Eight last-minute holiday money traps and how to avoid them!


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.

Five ways I stopped letting money get in the way

I run into this situation with clients somewhat regularly.  Something having to do with money is the obstacle keeping them from truly living the wild and precious lives they want. There's not enough money, they have a giant mortgage, moving to the place of their dreams (often near water) or going back to school would cost too much, etc., etc. Of course, there are plenty of facts to support their concerns.  Some clients have some kind of major debt on top of everything else.  And while I wish I did, I don't have a magic wand to wave around to make debt disappear, replaced by giant cartoon bags of money with dollar signs on the outside!  (That would be cool, wouldn't it?)

What I can offer are some tools to turn the whole money puzzle around. About ten years ago, I figured out what to do over a series of years and months. A "perfect storm" of books and resources all seemingly magically showed up at about the same time, and I was ready to dive into their wisdom.

Years later, here are the five biggest takeaways that I've figured out that made a difference for us.  They might do the same for you!

1. Pay attention.  Most spending that we're sorry about later happens when we purposefully stop paying attention.  We really don't want to know.  Have you ever taken a receipt for a meal or an outfit or a cart of groceries and not even looked at it? Either tossed it away or shoved it back into your wallet?  Have you said aloud or to yourself, "I don't even want to know how much that cost."  Well, there you have it.  Like a scientist doing an experiment, you have to start paying attention to the data and collecting some information, or you'll have no idea what's happening and you can't make a conclusion or analyze your results, or make changes that will work better for you in the future.

2. Stop trying to impress people.  I know, I know. You think you don't do this.  You're a well-adjusted person who makes choices based upon what you want.  You don't care a bit what other people think. Well, perhaps your evolved self doesn't care, but I can almost guarantee there's at least  some very tiny part of your brain that's keeping a pretty interesting tally of where you fit in a never-ending comparison game with others.  With their cars, or their homes, or their vacations.  Or the quality and value of their holiday gifts.  Once you really figure out what you want and get off the status hamster wheel to nowhere, you might be really surprised at the number of cartoon money bags accumulating around your feet!

3. Avoid "budgeting". Setting up budgets and deprivational systems that don't take into account the surprise root canal or cat vet emergency or hole in the roof or sink that won't drain or stolen bicycle or car that died completely - these systems are almost always doomed to fail.  (By the way, all the examples above happened to us in the past eight months!  They will really put a wrench into any budget, let me tell you!) There are other great options (see #1 above) that will work just as well as budgeting and won't make you feel like you've failed when the unexpected expenses for the month add up to more than you'd budgeted for all of your food and incidentals combined.

4. Make it a game. Solving your money issues is so much more effective when you can have fun while doing it! Contests with yourself or family members, charts, challenges, stickers - you'd be surprised how well these types of methods will work. How much fun can you have with just $5? Try that one today!

5. Figure out what's enough for you.  You have to master #2 to really pull this one off.  This is my favorite and most important step and it will completely turn around your money situation. Figuring out what's enough seems so simple, but you have to realize that there are outside forces all around you sending messages of lack and need, creating wants you didn't even know you had. It's called advertising, and no matter how smart you are, it works.  On you.

These are just a few of the things we've learned (you can see they're common sense and don't involve anything creepy or complicated like a pyramid scheme or buying foreclosed properties.) And we have no debt whatsoever.  Even our house is paid for.  We have enough liquid to live on for a year or more if we really needed to.  We have retirement funds.  We have a really happy life with plenty of trips and vacations (This year, a conference in Arizona, hiking on the AT for a week, three different beach trips, a mastermind coach weekend, a road trip to the mountains of Colorado, a trip to see family in Baltimore, a fall camping trip, and a New Orleans staycation getaway!) Our fridge is full of delicious and indulgent food. You get the picture.

And we did this with a very moderate amount coming in - at first two teachers' salaries and now just one teacher salary and one entrepreneur income. You don't need to be making six figures or even half that to transform your relationship with money. Give these tips a try and see what happens!

And check out The Indulgent Path to Money Management - a course I offer both virtually and locally a few times a year - if you'd like more support in living a happy life with the money you have.