Less Stress For the Holidays: Controlling Your Finances
Relieve your stress the old fashioned way
As the holidays quickly approach, we feel excitement, tempered with some dread. Sure it's fun. But there is often a lot of stress attached to the holiday season. Money... it's one of the things we worry most about. One way to manage some of that, is to take control of your finances, before the arrival of Christmas. Ideally, we should look at our finances throughout the year, setting a budget in January and saving money each month. Realistically, most of us frantically spend December trying to balance gift giving, donating and celebrating with our usual bills and responsibilities.
We all want to be generous during the holidays, and this is a good thing. It is irresponsible, however, to put ourselves into debt in order to buy toys for kids that will be broken in a day, and presents for people we don't really like. With a little planning and forethought, we can alleviate the stress of finances over the holiday season.
Following are a few easy steps you can use, to effectively manage your finances during the season of giving, and ease some of the stress that inevitably comes with the holiday season.
You CAN manage your money
What can I spend?
First, set a budget. Have a realistic idea of how much you want to spend between now and Christmas. In order to control your finances, you must be honest about how much you can really afford. Don't project how much you think it should cost, or how much you think you'd like to spend. Look at your income. Look at fixed expenses. Rent. Utilities. Fuel. Food. These things must be taken care of first. Once you have a dollar figure in mind, the rest will fall into place.
Your budget may not be as much as you'd like, but you need to take into consideration all the things you'd like to do over the holidays. Are you donating money to a worthwhile cause? That needs to be in your budget. Are you hosting a party or a cookie exchange? Those are extra expenses. How about office parties and holiday parties for boards and committees you belong to? Usually they include some sort of gift exchange that will cost something. And don't forget the presents, the wrapping paper, the Christmas cards, stamps and envelopes. All of these things are expenses above and beyond what you would usually spend in a month, and need to be planned for ahead of time.
If it helps, sit down and write a list. Yes, it's difficult, because when you see everything in black and white, your finances might look bleak indeed. But writing a list is a realistic and practical way to get a handle on your actual financial situation.
One of the biggest dangers we face at Christmas time, or during any holiday, is denial. We deny what we have coming in, and what we want to spend. This usually leads to an even bigger headache in January.
Do yourself and your finances a favor and figure out a budget. It will be difficult and time consuming, but definitely worth it in the long run.
There is more to life than money
Who do I give to?
Second, make a list. Or, make several lists. Who do you really want to buy gifts for? After analyzing your budget, your gift giving list may need some tweaking. Perhaps, instead of buying several gifts for your nieces and nephews, you can send a family gift. You can create a fun gift with a theme, such as a movie night box, complete with popcorn, a DVD, and candy. Use your imagination and instead of spending big bucks to send presents to everyone, send something the entire family can enjoy together.
Most families prefer a fun gift that involves an experience. Plan to take your adult siblings and their families ice skating or sledding. Have a family game night, and center your gift around that. In all reality, most people do not want more things. They want to spend time and create memories with the people they love. Keep this in mind as you create your list and develop potential gift ideas.
Do all of your co-workers need gifts from you? Most of your coworkers are hoping you don't give them a gift, because they will feel obligated to buy you something you don't really need. Instead, consider taking a plate of treats for the office to share. Or, just give cards to those who make you work environment extra tolerable. You could put some thought into a nice card, and tell people how much they really mean to you, and why you are glad to know them. This will mean far more than some tchotchke that sits on the desk collecting dust.
When you begin making lists, consider that many people in your life would like to spend some time with you. Could you give your friends a hand-made card along with a certificate for lunch together after the holidays? How about sending all those distant relatives a picture of the family along with a letter talking about your year? Although the Christmas letter has gotten a bad rap over the years, people always enjoy hearing what you've been up to. The cost of postage for sending out letters is much less than mailing packages, and a picture will let them put faces to names, and see for themselves just how much the kids have grown.
