The upcoming holiday season can be joyful, but many people find it one of the most stressful periods of the year. Most of us are in the Spend Money/Buying Mode until the New Year begins, and then need to deal with the financial aftermath.
As a father of three and 2 grandchildren, I have some experience at this…the “I Wantitis” (a technical financial planning term) we experience with our kids, and these items add up to hundreds, and perhaps thousands of dollars at year end. We’ve heard how friends already have it, the cool kids have it, I’ll take care of the new pet, etc., etc.
Then there’s us, the “adults.” It’s very easy to fall prey to the myriad ways merchants help us decide to part with our money. Generally with us adults, the price tags of these items go up considerably.
This article is not to judge, nor is it going to discuss coupons, timing sales, or other ways to still spend money, albeit a bit less. Is it possible to spend money during the holidays without feeling guilt, stress, or weakening our financial situation?
We believe the answer is yes, absolutely, and have some thoughts about how to accomplish this. If you’re still with me, let’s explore some ideas and concepts to help you get through the holidays with less stress and more joy in your life.
Be Conscious and be Intentional
Having just downsized as an “empty nester,” my wife and I had the opportunity to sift through piles and piles and piles of “Must-Have” items that diminished our finances over time. It’s astounding how much of it became meaningless over time, and ended up donated, auctioned or thrown away. I mean a LOT!
Stuff is highly overrated, and in retrospect wish we had done things differently. We, like many, got swept up with “I Wantitis” as we raised our family, both our children as well as ourselves. For a variety of reasons we have started to pay much closer attention to our spending.
And guess what? The experience has been great! We are spending dramatically less, get much less stuff, and the stuff we get we really appreciate or need. We feel much more empowered and in control of our money.
Holiday time (Christmas for us) is a real test for our family and our approach to spending. More is not always better. Here are some thoughts on ways to be more intentional and conscious about your shopping and spending:
Step #1. Set a Dollar Limit for Spending
You may be saying to yourself, duh! However this is a REALLY important step most of us don’t take, particularly during the holiday season. Retailers are really really (really) good at convincing you to buy their stuff.
For example, how many ads do you think you see in a given day? Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements each day! It is likely even more during the holiday season.
If you don’t set a strict upper limit, most of us are likely to spend more than we want to or should.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SET THAT LIMIT?
- Decide at the beginning of the year how much you’re going to spend during the
- Set up a separate “Holidays” bank account.
- Save to it incrementally from each paycheck throughout the year.
If you wait until holiday time to figure out how much you want to spend on the holidays,
there are going to be all sorts of external pressures to spend more. But think about how easy it’d be in January, when you’re not all amped up for the holidays, to think rationally and responsibly about spending during the next holiday season?
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THAT LIMIT?
Holidays are a financial goal just like many other important things: travel, saving for
retirement, saving for a down payment, paying for your kids’ private school, etc.
So we should be approaching this the way we approach saving for any kind of goal: Consciously and Intentionally.
Holiday spending is not as “mission critical” as say, the house payment, food, etc. We categorize holiday spending as discretionary spending. In other words, it follows essential Living Expenses and other higher-priority discretionary spending.
If you’re looking for some guideline, the Better Business Bureau and Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions offer a holiday budget calculator based upon your income. For example, if your gross annual income is $50,000, the calculator will give you a recommended holiday budget of 1.5 percent of your annual income. From there, you can allocate how much you want to spend on gifts, holiday parties, travel and more.
Step #2. Keep a List of Stuff You Want to Buy
This accomplishes many things, and they’re all positive. Some of them are:
- Lists build anticipation of finally getting the gifts. Anticipation is a large part of the joy you get from spending money, and even more so if you’re intentional about it.
- Lists give us time to think about buying/spending decisions.
- Lists turn the eventual gifts into a treat. Treats bring joy.
Step #3. Prioritize that list
Prioritizing benefits you in two ways:
- You can stay within my spending limit, because you know which items you can’t buy without sacrificing much enjoyment.
- You are more likely to get the Most Awesome out of every Christmas dollar you spend.
I don’t know about you, but I really hate it when I spend money on something that, disappointingly soon, isn’t that useful or enjoyable after all. I don’t like that sense of wasted money. Prioritizing and only buying the top priorities limits that disappointment and sense of waste.
Spend Your Time and Energy as Meaningfully as Your Money
Some people really get into Black Friday, running spreadsheets to find the best deals, etc. Personally that makes me turn into a cold sweat even thinking about it. We all have limited amounts of time, energy and focus for dealing with our finances. Personally I’d rather spend those resources figuring out our values, and what is most meaningful to us…in other words, be intentional!
If you are looking for hourly or project-based financial advice with no conflict of interest, we can help at Financial Freedom Planners!