Don’t Spend Your Way to Stress

By Alan Marzilli, Senior Writer, Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.

For the last few weeks, we’ve looked at ways to maintain wellness through the holiday season. For some, the end of the holiday season brings relief. But many of us will have something new to worry about: paying all those holiday bills.

In the rush to create the perfect holiday season, we feel increased pressure to spend, spend, spend. Even for those of us who do not celebrate holidays, the temptation to spend can be enormous this time of year. With all the sales, emails, news stories, and buzz, we might end up spending way more than we wanted to. This is a danger for those of us who try to spend our way out of stress or for those whose early warning signs or signs that things are breaking down include uncontrolled spending. If this sounds like you, now’s a great time to make sure your WRAP addresses these warning signs.

Much of the conventional wisdom that you’ve always heard about controlling holiday spending remains true—and useful. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a U.S. Government agency, suggests the following:

  • Set a budget. Most of us skip this important first step. Some of us convince ourselves that if we only buy things that are on sale, we’ll be fine. But those purchases add up quickly because most holiday sales are designed to get you to buy in volume.
  • Make a list. Who do you need to shop for, and what do they want or need? Focus on identifying items that people will really want rather than buying willy-nilly because it’s a sale or it’s last-minute. It’s okay to winnow down the list, too. Years ago, my extended family agreed to stop buying gifts for adults. We were buying too many things people didn’t want or need just because we felt obligated to buy gifts.
  • Look for low-cost alternatives. For some on your list, a financial hit may be unavoidable and part of making the holiday great. But for others, some home-baked cookies or a photo calendar might be met with joy. Groups of friends or co-workers can agree to stop exchanging gifts and do an activity or cook a meal together instead.
  • Track your spending. When you’re out looking for bargains, you’ll see plenty of deals that you’d like to take advantage of—for yourself. It’s important to stick to your list and your budget, so it might be wise to include these types of purchases in your planning.

Of course, these tips all relate to your “fiscal fitness”—but what about your physical and emotional well-being? Putting yourself in a financial hole can be stressful, but so can the feeling that you can’t buy the gifts that you want for the people you love. Surround yourself with support, maybe by finding someone else who is trying to stick to a budget and going shopping with them. You can help each other track spending and talk about how to stretch your money.

Of course, if holiday spending is an issue that causes you problems each year, you may want to address the issue in your WRAP. The Depression Workbook: A Guide for Living with Depression and Manic Depression offers advice on how your support network can help you prevent uncontrolled spending. For some, this might even mean temporarily surrendering credit and bank cards to a trusted person.

Remember, you’re not alone. The stress of holiday spending can affect almost everyone, regardless of their income and assets. People may have unfair expectations of you, and you may place unfair expectations on yourself. Want to talk about it? The WRAP community is always eager to share thoughts on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear what has worked for you this season and in what areas you’d like input or ideas from the community.

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