Being overloaded with holiday debt is not part of my plan for living a wild and precious life, and I bet it's not yours either. So I've compiled some quick tips to help you in these final days of holiday rushing around to stay centered. Watch out for these holiday money traps, and remember that the holidays are actually about love and togetherness, which is happily free!
1. The Holiday Sale Trap: Everything's on sale! 20-50% off! There must be something you need for yourself or as a gift! If you're not there, you're missing out! Notice and question where messages from outside are impacting how you think you should be spending your time and money. I also call this "cashmere sweater syndrome". What is it about cashmere and the holidays? Sure, if you need some cashmere, this is certainly the time to get it, but I'll tell you, thrift stores are great places to find cashmere sweaters too. Most of us are drowning in sweaters, so check in if you really need any more.
2. The "Ghost of Holidays Past" Trap: Are you celebrating traditions that don't fit your current lifestyle anymore? Do some of these traditions cost money? For example, are your kids grown but you're still buying silly trinkets for their stockings, thinking that if you stop they'll be disappointed? It might be worth having a conversation. Maybe your kids haven't said anything because they don't want to upset you. My ghost is holiday cookies. I used to bake a dozen different kinds of cookies every year. For a long time, I enjoyed it. And I still enjoy baking. But this year I decided to bake when I feel like it, try some new recipes maybe, and not worry about the giant pile of cookies. And all has been fine! Traditions are wonderful, but if you have some "ghostlike" traditions that aren't serving you anymore, just hanging around rattling their chains, consider chucking them. Everyone might be relieved!
3. The "Money Equals Love" Trap: You may be a victim of this or you may do it to others. Do you believe that the more expensive a gift you receive, the more love that represents? Do some of your loved ones foist this belief on you? Ask yourself if it's true. Ask yourself if this is how you want to measure your love or someone else's love.
4. The "Buying the House" Trap: If you've ever bought a home or other extremely large purchase, you've probably experienced this. With tens of thousands of dollars going back and forth in negotiations, suddenly an amount of one or two grand doesn't seem that important. What's another thousand? This can happen when you're purchasing big-ticket holiday items as well. As you toss a few more items into your shopping cart, real or virtual, you're thinking, if you've already spent $3000 on large holiday gifts, what's another $800? It can sometimes help to think about what else you can do with that money. Can it buy you several weeks worth of groceries? Pay your phone and heating bills and then some? Go towards a plane ticket and vacation? Do you really want or need the stuff you've just added? Do your gift recipients want or need it?
5. The "Stocking Stuffer" Trap: This is the opposite of the trap above. "It's just a little stocking stuffer. Itcosts $1 or $2 or $5 or maybe $10. It's not a big deal. Hey, maybe I'll get one for everyone at the office - they're so cute!" Next thing you know you've spent $200 on "stocking stuffers". One way to help with this trap is to think about that stocking stuffer six months from now. Where will it live? Will its owner care about it, want it, use it, have a place for it? Or will it have already gone to Good Will or the trash or the junk drawer?
6. The "Keeping Everything Even" Trap: See "Money Equals Love" above. All the kids need to get the same number of presents. Or they have to add up to the same value. Next thing you know you're rushing around on Christmas Eve looking for some little trinket to even everything out. Plus buying the extra wrapping paper and bows to make it all look fantastic. Ask yourself if it's worth buying another $100 worth of random stuff to "keep everything even." This is true at the office, too. Everyone doesn't need an identical fruit basket or mug. Unless you're the boss. Then yes, give everyone something really nice!
7. The "Holiday Food Vortex" Trap: This is my downfall. I love holiday food. Peppermint bark. Assorted nuts. Fancy cheese. Yummy sides. And I want all of it. So I usually overbuy (or overbake - see #2 above) holiday food. Sure, we eventually eat it, but how much cheese, chocolate and wine does one household need? (Don't answer that.) So what I've started doing is thinking very specifically about what holiday events and meals I'll be preparing, and what specifically I'll need for entertaining, instead of filling my shopping cart with a metric ton of holiday food "just in case".
8. The "Holiday Decorations 50% off" Trap: A corollary to #1. If you didn't want that decoration when it was full-priced, consider if you really want it now that it's half-off. Especially if you already have an attic or garage full of holiday decorations that you don't use or love. Ask yourself if that little porcelain Santa or other tchotchke really needs a home with you. Make sure you love it before you choose it.
Yes. No matter what it seems like, the holidays are not about money. Hug, sing, feast a little, curl up with your loved ones by a fire, go for hikes in the woods, smile, breathe, and be present.