It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like…
The holiday season approaches and like most people my thoughts turn to family, gift giving and what will be on the holiday food menu. I was in one of the large consumer box stores yesterday and the Christmas trees were going up and the multitude of “gift” idea special buys were out on the shelves. I had to leave the store because it literally raised my anxiety level. I have never been a Christmas person and I think I have finally figured out why. The packaging clutter of gift sets, the pressure to buy, the forced joviality of it all. I really am not a ‘bah humbug’ type of person and I do love Christmas day but the ensuing pressure up until 6pm on Christmas Eve literally makes me nauseous. I would like to give you, my readers, a gift this year. I am giving you the gift of my professional organizing experience and in doing so I hope you give yourselves the permission to give yourselves a break this holiday season.
I was a single parent for several years and every time Christmas or birthdays would roll around I felt I had to overcompensate for something else that I perceived to be missing. After a few years of scary January Visa bills I finally came to my senses and in order to rid myself of that anxiety I switched my thinking. If I could give my daughter a few more experiences and a few less gifts then I would also be able to give her the gift of a less stressed out mom for the first 6 months of the year instead of the stressed-out mama who had to worry about how she was going to pay off those scary holiday bills. Seriously, who was I trying to impress? The answer was closer than I imagined. The illusion of wealth and plenty we try to create at Christmas is usually for our own benefit. The optics of a multitude of gifts under the tree and a buffet to feed an army may give us the illusion that we are doing just great but if you are constantly mortgaging your future to make today possible then be prepared to be constantly playing catch up. The sobering reality is that the cost of maintaining the ‘illusion of plenty’ is much higher than the 25% interest on your VISA bill. This financial stress is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the year and it translates into anxiety, poor health and a stressed-out family.
I have to say upfront it’s not easy to switch your mindset and it takes persistence and practice. We get caught up in the twinkle and the tinsel and the guilt of not keeping up. What will I do with myself if I am not participating in all of this holiday merriment and build up? You are going to have to do some serious introspection and decide if the excitement today is more important than a few more stress-free tomorrows. Awareness is key and I promise it’s gets easier when you focus on the big picture. I also think the answer is not as difficult as it seems when you are aware of what the true cost really is. Want an eye-opener? Get out your January VISA statement from last year and take a really good look at what you spent your money on. Where are those items now? Forgotten, thrown out, taking up space? Do you even remember what you bought?
The habit of buying less means you give yourself the gift of living in a clutter free environment. Clutter can have quite the psychological effect and creates a chaotic environment which has been shown to be detrimental to mental health. Save your money for more experiences. The memories of an experience last a lot longer than physical possessions. I am not saying forego all gifts but maybe set your goals to focus on the experiences a little more than spending time at the mall or online stressed out about gift giving.
Below are some tips to help you develop a ‘buying less’ mindset.
- Don’t feel pressured to put gifts under the tree. Designate a different area for gifts. Maybe Santa brings each child a gift somewhere special this year than just under the tree. If you must put presents under the tree, buy a smaller tree so less presents don’t look as scarce as they might under a bigger tree. Think outside of the box, create your own traditions. I did a Christmas morning scavenger hunt with clues one Christmas morning. Whatever works my friends!
- Set a budget and stick to it!
- Try and only use cash. You will feel the pain of spending more when you pay with cash!
- Focus on creating more experiences.
- Don’t overbuy holiday food. Trust me, this is hard for me, the daughter of parents who owned a restaurant and were Greek. Double whammy! Plan your menu and stick to it! If I can do this, you can too! The planning could be a fun family event and does not put pressure all on one family member. You are also teaching your children life skills. They will need to cook for themselves one day.
- Practice gift giving that does not cost money. Volunteer at a food bank. Teach your children that giving comes in many forms. This teaches children the gift of empathy, a life skill that they will carry with them and will serve them well.
- Adopt a less is more mindset. Choose quality over quantity.
- People really do love homemade baked goods. Make that your thing when giving to family!
- If you are hosting Christmas, make it a potluck affair. Instead of only you showcasing your culinary prowess, be generous and let everyone bring something so they can shine too! It may not be picture perfect but it will be unique and fun.
- Plan your Christmas activities. Give yourself permission to say no this year. You do not have to attend every function or event you are invited to. Carve out time for you and your family to just rest and rejuvenate.
The holidays do not have to be an excuse to spend money. This year give yourself the gift of getting a little closer to something better than a wrapped gift, give yourself the gift of a stress-free life and get yourself a little closer to financial freedom in the process.