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By Molly Herndon, MS and Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

soldier wearing santa hat with head in hands

U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Senior Airman Michael Smith

When the holidays are right around the corner, many of us are pulling out our wallets and getting our lists together,  while simultaneously pulling out our hair!  Although the holidays can be a time of great joy and excitement, they can also present feelings of dread, leaving you emotionally and financially drained. Here are some problems and solutions to think about during the holiday season as you work through managing your emotions and your finances.


Problem Solution
Stress- It isn’t uncommon for stress to induce impulsive behaviors such as overeating and overspending. You might find yourself attempting to reduce your stress levels by buying more and thinking less. Reduce your stress level: Don’t wait until the stress hits you like a ton of bricks to try and reduce it! Before the holidays even start, put some practice into place- exercise mindfulness, self-care, and other stress-reducing tactics that work for you. If you start the holidays with a stress-reducing plan already in motion, you are more likely to stick to it! You are also setting yourself up for more protection from stress!

Make a spending plan:  Lynn Little, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent from Maryland Extension suggests making lists for each of your holiday shopping categories – such as gifts, food, and travel. Determine the amount of money available for spending, then estimate those expenses to develop your spending plan. Be as detailed as possible – list all your gift recipients (don’t forget babysitters, neighbors or your children’s teachers). Shopping with a list reduces the urge to spend impulsively.

Obligation- During the holiday season, there are parties and gatherings galore! Some of your friends and family may host gatherings that have gift exchange as a main feature. These types of parties can add up fast and so can the money you spend and the stress it induces! It’s Okay to Say No: You can always say no. Don’t be afraid to tell your loved ones that you will have to pass on this particular gathering. You can also tell them that you would like to attend but that you will pass on the gift exchange piece. Most people would rather have your presence than your presents anyway!

Get Creative: Suggest to your loved ones that a gift exchange doesn’t have to be with NEW items! A white elephant gift exchange is always fun (give something that you already have at home that you don’t use or have never even opened)! This way, you are still doing the gift exchange, but you aren’t spending any money. You could also have an upcycling gift exchange where each of you finds something you already have and turn it into something else. This could spark creativity and lots of fun!  

Guilt- Perhaps you feel like you just don’t spend enough quality time with your loved ones throughout the year, so you feel that the guilt can be contained by giving large or expensive gifts to your loved ones. Send a different type of message: Think hard about what message this sends. This suggests that you can buy someone’s love and replace time with gifts. If you are concerned that you don’t spend enough time with your family, work on creating a new year’s resolution to do this! You can make a ‘family (or friend) resolution’ so that everyone is committed to it.

Give the Gift of Love and Time: Instead of spending large amounts of money, spend more time. Think of projects, games, or other group activities that all of you can do together.

Pressure- Santa seems to be getting more and more generous these days. He seems to be giving gifts that are extravagant and over the top. And, if Santa doesn’t come to your home, you still have pressure from your neighbors, friends, and family members when they start telling you the items they will be giving their children- a new car (yes, you read that right), a brand new iPad AND MacBook, etc.  Don’t Fall for It: There will always be pressure. While it is hard for most of us to watch our children feel disappointment, most of us share the ultimate goal of having happy children. Spending large amounts of money and giving extravagant gifts might make a child happy for a short amount of time, but giving them your love, affection, and undivided attention is worth so much more in the long run. It may also be helpful not to ask others about what they will be giving their children for the holidays. Sometimes, comparing can only make us feel worse! 

Give the Gift of Experience: Practice giving the gift of experience rather than an item – plan a special family event after the holidays. This can be more special than a toy for many children.

Getting Back on Financial Track

Maybe your holiday shopping has already gotten out of control or there were some unexpected expenses this year that were put on a credit card. Don’t let the end of year financial missteps mar your financial outlook for 2018. When your credit card statement arrives, take a look at the interest rates. Does it make more sense to tackle the debt with the higher interest rate first, as many experts suggest? Or would you feel more empowered by eliminating small debts first? There is no wrong way to pay down debt. Dr. Barbara O’Neill suggests using PowerPay, a program developed by Utah State University Cooperative Extension. To use the program, users enter their creditor’s information, outstanding balance, APR and monthly payment amount. PowerPay then determines the amount to be paid each month to most efficiently pay off the debt with as little interest paid as possible.


Resolve to Do Differently 

If your holiday spending didn’t go according to plan, resolve to beat financial stress next year by making a plan and sticking to a budget. Here are tips and resources to make saving money easier in the New Year:

  • Make saving automatic. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account. You’ll never even miss the money and you don’t have to think about it.
  • Examine your spending and develop a plan. Take a look at your income and expenses and develop a spending plan to determine where your money is going.
  • 52-Week Money Challenge: Save small amounts of money each week of the year and you’ll have $1,378 saved by the end of 2018.

Many New Year’s resolutions are health and fitness based and research has shown the conscientious behavior that allows folks to make positive lifestyle changes that improve health are positively correlated with positive financial management. Take the Small Steps to Health & Wealth quiz to assess potential changes you can make to improve your overall well-being. 

Whatever tips you decide to use, we hope that you find them helpful! We wish you a healthy, happy, stress-free (or at least stress “less”) holiday season!

This was written by Molly Herndon, Social Media Specialist for OneOp Personal Finance and Bari Sobelson, Social Media Specialist for OneOp Family Development.