4.8 min read

The holidays are supposed to be a time for joy and happiness, but many people find themselves feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even angry around this time of year.

As a finance therapist, I have seen people go into debt over the holiday season and only to repeat the pattern year after year. If this sounds like you, I have some tips to help you.

Financial problems can put a strain on relationships and cause unnecessary stress at the end of the year when budgets are already stretched thin. A bit of finance therapy and financial education can go a long way to helping you get more in control of your money and gift-giving this holiday season.

Sending gifts can be an important part of keeping up relationships during the holidays. However, expectations for gifts at this time of year are often set artificially high.

Financial problems or financial misunderstandings make it difficult to give or receive the perfect gift each and every time. Let’s look at ways to help you reduce the stress caused by giving and receiving gifts this season.

If you are unable to gift give

If you are unable to buy gifts this holiday season, plan alternative ways. Give your time or talents instead of cash. This way, you can still give something special to the people in your life who mean the most, while also saving money on gifts.

Here are some tips to avoid overspending.

  1. Decide if you even need to shop at all. Not everyone needs to receive a gift.
  2. If you prefer to gift give, realize not all gifts have to be monetary.
  3. Create a budget.
  4. Set limits per person.
  5. Before you go to a store or visit one online, check your email and elsewhere online (often on their social networking pages) for discount codes and coupons.
  6. Do not discount dollar stores or similar; for the price of one book at a larger store, you can get ten or more at a “Dollar store”.
  7. Take time to comparison shop.
  8. Draw names out of a hat
  9. Print out a favorite recipe and send this to family and friends who are not on the purchase list. 
  10. Alternatively, though this costs more, you might want to bake and send items as well. Remember that shipping can be costly.
  11. Download a photo or collage of photos that are meaningful for the person on the recipient end of the photos.
  12. Do not impulse buy. Plan your shopping.
  13. Figure out the cheapest pricing including tax and rebates, etc. For instance, near me, there is a state with minimal taxes but the gas money to go and the time spent traveling would “cost” more, so it’s not a deal after all.
  14. While gift cards seem like a good idea, often there are charges attached and they can’t easily transfer to a bank account.
  15. Another word about gift cards; they usually end up hanging around with a few dollars on them that you can’t do much with- so they are a loss fiscally for everyone but the company that created them. If you must go for this type of option, use actual cash or write a check.
  16. Buy an inexpensive stock, even one share a year is better than nothing.
  17. Buy secondhand. It is absolutely in vogue to buy vintage or used, so check out places like Facebook marketplace and local Goodwills, etc., to purchase used items. 
  18. Make gifts by hand, meaning crochet a blanket or build a birdhouse. These types of gifts are always appreciated.
  19. Don’t waste money on wrapping paper that is over the top fancy. You can shop at local stores that offer brown bags and then use those bags to wrap smaller presents. You can decorate those bags or buy yarn in green, white, or red (or any color of your choosing) and create a homespun decor. If you are near nature, maybe a sprig of pine or a pinecone on the gift might be a chic addition.
  20. Lastly, the gift of time is the most precious. Set up a time-focused day that is inexpensive. Maybe gathering for hot cocoa and a movie, with light snacks, is a treat you will be able to give and enjoy as well. Stay off your phones and spend quality time together.

No Guilt Giving

Even if you are wealthy, even if you feel an obligation – you don’t have to make excuses for a budget. Many people when they institute a budget feel overwhelmed and even have twinges of guilt or shame. 

The reality is, once you do this others will probably follow suit pretty quickly. Everyone loves a budget because deep down, people want to save money. Even those who like to be generous and enjoy the act of gift-giving, feel incredibly relieved by the idea of a boundary of a budget. 

I say this often within finance therapy and financial education – budgeting isn’t punishment it is rather a gift of a boundary and it teaches you how to show up in the world and teaches people how to treat you – as well as see you as a mentor. Your money mindset and mind and money balance are key to your emotional happiness.

Lastly, while this isn’t a tip but an alternative, many wealthier families might find that they “have everything they need” and enjoy adopting a family or group to give. There are always differing abilities within the wealthy family, so some might be just starting out and on a tight budget and others have extra income to share. This can be a way to gather as one and enjoy the generosity of giving while deflecting inter-family buying if this is a problem in your budget.

Enjoy, celebrate and let me know how you plan to budget this season!

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