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Strategies for Reducing Holiday Stress Spending

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Nowadays, it seems there’s more talk about these made-up holidays than the actual ones on the calendar. And that’s not necessarily a good thing for your bottom line. In fact, we could start calling these consumer-driven events the hole-idays because of the cratering effect they can have on your financial resources.

The cash flow problems that can be brought on by the holidays are sometimes about more than just buying a lot of big-ticket items in the final days of November, though. While there’s been a lot of focus in the media about the stress financial decisions made during the holidays can create after the act, that’s not always the root of the problem. More attention should be paid to the fact that there is strong evidence to suggest that overspending can happen because of elevated stress levels during the season of celebration.

Various studies have shown that many of us overspend as a response to being in an agitated mood or having feelings of anxiety. The thrill of splurging on a frivolous item can distract us when we’re experiencing internal emotional chaos. And nothing such internal emotional chaos as the holidays! What started as a simple list of items to buy for your family and loved ones can balloon into a list longer than the line to get into a big box retailer the day after Thanksgiving if you’re feeling out of sorts.

Here are some ways to enter the holiday season with a game plan for avoiding the cortisol spikes that can lead to undesired financial decisions.

Do less

We often find ourselves wanting to create the “perfect holiday” by packing as many activities into the last 5-6 weeks of the year as possible. This go-go-go approach will inevitably create headaches as you frantically maneuver to coordinate travel, attendees, events, and more. A clearer schedule means a clearer head, which in turn means more financial decisions made in a good frame of mind. And after all, so many of the best holiday memories cost little to nothing.

Get things done early

Dovetailing with the idea of doing less is the approach of checking items off your holiday to-do list as early as possible. The Black Friday approach of shopping when the stores want you to means fighting crowds and soaking up a lot of anxious energy in jam-packed brick-and-mortar locations. If you can check a bunch of shopping and organizing tasks off your list early on, you can sit back and relax as the festive season happens.

Recognize your triggers

We tend to do many of the same activities each year for the holidays: family meals, gift exchanges, traditional outings, etc. Make a list in your head of at least five times in the past when the season has given you a reason to start pulling your hair out. Either replace these crazy-makers or, better yet, give yourself more time to chill out. While some parts of your regular holiday routine might be hard to avoid, do your best to limit your exposure to any of the anxiety-giving stuff. This will help you avoid needing to sneak away to do some online marketplace splurging to take your mind off the drama.

Develop go-to stress relievers

If you ever find yourself spending to self-soothe, don’t beat yourself up over it. That may start a downward spiral, leading to more counterproductive purchases. This upcoming holiday season, assemble a list of at least three activities you can do to remove yourself from the madness and unwind a bit. Some ideas that don’t cost much – or anything, in some cases:

  • Take a bath
  • Go on a relaxing drive while listening to your favorite music
  • Talk on the phone with an old friend you won’t get to see for the holidays
  • Spend some quality time with a pet
  • Play video games
  • Do a crafting project with items you already have around the house
  • Meditate

Keep up with some healthy habits

We all know the holidays can be a time of increased consumption of alcohol and unhealthy foods. We’re not going to use this space to tell you what you should or shouldn’t put in your body as you celebrate the season. However, think about how these things make you feel and what sort of mental framework they put you in. In a time when you’re feeling a fair amount of pressure and angst, being at your top physically can help you avoid engaging in retail therapy. Enjoying some nourishing foods and drinks can make that much easier to pull off.

It’s also important to keep up with a healthy sleep and exercise routine in the season of giving. If you’re in a colder climate where outdoor winter exercise is a bit more challenging, it’s even more essential to have a plan in place for some mood-boosting physical exertion. If a gym membership is outside your budget, keep in mind that great content is available on popular video-sharing sites providing guided workouts you can do at home. Getting some good exercise in has the added benefit of improving the quality of your sleep, making it that much easier to deal with the heavy emotions of the holidays.

When we reach adulthood, the season of giving becomes about just that: giving our time and energy to make wonderful moments for those we care about. When we take this approach to the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the desire to squeeze everything we can into this time of celebration. While giving feels good, it can also become overwhelming, leading to some spending choices that don’t feel the greatest after the fact.

It’s important to remember that it’s your holiday season, too. It’s perfectly acceptable to think about your needs during this time. If you find yourself in a cycle of waves of stress followed by surges in overspending, it’s important to slow down and give yourself some time away from all the hustle and bustle. Doing so can create a new tradition: enjoying a calm, peaceful, and ultimately joyous holiday season.




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