Pam and John sat in front of a pile of credit card statements, staring in disbelief at the amount of debt they’d just racked up over the last two months.
“We just didn’t realize that we were spending so much! We both have big families, and we try and take care of everyone, but now, I wonder if by our action, we have created real damage to our financial plan?” Pam asked, looking very distraught.
“It’s just so easy to overspend at holiday time. We get carried away in trying to be loving and generous!” John added.
“Loving and generous to everyone but yourselves, perhaps?” I added.
Pam and John’s situation is all too common. The exuberance of the season takes over normally rational and prudent people.
For some, the holidays are about family, fun, sharing and celebration. For others, the holidays are a time of stress, overspending and pressure, setting the stage for a January full of bills to pay and a promise that you won’t do the same thing next year! Sound familiar? If so, there’s hope—and real actions you can take to make this a meaningful holiday season.
As you approach the holidays, it’s time to consider and confront some big issues. For example, are you going to put a hard budget in place before the holiday music hits the airwaves, or are you perhaps going to shift your celebration away from buying and instead focus on creating an experience to share with those you love and value. There are lots of ways to spend the holidays rather than overspending. Here are a few ideas:
- Create a project for your family to join in that might have a charitable intent. I know one family that asks all family members (other than small children) to forgo gifts in exchange for making a family donation to a charity of choice.
- Donate time at a soup kitchen or some other project that shifts your focus from spending financial resources to joyful giving.
- Have conversations with your family members to arrange holiday celebrations to be more inclusive of combined efforts, such as gift exchanges with a strict limitation on spending.
- Set a budget for all holiday spending that won’t leave you in regret or pain in January and that will allow for the celebration of the season to be the focus.
- Consider giving gifts like books or subscriptions personalized to the interests of those on your list. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be valued.
- Get creative!
Celebration and misery are not happy bedfellows, and while you might feel pressure, guilt or shame attached to your decision to cut back, those emotions are easier to confront than the mound of bills you are liable to face in January. Remember, if you don’t have the resources to pay off those bills, add the high cost of interest to the price tag of spreading holiday cheer!
There is no shame in living comfortably within your means; in fact, it’s your responsibility to do so. You can live joyfully and celebrate the bounty of family and friends—and enjoy a happy January too. I know you can do it!
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