The holidays are a time for family, friends, festivities—and, of course, finances.
People in countries around the world spend an average of $200 to $1,250 each year on holiday-related expenses (Americans take the top spot), according to a report from Western Union. Reports on consumer spending predict that these numbers will continue to grow.
Money is a personal topic that can bring up a range of emotions, especially during the holidays. If you’re already stressed about money—and 54 percent of meQ members worldwide say they are—you may be filled with dread as this big spending season approaches. Even if your budget isn’t tight, you may still be unsure about how much to spend or conscious of not wanting to make loved ones with smaller budgets feel uncomfortable.
That’s why for financial peace of mind it’s important to go beyond budgeting tips and dig deeper to address the root cause of money stress. Regardless of your financial situation, consider these ways to alleviate spending-related stress this season.
1. Examine Your Emotions
Many people report feeling pressured to spend, sometimes beyond their means, during the holidays. What causes this pressure, however, is different for everyone.
First, recognize when a strong emotion comes up for you about money. Maybe it’s sadness, guilt, or shame. (Hint: You might recognize these feelings in your body first; the itchy restlessness of anxiety or sinking feeling of shame, etc.) Understanding how you feel about money will help you address the core issue.
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2. Trace Those Feelings
Now, trace your feelings about money back to the source. What situation are you reacting to and why? Maybe your friend just announced a holiday party, and you are anxious about what gift you can afford to bring. What story are you telling yourself about the situation? For example, maybe it’s that your social standing depends on what you are able to spend.
Ask yourself whether this story is true, and whether it is serving you. Are you judging yourself unnecessarily? Maybe it truthfully will be challenging to find an affordable gift, but the amount you spend actually won’t matter to your friend.
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3. Replace Judgment With Curiosity
Many of us hold on to rigid Iceberg Beliefs about money. These deep-rooted underlying beliefs, formed when we were young, directly but unconsciously affect our adult behaviors—often in negative ways. They typically appear as “should” or “must” statements. And when it comes to the holidays, they can dictate how we think—and feel—about spending.
For example, perhaps you feel that you must buy extravagant presents for everyone on your list, or they won’t think well of you. If you notice these judgments arising, try replacing them with curiosity. What circumstances might be contributing to these feelings? Did you grow up in a family where love was equated with the value of gifts? If so, consider whether that holds true for everyone in your life.
Or you might believe that your partner should reciprocate the amount you’ve spent on them; otherwise, they don’t care about you. But maybe your partner has a tighter budget, or they don’t view money the same way you do. Curiosity is key to building empathy and can help you not only better understand other people’s situations, but also why you might be acting a certain way.
4. Communicate and Listen
The next step: Talk with friends and family about gift giving. Tell them how you feel, but also listen to how they are feeling. For example, you can let them know that it brings you joy to give gifts and don’t expect anything in return, but if gift giving makes them uncomfortable, you may need to come up with a new holiday plan.
When budgets are tight, remember that generosity can take many forms. You can offer loved ones the opportunity to treat you in non-monetary ways, such as with quality time together or by teaching you a skill you’ve wanted to learn. And you can offer to do the same.
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5. Learn to Pause
Once we start spending, it can be tempting to keep going, a phenomenon researchers call “spending momentum.” In large part, this stems from what is called the wanting mind—the feeling that what we have is never enough.
We are wired to want; it is part of our biological imperative to survive. But when it comes to spending, this desire can work against us. Try quieting the wanting mind by letting go of one impulse each day. Whether it’s passing up that new electronic device or pressing pause on an online shopping order to see if you still want those items tomorrow, taking a minute (or two) makes for more mindful spending.
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Reflect on how you feel once you’ve stepped away from a spending urge. Was it hard to let it go? You may even find that you were shopping to satisfy an unrelated urge. For example, maybe you were feeling bored or lonely. Buying material things may help us feel happier in the moment, but it won’t address the underlying root cause of overspending. Reflecting will help you become aware of what those root causes may be so you can become less reactive to them.