Holiday Stress – How To Deal With Finances Over The Holiday Season

*This week we are welcoming psychologist Alicja from Just Redefine*

Turkey, eggnog, decorations and ornaments, parties and gifts, songs and all the wishes. Yes, the winter holiday season is here! We’ll sing “All is calm, all is bright”, but are you really calm? Take a moment and think about it. Did your head start spinning? Are you stressed about upcoming holidays? You are not alone!

Are you alone in the space?

American Psychological Association does surveys repeatedly and they found out that “lack of money is one of the top cause of the holiday stress followed by the pressures of gift giving, lack of time, and credit card debt”. In 2004 it was 61% of Americans who admitted the fact, in 2009 the number raised to 71%.

When you are in financial troubles you are stressed. Big discovery, huh? Stress is the natural reaction of your body. The whole concept of stress has a very bad reputation, but the truth is that feeling is probably the reason humankind still exists. Have you heard about fight or flight reaction? To make it simple: stress is what causes your body to quickly respond to the potentially dangerous situation you are in.

Remember that feeling when you walked to pick up your child from school and you saw PTO lady looking for volunteers? Yeah, that tonicity, sweat on your palms, spasm of a jaw muscle, the only one thought in your mind: run and hide. That how it works.

Of course, we are reasonable human beings and we should consciously decide how we react. In our example you don’t hide in the bushes until PTO lady goes away, do you? Of course, you don’t, we are all civilized people. You pick up the pace and look away, waving at a stranger! I’m joking. The thing is that you may redefine how you see stress.

So how to deal with stress?

Preferably: just don’t. In the perfect world, you should avoid it, reduce it to a minimum or eliminate it. How to do it? I’ll get to that in conclusion. Why read the whole text then? Because we don’t live in the perfect world. We are in constant stress, holidays only intensify it. In result your health is in danger, your relationships are in danger, honestly – your life is on a line here.

To get more specific, because let’s not forget we’re talking money here, please remember there is no shame in talking about financial issues. Especially, when we’re talking about repairing our situation! I’m not saying it’s easy emotionally, I’m saying it’s admirable.

The worst you could do is to pretend nothing is going on. If you don’t acknowledge your financial situation most likely your debt will only get bigger during the season and so is your anxiety.

Time to take control

Let’s stop any emotional shaming yourself or blaming others. Just sit down, analyze the situation you are in and prepare a plan of action. Very detailed plan. Take everything under consideration. Try to remember what you did last year and how effective that was. Be proactive. You must be prepared for all the stressors that are waiting and have already prepared response. Take decisive actions.

You know that your friend with five children will invite you to Christmas party and will expect you to have fancy presents for all of the chubby cherubim? Not in your budget this year? Buy five chocolates, visit your friend before she invites you and tell her all about your December’s plans and how sorry you are that you’ll miss her annual party this time. And that leads us to number two:

Be assertive

There are lots of expectations around the vision of perfect celebrations. Those expectations are usually quite expensive. To avoid financial missteps, you need to prepare a realistic budget, based on realistic goals. You need to be assertive, selective and learn how to say “no”. Easier said than done, right? Ask your spouse for help, ask anybody close to you. Not for a loan, but for help in planning, in all holiday tasks. You don’t want to be overwhelmed. And to accomplish that you need to:

Remember what is important (for you!)

If it is all about recreating the taste of Grandma’s filling – focus on that. If all you care about is Jesus reborn in your heart – even better, concentrate on your spiritual needs. The pressure of gifts, Pinterest-level decorations (obviously better than the neighbor’s), twelve-course meals for your guests can easily overshadow true meaning of holiday season. Remember – overspending increases your stress and then with snowball effect causes emotional problems, relationship problems, communication problems, not much time, but lots to do, which cause what? Yes, more stress!! Vicious circle!

Take care of yourself

Aren’t you like a little hamster running in the wheel, looking into the wallet, working hard, spending money to de-stress just to wake up next morning to look in the wallet… Stop! Pay attention to what you have, budget for what you need, whatever is left – plan with what you want in mind. Being aware of what you are going through is very helpful. Go for a long walk and focus on your feelings. If you need to relax, do that. You don’t need to spend money on that, lay down and listen to some music. Eating healthy and engage in sports activities usually help too. Being outside in sunlight additionally stimulates the production of serotonin, which protects you from seasonal affective disorder, so-called seasonal depression.