Make lists of people for whom a gift is necessary, then begin brainstorming ideas of meaningful gifts that don't cost a lot. More than things, most adults want to spend time with people they love. While your children love to get presents under the tree, they will always remember the time you spend with them. Find ways to incorporate a present with an experience. Perhaps family tickets to a local play, or a family dinner out, after the holidays. These experiences will be remembered and cherished long after the gifts have been re-gifted.
Chances are, your expectation of yourself is more than what others expect of you. To be a good parent does not require loading your kids up with expensive presents. Being a good parent entails teaching kids appropriate financial boundaries. Teaching your kids how to budget will be a great gift to them in the long run. It's just hard to wrap.
Creative Gift Ideas for Families
Family Movie Night
A couple of hours to watch a movie
An hour or more of sledding time
Gazing at the stars
An hour or more after dark
Depending on the game, at least an hour
An hour or so
Love Doesn't Equal Money
What can I give?
Finally, consider what you have to give. Not all presents must be from Wal-mart, eBay, or Amazon. We can all give the gift of ourselves. Can you knit? Make everyone on your list a colorful scarf. Do you know how to make things from wood? What can you do for someone? The gift of your time and talent is far more valuable than a plastic tchotchke from China.
When you give of yourself, you are not only expanding yourself, but you are sharing yourself. And, if you create a certificate or coupon, the gift may not even have to happen until after the holidays. Offer a consultation, or an hour of your time with you expertise. Maybe you could help a friend declutter her basement, or offer to take someone's recycling for a month. Gifts of time don't take long to give, and in the end, can increase someone's joy for months or years. Not only with the recipient enjoy the gift, but you'll get something of equal or greater value: you'll make someone's life just a little bit brighter.
On-line, you can find many recipes for homemade kits, like cookie mixes and hot chocolate mixes. When placed in inexpensive jars, these make great gifts. It's easy to dress them up and add a recipe. If you're feeling especially creative, you could even make a batch of the cookies or a pot of the stew and deliver it piping hot, along with the jar kit, for later.
Another way to give what you have is to see what you physically have on hand. Brand new scarf set you got from grandma? Re-wrapped it would make an appropriate gift for someone on your list. Most of us live in homes full of stuff. If we put our mind to it, much of our stuff would make excellent gifts for someone else. Don't leave all that stuff in your basement and your garage until you die. Then your children will be tasked with sorting through it and throwing it away. Instead, look to see what you have that might mean something special to someone now, and give it to them to enjoy, while you're still alive to see their delight. You will both feel much more fulfilled and happy.
Re-gifting is laughed at, but if you consider the mountain of things in your home, there is more stuff than you could ever enjoy in this lifetime. More stuff doesn't make life better. Joy and peace make life better. If you can give your daughter joy by giving her your grandmother's tea set, then why not share it. If you die with a houseful of junk, then your family will just fight about it and throw most of it away anyway. By carefully considering your precious belongings and giving them to the people you love, you can share their joy during the holiday season.
There is no shame in giving from what you have. In this economy, we owe it to ourselves to be responsible. And most people don't want more stuff, unless it has some meaning from you or to them. Giving what you have is a way of sharing yourself with others.
The best gifts come from the heart, not the store. This holiday season, find less stress by giving of your self and give your bank account a break.
The Most Important Gift of All
There is so much more to life than money, and gift giving. Sure, it's nice to receive a well thought out gift, but how often does that really happen?
Instead of worrying about how to spend enough money to make your family happy, remind yourself to spend enough time to make your family happy.
In these days of rushing around and frantically going from one event to the next, take some time to slow down and enjoy the people you love. Life is short, and before you know it, you will be on to the next adventure, whatever that may be.
Don't waste time today worrying about money and presents. Instead, breathe deeply and express your gratitude for the wonderful life that you have right now. Tell the people in your life how much you appreciate them. Make a difference by sharing the truth of your love.