://www.sexyfocusedambitious.com Lauryn Doll

    My best tip is to remember that at the end of the day, the holidays are best utilized to share time, love and the experience of making great memories with people you love… that’s worth more than any gift. 

  • http://www.positivecalm.com Solvita

    Great tips, i love them all! I think people often can’t tell the difference between need and want ;) thanks Amity for sharing SharonODay’s great article!

  • http://twitter.com/TiffanysToyBox Tiffany C.

    Sometimes I do forget the difference between a need and a want, or actually, i do know the difference, but don’t want to give up what I want. Thanks for the reminder re: what’s important!

  • http://kidinternetsafetyguru.com Kids Safety On The Internet

    Good, solid, practical advice. I like the idea of taking a wad of cash & when its gone its gone. Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan Preston

    Thank you, Amity and Sharon.  I love these tips and such perfect timing as many people start their holiday shopping tomorrow night, including myself. My husband and I started not using credit cards to purchase presents a few years ago.  Tip #2 was my favorite, especially when you wrote, Sharon, “it’s not about the gifts and it’s not about how much someone spends on lavish entertaining. But it is about showing others you care … spending time together … sharing old memories and making new ones.” This says it all. Happy Thanksgiving to you both :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/deborah.turton Deborah Turton

    Just wonderful tips and advice Sharon and Amity!! We have also banished our credit cards, it was quite funny on my last trip to the USA & paying cash for ‘everything’ was very difficult for some establishments and impossible to hire a car for cash, indirectly we have created this economy and it is up to us to stop the madness and get back to what’s real! Your article also reminded me of a Christmas we had when our kids were 9 & 11, instead of wrapped gifts under the tree we took a family holiday as our gift to the 4 of us, we did not buy one present for each other to unwrap, we took the kids on a sleigh ride on Christmas Eve and tobogganing on Christmas day. For many many years the kids would say it was their best Christmas ever!!! LOL most people think I’m quite ‘weird’ when I tell them that we had one Christmas where we did not give the kids any gifts under the tree, but we did give them an experience :) Thanks again ladies, you two are awesome!!!

  • http://www.myyogasecret.com Rhonda

    Green gifts are awesome, and very in these days, Thanks for these wonderful green ideas! Here’s another: gather a bunch of green recipes and create easy green smoothie recipe cards. Everyone appreciates a quick idea for something they can eat or drink that will be healthy – as the days get busier throughout the year, your green gift keeps giving!

  • http://manifestyournextmate.com/ Kelly Ellzey

    Great post Amity – and Sharon! We all need to look at money differently these days I’m guessing. And Christmas is such a stressful time for so many – not just the financial stress – but stress from feeling like you are not doing enough or giving enough. You offer some great tips!

  • http://twitter.com/ElisePhotini Elise Photini Adams

    What great inspiration and hope.  We don’t do debt or loans around here but we’ve been working on transforming our thinking about money AND haven’t held back from reaching out for support & guidance from people we trust. I can already tell that this ‘holiday shopping season’ is totally different from last years–for sure in my heart and additionally in my bank account.  This year I’ve learned to invest in what is truly lasting–personal growth, business growth and my family’s future rather than ‘retail therapy’ that only offers 5 minutes of relief!

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