Destressing the Holidays: money
Next to talking about our calendars, talking about money is another topic that may make you want to run for those hills.
But this is a series about destressing at the holidays. And right up there with time, money is a major stressor during this season. So I couldn't do a series on destressing the holidays and not include money.
Now before we begin I want to make sure you understand my intentions. This will not be a post where I will be telling you what to do with your money. This is also not a post that will include guilt or shame. I know this can be a sore topic for some of us. My desire is for you to feel less stress this holiday. And I know many of you are feeling that with your finances. I want you to experience less stress in all areas of your life this holiday, including with money. My main focus will be identifying overarching areas of stress when it comes to money, and giving tools that can help reduce stress in those areas. In addition to limited time this holiday, we also have limited money. Even with credit cards, the bill comes eventually. So if we aren't feeling the stress now, it may be there in January. My main goal is to give you helpful ideas to reduce stress. When it comes to money around the holidays, I have found stress rises for two primary reasons: we don't know how we are going to pay for all the extras (gifts, Christmas cards, food, events) and unexpected expenses arise. I have had my fair share of stressful holidays with money. Similar to time, the process of destressing money over the holidays has been about identifying what is causing the stress, and finding ways to reduce the areas of stress I can control.
Here are some of the ways I have reduced stress with money during the holidays:
Have a plan
The holidays are a season of giving. And it is truly joyful to give this time of year. If you and your family have the resources to give generously, give generously. If you and your family don't have a lot of financial resources, giving can be simple and still be meaningful.
Regardless of the amount of resources you have, creating a plan helps. Similar to being intentional with our schedules over the holidays, a plan (or a budget) is a way to be intentional with your money. It moves us from being reactive with our spending to being proactive, which reduces stress. I know you have probably already been spending this holiday season (there may even be those who have finished your holiday shopping). Or maybe you haven't bought one gift and are feeling behind. No matter where you are so far this holiday, it is never too late to create a plan.
There are those who love budgets and who already have theirs created for this holiday. If budgets scare you or overwhelm you, it's ok. Here is a simple process for creating a holiday budget.
Take out a piece of paper, pull up an excel document, or if you have a budget app or program, open that. Find what works best for you to create a budget and use that.
Create a list of items you plan to spend money on. Here are a list of possible items:
- Christmas Cards - Stamps for Christmas Cards - Christmas Gifts - Postage and Shipping for Gifts - Wrapping paper, bows, tape - Christmas Tree - Decorations - Baking Ingredients - Holiday Meals
If you have a set amount of money you are able to spend this holiday, start with that amount. Look at your priority list. Identify which items from your priority list require money. Write next to those items the amount you are able to spend. If you don't have a set amount of money, but want to figure out how much you will be spending this holiday, again start with your priority list. You may need to research how much a particular item will cost (such as how much the Christmas cards will cost). Item by item write down the amount. For gifts, create a list of people you will be giving to. Then identify an amount of money you can spend per person. You may not know how much you can spend for each category and that is ok. The goal is to start. So, start with an amount that seems reasonable or within the amount you have. If you find throughout the holiday it is not enough, make a note, or adjust.
And similar to destressing our time, it is best to talk all of this over with your spouse or significant other. Again, miscommunication or unspoken expectations are a huge source of stress over the holidays. It is important to be on the same page, particularly with time and money. Talking through the finances of the holiday can be a great opportunity to discuss your hopes and together come up with a plan for how to accomplish that with the resources you have.
Identify 'Surprises' It sounds odd but for years I would get 'surprised' at the cost to mail packages. I would get surprised by the cost for wrapping paper, extra tape, etc. I wasn't surprised I needed to buy those items, I just hadn't factored it into my budget. I am a big picture person and I don't always see every detail. So the years I forgot about those, I needed to adjust the budget some for that year, but I also made a note for the next year. I added postage to my holiday budget. I added wrapping paper to my holiday budget. Primarily so I wouldn't forget about it the next year. It was a process of figuring out what needed to be included for my holiday budget.
What are those areas of 'surprise' that you are discovering this year? Make a note for next year, or put it in the budget so it isn't missed next year.
Plan Margin As I mentioned with time, plan margin. With each budget category give yourself a little more than you think you might need. Or if you have a limited amount to spend, reduce each category just a little bit so you leave some margin. This will help reduce the stress when there are those unexpected items you may have not thought about.
One area of margin that is often needed this time of year is food. With the extra baking and extra meal preparations we will likely need to increase our food budget.
After making a budget, its important to track how you are doing with the budget. Keep track throughout the month how much you have spent and how much you have left to spend. This can be entering every day or every week. The idea is to make sure you are staying on track with what you had planned. If you find you had to go over on one category, adjust with another category so the overall plan works.
For those of you who budgets are overwhelming. It's ok. This is a process. The goal is to reduce stress. Sometimes facing our areas of stress head on initially feels overwhelming. Be patient with yourself and the process. The budget may not go perfect this year. You will likely need to make adjustments. But that does not mean to throw the process out. Over time, the process of creating a budget and tracking how you spend during the holidays will reduce stress. You will start to feel less stress as you make a plan and have a clear idea of how you will be spending the financial resources you have available.
Good Memories don't have to be expensive As I close this post I just want to remind you that good memories don't have to be expensive. Again, if you have the financial resources, what a joy to be able to give generously through gifts or unique experiences this season! But for those of us who don't have the resources to do big experiences or gifts, the limitations can help us be creative. It is the connection and time together that our kids will remember.