Holiday time is here and along with sleigh bells, candles, and decking the halls comes a certain amount of pressure to be happy. I’m all about happiness, but trying to be happy because you’re supposed to be happy can be an express pass to stress-ville. This series of three posts is about managing the stress you may encounter this time of year. Last week I covered the basic foundation of corralling your worries by making a list of All The Things. Today’s post is about the financial stress that can happen at this time of year. Most of us don’t have an unlimited budget and it’s all too easy to let spending get out of control.
The first step to take if you’re experiencing holiday-related money woes is to figure out where you stand. This sounds like a very obvious tip, but it is not uncommon for people to avoid the things they are worried about. On a surface level this seems to make sense, but in fact, the worry is still hanging out there in your subconscious. If you want to minimize your financial stress, take a deep breath and face it head on. Just knowing what you have to work with is much less stressful than floundering blindly, not knowing if your check will bounce or how long you will be paying interest on that gift you feel obligated to buy your kids’ teachers.
On the subject of teacher gifts, here’s a tip: teachers don’t want cheap gifts from parents who feel obligated or pressured to give them something. If you have the time and resources to give them something actually useful to them, go for it. Teachers work hard and deserve recognition; but a meaningful letter thanking them for the time, energy, and other sacrifices they make will probably make at least as big an impact on them, and a smaller impact on the environment.
This is a time of year when a good number of people are over-spending on gifts. Not to belabor a point, but landfills are creaking with “things” that were bought and not needed, wanted, or used. A quick search on Amazon.com revealed over 2000 results for clutter-related books. Professional organizing is big business, minimalist lifestyles and tiny houses are in, and even the somewhat morbid-sounding topic of Swedish death cleaning is gaining a following. When it comes to gifts, more does not equal better.
I am not against gift-giving. On the contrary, a thoughtful and personally chosen gift is a lovely expression of caring. However, the giving of presents people neither need nor want simply for the purpose of filling a commercially driven sense of obligation is wasteful for both the giver and the recipient. Most people would rather have your time, your company, your love, and your aid than another thing that needs a home and periodic cleaning.
Giving gifts to kids requires special consideration. There is no denying that children love presents, and help with their math homework or cleaning their room isn’t likely to make them dance with glee. They want something to open! Yet, while being surrounded by a pile of presents seems like every child’s dream, there is the very real phenomenon of too many gifts. After the first package or two, the child’s focus shifts. Instead of spending time enjoying what they just opened and anticipating how fun it will be, often children will chuck that gift to the side in their haste to see what else there is. Some of that is a lack of maturity, and some of it is just plain sensory overload.
When my children were small, we used to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. We did stockings and a single gift on Christmas Day, and each day following the children would get another gift. This included gifts from us and from other family members. Not only did this technique eliminate the sensory overload (and incidentally, the absolute chaos Christmas morning can bring), it also gave them space to enjoy each gift on its own. Certainly, this idea won’t work for every family, yet it stands as an example of getting creative to reduce the gifting frenzy while enhancing the actual gift experience.
Another important aspect of choosing gifts for children (or anyone, really), is taking the time to think of what they are interested in doing and learning, and tailoring the gifts to the individual. A smaller, more relevant gift will likely be better received, used more often, and remembered longer than the latest shiny electronic gizmo. Don’t overlook the opportunity to give experiences rather than toys, either. A trip to the science museum or a matinee at the local theater could be a favorite memory in years to come, or even an inspiration for a future career.
Giving gifts is a great way of recognizing and connecting with the people who matter in your life. Many people go through periods in their life when their bank account doesn’t reflect or support their desire to give. My husband and I married relatively young and our first few holiday seasons we were getting by on a bank teller’s pay, a small stipend to cover my husband’s schooling for a graduate degree and, from time to time, using our over-draft protection to see us to the next paycheck. Our gifts included such things as homemade cocoa mixes in jars, jam we canned ourselves, and cross-stitched ornaments. Our family and friends appreciated the love and time that we put into these gifts. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself,” and that is the very essence of a gift that cost at least as much in time and energy as it does in dollars. As a bonus, things such as soup or cocoa mixes are consumables and can even be time savers for the recipient. Who doesn’t want more time?
No matter what you choose to celebrate or how large or small your budget, spend some time sitting with this idea: celebrating the holidays is so much more than spending money or exchanging gifts. Honor what you believe, spend time with people who fill your emotional cup, and spread your own light of kindness whenever possible.
Many blessings, Sunny