Volunteer

Despite the obvious benefits of volunteering, you can also see your own problems in perspective while helping others, less fortunate. This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about the values you want to share. Work together and put all the stress in a broader viewpoint, build stronger relationships with your family and friends

Seek connections

Talk with others about the holiday-related stress. You might just find out that you are not alone. Remember the intro to this post – financial stress concerns more than half of the population. You don’t have to navigate the overwhelming season on your own. Set aside differences and find common ground. “Hey Uncle Joe, my car broke. I am not able to fix it this month. Can we carpool to Aunt May this year? Next time, we’ll take you guys!” Maybe reconnecting with family members may actually alleviate the stress in opposition to what you see in all the movies. What brings us to:

Go as tech-free as you can

Social media, TV, all the commercials. Do I need to say more? You are exposed to chaotic incentives all.the.time. Do you really need more reasons to be anxious? All you need is an ad of a tropical island vacation to relax after the holiday season? NO! All you need is to draft next year’s budget!

Did you guess my final thought? This year start preparations for the next one. Make plans as you go through the season. Always have a notebook with you and write down your reflections. Try to find out what amount of money will you need next year and start saving now! It’s easier when you have 12 months for everything, rather than figuring it out last minute. That is my best advice to avoid financial stress – being prepared and in control way before the season starts.

 

Alicja is a wife, mom of three, coffee and pizza addict and recently also a blogger. Her educational background in psychology and finances helps in her trials of maintaining control over all mother/housewife responsibilities. She created Just Redefine fulfilling the mission of supporting other moms in being proactive about their goals, mindset and redefining their reality so it matches their expectations.

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Simplify Your Life and Keep the Holidays Cheap – Imperfect Individuals

*We are welcoming Tana from Debt Free Forties as a guest poster today!

Last year holiday retail sales during November and December increased to $658.3 billion*. That’s billion, with a B! And that’s just retail and doesn’t include charity contributions, holiday events, mailing gifts, or anything else. While the holiday retail sales numbers went up 4% last year, what’s even more shocking is that 56% of Americans were planning on taking on debt to pay for these gifts**.

I admit that in the past, I have taken on new debt for the holidays. I bet we can all safely say we’ve done it, right? While we’re all imperfect individuals, why not strive to make this year’s holiday season different?

If you take the time now to plan, organize and budget, you’ll be sitting pretty after the holidays. Just imagine how much different your January could be without that extra debt to worry about! Here’s a list of 13 ways to save money and simplify your life for the holiday season:

Plan to shop early and be done by mid-December

We all want to grab the best deals, right? Past years have shown that the best sales have all happened by mid-December. Plan on being done by then (if not earlier!) to get the best sales.

Mail packages early.

Since you’ve completed your shopping early, get those packages in the mail early as well! Shipping costs are astronomical as it is, but to slap a rush shipping cost on top of it afterwards because you want it to get to family in time is just nuts. Wrap and ship those packages as soon as you have them purchased. Or, better yet – buy online and get them shipped directly!

Take advantage of stores that price match.

My husband did this little trick a couple of years ago and still brags about it. Walmart had a big sale on a particular Xbox game he wanted, but had sold out in the store on Black Friday. He waited until later in the day and took Walmart’s circular with him to Target. Not only did he avoid the long lines, he got the game from Target at Walmart’s price!

Check with the stores you shop at and see what their policy is – some will let you pull up pricing on your phone to show them, others request that you bring in a competitor’s circular. This works for items you’ve already purchased as well, and you can get a refund on the difference. Again, each store has a different policy so check and see what they’ll do. It never hurts to ask!

Subscribe to email lists for the stores you want to shop at prior to the holidays to receive coupons.

Last October I started subscribing to emails from the stores I knew I wanted to do my Christmas shopping at. Not only do you get the latest info on all their sales, you often get coupons and discounts that the average person walking in off the street wouldn’t. Just remember to unsubscribe once you’re done shopping so that you’re not tempted to buy more items that you don’t need!

Shop with a list in mind and know the general price of those items.

It can be tough to figure out what to give everyone prior to shopping, but try to figure out the big-ticket items prior to stepping foot in the store. Check Amazon.com to see a general price on those items, so you have a decent comparison point to know if something’s overpriced or not. Or, while you’re in the store, look up the price on your phone so that you can see if you’re getting a good deal or not.

Buy discounted gift cards online.

There are several reputable gift card resale websites, such as Raise.com, where you can purchase discounted gift cards up to 11% off. You can also sell your old or unwanted gift cards there too in exchange for another store’s card that you know you will use.

Begin budgeting and saving early.

Even if you start in October, that’s 3 months to budget and save for holiday shopping. While it’s not much, it’s still enough to avoid putting the majority of your purchases on credit cards, right? Next year you can start in January so that you have a full 12 months of budgeting and saving to make it a cash only Christmas!

Start a list of gift ideas for each person throughout the year.

Starting a list of gift ideas for everyone you need to purchase for is a double win. First, you can shop for them throughout the year, ensuring you get better deals. And second, you aren’t stuck last minute wondering what to get. There’s personally nothing worse than buying something that you’re not sure they’ll like because you ran out of time and money.

