While some of us have been counting down the days until this year’s holiday season since last December, for many of us the holidays translate directly to increased spending and financial stress. This time of year can get really expensive, really fast, especially for families – and particularly for those going through separation or divorce who may suddenly be functioning on a smaller income. The holiday season often brings along with it greater pressure to spend money on gifts for friends and family members, holiday parties, on our children, and sometimes even on ourselves (we see you Black Friday sales). And while we fully support treating ourselves when we need to, part of self-care is taking care of ourselves in ways that prevent future distress. And for many of us, sticking to a budget is one of the best acts of self-care we can do.
Increased stress can lead to serious mental health problems – and financial pressures have a unique way of hanging over our heads for months, despite all our efforts to be more financially healthy. Sometimes, overspending during one holiday season can trail us in the form of credit card bills and loans for much longer than we’d like – regardless of whether we are now handling our money more effectively or not. Whether you’re a parent finally succumbing to the toys your kids have been begging you for all year, or a millennial trying to make rent, pay off student loans, and show your family that you appreciate them – here are some ways to stay on top of your finances to ensure that you don’t start off the new year underwater.
Evaluate your priorities
Will getting that $6 coffee drink three times a week actually make a difference in whether you can afford to treat the people you care about the way you want to? If so, make the sacrifice and actually make your coffee at home for the month – and see how much better you feel when you can put that money towards taking care of someone you love.
Figure out what you can actually afford to spend – and stick to it
If you want to set yourself up for success, sit down and crunch the numbers. Compare your income versus your expenses, and write down how much is leftover. Choose how much you want to save, and how much you want to devote to the holidays – and keep your word to yourself. Respect yourself enough to take your own word seriously. You’ll thank yourself later.
Revisit homemade gifts
Though most of us have moved on from popsicle stick crafts and macaroni noodle paintings, homemade gifts retain their power as meaningful yet affordable ways to connect with the people we care about. Spending time putting together a scrapbook of a trip you took with your partner, finally taking the time to digitize all your parents’ photos and putting them on a flash drive for them, or consolidating decades of family recipes into one organized binder can all go a really long way in making someone’s holiday truly memorable (and in saving you money).
Check your statements regularly
Yes – even when you don’t want to. Very few of us actually carry and use cash anymore – and while this tends to be more secure, it also means that spending money no longer feels like “spending money.” Handing over a wad of cash is an entirely different experience than tapping your phone, watch, or debit card on a tiny handheld payment machine. Digital payment systems make it much easier for us to conveniently forget what we buy, and to overspend. Scroll through your statements over your morning coffee and remind yourself what you’ve already spent. You’re more likely to stick to your priorities and spending goals when you have a realistic idea of where you stand.
There are tons of apps out there that can notify you when you’re getting close to your spending limit for a certain category (that you’ve set yourself), and track how much money you’re spending on what. Use these to your advantage and help yourself stick to your goals!
The holiday season can be a wonderful yet stressful time. We are all doing our best to take care of ourselves and those we care about – and sometimes we just need to open our minds a little wider and consider other ways to give back (that will benefit us in the long-run too).