With the holidays upon us, it might be a good idea to take a few minutes to reflect on your financial goals and see how they are faring against the busiest spending season of the year. If, like me, you find yourself enticed by the trademark sights, smells and activities of the holidays, then you likely know how easy it is to get into a mindset of excess; if a little is good, a lot is better.
Establishing a holiday budget with our short and long-term financial goals in mind is one of the best ways to minimize the financial stress that seems to come part and parcel with the giving season. Without a game plan, we can easily find ourselves overspending in a multitude of little (or big!) ways that can quickly add up and derail us from the goals we work towards throughout the rest of the year.
Setting and sticking to a holiday budget is only one half of the equation however, when it comes to mitigating seasonal financial stress. The second half is reassessing what the holidays mean to us and reflecting on the reasons why we feel driven to express our seasonal spirit and love for those around us the way we do.
It is no secret that Canadians carry a significant amount of debt. “In March of 2019, Canadian household debt reached 2.6 trillion… the highest debt load in the Group of Seven economies.”  Of course, debt is not inherently ‘bad’, but we need to be realistic about how these reported levels are indicative of excess and potentially unhealthy relationships with spending.
In addition to establishing a holiday budget that is right for you, here are a few things to consider for a more financially healthy holiday season.
1. Set Expectations
Are you the type of person who likes to give lots of small gifts or do you prefer to give a few larger ticket items? Whichever you are, people likely have preconceived notions of what to expect from you based on years prior. Rather than feeling like you need to live up to your giving history, consider modifying these expectations by reaching out to friends and family and letting them know what your plans for giving will look like this year.
Ask people what they need, and you may be surprised at how little it takes to make them truly happy – think dinner at their favourite restaurant or the promise of time spent together. Seek to add experiential value to their life instead of material gifts they may not really need or want, and you will likely be able to cut out superfluous spending/gifting without feeling like you haven’t lived up to expectations.
2. Create New Traditions
Are the seasonal traditions and activities you engage in every year accompanied by a hefty price tag? If your budget is stretched between multiple gift exchanges, mailing seasonal greeting cards, and baking enough to feed an entire elementary school, perhaps it may be time to evaluate if your seasonal traditions truly bring you joy. Participating because you feel obligated to or for fear of disappointing others are clear signs you may not be doing what is best for your mental or financial well-being.
Brainstorm ways you might refocus seasonal gatherings on what is truly important: quality time spent together. You don’t have to miss out on attending events, like gift exchanges, just because you prefer to opt out of bringing/receiving a generic gift. The same goes for certain traditions, like sending seasonal greeting cards, that are taking a toll on your budget. Be open to replacing or modifying yearly traditions to include friends and family so the activity becomes less about the material output and more about the process of working together.
3. Opt for the Unconventional
If you truly love giving gifts to the people you love (as many of us do), why not take an unconventional approach this year and try your hand at ‘doing-it-yourself’? DIY activities are an excellent opportunity to spend time with others, especially kids, and the perfect way to show others via time spent and thoughtfulness, how much you love them.
If you or the intended recipient would prefer to forgo giving material gifts altogether, an excellent alternative might be to donate money in their name. Simply choose an organization in line with their values and let them know you helped them support a worthwhile cause this holiday season.
As fun and heartwarming as the holidays can be,
we all need to be realistic about whether they are worth derailing our yearly
budget for. Come January, gratuitous spending is much less appealing and
rationalizable than it was amid the seasonal fervor of November and December.
Remember, you’re not required to spend money to have fun or show people you
care for them this holiday season. What is more, it is never too late to do
what is best for your financial future, even if it means downsizing in ways
people may initially find surprising. For help establishing or modifying a
budget to help you withstand every season, connect with us.