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
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!