Oh the holidays! Gifts and cards and feasts and photos and decorating and baking and shopping and wrapping and shipping and cleaning and concerts and parties and travel and music and spending and spending and spending.
Just when did the holidays turn into a competitive sport?
Midwinter means major holidays for people of different faith traditions. As much as we anticipate and enjoy the holidays, they also bring stress and expense that take a toll.
The people who sail through make time their ally. And they have figured out how to set, and stick to, their own priorities.
A classic piece of holiday advice is to make a list, and I'm going to second that idea.
Make a listnot of gifts or gift recipientsbut of all the projects and activities that make up your holiday. Examine each item and ask yourself: Is this worth continuing? Does it earn its place in our celebration? You might discover how much you're doing just out of habit or perceived expectation.
And this isn't a question entirely about stopping something to save the money you might spend on it; don't make spending less money your primary goal. You're just identifying those things that make the holidays meaningful, fun, rewarding, or whatever measure you want to apply. Saving money might be a side benefit but don't make it the focus. You even could end up spending more money. Say you conclude that taking a family trip trumps spending money for the holidaysthat could become your new tradition.
The first year I didn't put up a tree it felt kind of radical, at least at first. Now I decide each year whether or not there's a tree. I'm not suggesting you unleash your inner Grinch. I'm advocating for holidays more like the joyful family and friend occasions we'd like them to be.
Now it's time to make another list: Inventory all the things you already have so you don't make duplicate purchases. This will include gifts you bought and stashed away throughout the year, baking supplies, leftover partial or unopened boxes of holiday cards, wrapping paper, that sweater you only wear during the season, unused gift cards from last year, and so on.
In fact, if you still have gift cards you received from others last year, use them to shop this year . It's a smart way to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.
Now, make your final listthe things you decide to keep as part of your celebration. And now is when you can attach estimated costs to each item, whether it's gifts, foods, party clothes, or family portraits, and decide if it is within your spending plan limit.
The reason to start nowor even earlier next yearis that when you delay, you pay. At the last minute, you have to settle for something, and it might cost more than you wanted or planned to pay.
It's often true, too, that when you make impulsive decisions, you're generally less happy with your purchases. It's easier to find "the perfect thing!" when you have plenty of time to look and when selection is better, too.
Traditions evolve all the time, whether we realize it or not. If you find yourself stuck in holiday activities you don't enjoy ask yourself, what is the payoff? If there is none, or it's marginal, just cut it out. You choose how you spend your timeand your moneyduring this season and others.
For concrete ideas about how to achieve your goals for the holidays, be sure to also read Create a Spending Plan for Special Holiday.
Your credit union money mentors bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your financial resources. The Financial Fitness Challenge continues to look at ways you can make better financial habits no matter what condition the economy is in.
Susan Tiffany, CCUFC