Forget ‘Burden’ When It Comes to the Holidays

You'd be lying if you said this season doesn't wear you out just a bit, but these smart steps can preserve the joy

The holidays are just about here — and they always come in a flurry. These times can be incredibly demanding and stressful, but also fun. If you prepare now, you can ease the tensions this time of year can bring.

In my experience, the holidays wear me out. Sure, I love the family time and the celebrations, but there’s stress, too. Time with my extended family and so many other people in my life — all of these celebrations pull me this way, that way, and can stretch me thin.

Shopping, travel, family gatherings, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve — if you’re not ready for all of this, it can eat you alive. Most Americans feel pressured beyond their financial means and feel this pestering sense that they have to spend more, do more than they really can during the holidays, as a recent piece in Time magazine noted.

The demand to spend money, go shopping, celebrate, travel to see everyone and appease all the people in our lives during the holidays … all can wreak havoc on what is supposed to be a time of celebration.

In my experience, creating a mindset and plan can help immensely — as can discussing your plan with the people close to you. Communication and set goals will make riding this wave a lot easier. This is especially true for those of us who are married, have kids, and have mixed families where children travel between parents or guardians. All of this can intensify the experience of the holidays, the demands, and a sense of equilibrium.

1.) Make a list of everyone for whom you’d like to purchase gifts. On one side of my family, Christmas is crazy and the tree piles up with gifts. While they aren’t a materialistic group, the holidays for them means, “Let’s buy and give each other stuff.” In my own nuclear family, we do a smaller Christmas — we give just a few gifts each, and we’re set. My bigger family, though — my mom, her five sisters, my sets of cousins and grandparents — they like to do a big Christmas.

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Related: Why I Love the Holidays

Managing this chaos of shopping has taken me a long time to learn. If you’re like me, you don’t need a lot of stuff. Sure, you enjoy shopping — but material possessions don’t make you feel satisfied. That said, I’ve learned that on one side of my family the primary way of showing love during the holidays is by giving gifts.

To manage my shopping, I’ve found having a list helps immensely. That way there isn’t chaos or uncertainty, and my efforts are focused and productive.

2.) Create a holiday budget. Credit card debt can quickly jump at this time of year — and companies do all they can to get people to buy things they don’t need, contributing to the issue. Many people use their savings for Christmas shopping — and get themselves in trouble quickly.

I make a budget by checking my account and deciding on a healthy amount for holiday shopping. After that, I withdraw all the cash I want to spend. According to research from Bank of America and Better Money Habit, in 2015 the average American spent nearly $900 on holiday shopping. But if people don’t properly budget, they can quickly exceed their means.

3.) Decide on a plan for spending money — and time. Most of us dread the “budget and money conversation” with our partners. People don’t like to talk about their bank accounts — but if they don’t, it can wreak havoc. Research shows that over 50 percent of divorces are related to financial issues.

In 2015 the average American spent nearly $900 on holiday shopping. But if people don’t properly budget, they can quickly exceed their means.

Similarly, the conversation about how to spend the holidays can be tough. Our partner wants us to be with their family, we want to be with ours — and our kids want us in some other place. If we don’t make a plan early on, we can find ourselves being pulled in all directions. During a time of celebration, this is the last thing we want.

By having a conversation on how to best spend the holidays, we can lessen the stress. The sooner we have this conversation and make plans, the better.

Related: Shopping in the Fast Lane — Really?

Just as with money, sex, and parenting, couples often have different expectations for the holidays. By taking a little time to go over these three points with your significant other and family, you’ll ensure that holiday smiles are also internally felt. By taking just a little bit of time to cover these aspects, the celebrations ahead can be an opportunity to stay connected — and to genuinely cherish the holidays.

Luis Congdon helps entrepreneurs live their dreams. He travels the world most of the year but on occasion can be spotted in his earthen home on San Juan Island.

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