Start planning air travel now.

There are differing opinions on when to purchase flights. One thing agreed upon is that Tuesdays seem to be the best day to buy. I’ve also read that either 52 or 30 days out from your trip is most likely to give you the cheapest rates as well, though 30 days out from Christmas seems cutting it close since the busy travel season has already started. I would opt for a bit further out, and then make sure to book the trip for “off” days – meaning, try traveling on Christmas when it’ll be cheaper, or mid-week.

Give homemade gifts, experiences, or give the gift of time.

One of my favorite money saving ideas for the holidays is to give experiences. This year, we’re treating my in-laws to a train ride instead of giving gifts. My father-in-law is a huge train buff, so I know they’ll love it. We usually end up gifting cookies and homemade treats for coworkers, and have even given babysitting as a gift. Figure out what they really need – like a date night – and then work on the best way to give it to them. Trust me, they’ll really appreciate it!

Talk with your family/friends about doing a Secret Santa instead of individual gifts.

On the other side of our family, we do a gift exchange for the adults so that we each only have to buy one gift. It takes the stress and cost out of the holiday so that we can focus on just enjoying our time together.

Use all your rebate and cash back apps like Ebates, TopCashBack, and ibotta.

Make sure to sign up for rebate apps like Ebates, TopCashBack, or ibotta. There’s rebates available for everything – including your baking supplies! November and December are a great time to stock up on baking supplies, between sales, coupons, and rebate apps.

Consider other ways to give to charity.

A lot of people are moved by the holiday spirit to give donations at this time of year. However, remember that it doesn’t always have to be money. Charities need folks to physically help just as much – whether it’s ringing a bell in front of a store, or serving up hot meals. Approach your favorite charity and ask how you can help them, and bring the kids along. Not only are you helping others, but you have a great opportunity to teach your children empathy and how to help the less fortunate. Truly a win-win for everyone!

These are just a few ideas on how to keep the holidays cheap and simplify your life as well. All it takes it a little bit of planning and organization to pull off holiday savings. Start now so you can enjoy your holidays debt-free this year. Your bank account will thank you come January!

*https://nrf.com/resources/consumer-data/holiday-headquarters

**https://www.fool.com/retirement/2016/12/01/heres-what-the-average-american-spends-on-holiday.aspx

Tana blogs at Debt Free Forties, a personal finance and lifestyle blog which helps her stay accountable with her own debt repayment. Her goal is to educate others on how to take control of their money and find their own financial freedom. You can learn more by visiting http://debtfreeforties.com or download your free debt and savings tracker printables here! https://debtfreeforties.com/free-debt-savings-tracker-printables/

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Saving Money – How I Saved $1000 In One Month

saving-money

 

One of the most challenging aspects of personal development is saving money. It is so hard to feel like you can move on and develop into the person you want to be when you’re struggling with money. Saving money is a learned skill, and no matter how much money you have, if you don’t manage it properly, you’re going to run into problems.

We bought a house last year. We love it, it’s exactly what we were looking for. It is an old, solid home on lots of land that we can turn into a modern homestead style property. It has tons of bedrooms and comes with the impeccable detail that 75 year old homes are known for. They just don’t make them like this anymore. It needed upgrades, but we knowingly took this on.

Unfortunately, we had an emergency electrical problem happen over this spring that was very unexpected. When we bought the house, we had everything inspected and were told that the house was electrically sound. Turns out that is not the case (and deserves a whole other angry blog post…).

We had to come up with cash quick (Read: thousands and thousands of dollars) out of nowhere to deal with this issue. Our entire house had to be rewired. It didn’t help one single bit at all that I was on maternity leave (only 55% of my income!) and we had just had a new baby three weeks before. Needless to say, we didn’t have tons of money laying around at that moment.

It gets better, however. We then needed to find an alternate heating source before September. So we are on a tight crunch to start saving money – a few thousand dollars to get this installed before the cold hits.

This seemed like a daunting task and there were lots of days where we weren’t sure that we could even pull this off. After already shelling out so much money, we were already living on bare minimum.

Saving Money – We set a goal to save $1000 as fast as possible. This is how we did it:

Meal Plans:

I probably should have been doing this anyway, but I seriously crunched down on our grocery budget. We didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in our budget after putting out so much money so recently, so this was really the only place we could make any cuts. I always make a general meal plan before grocery shopping but once I hit the store I usually put extra things in my cart.

This time, I wrote out every single meal for the week. I didn’t write a “Monday-Sunday” schedule, I wrote a Day 1 – 7 schedule, which gave me freedom to pick which daily menu I wanted to choose. I made a grocery list from this meal plan and then doubled it so we were good for two weeks. I am proud to say I did not step one single toe outside of line. Before, when I would buy groceries, we were constantly needing to refresh our groceries. This time, all we needed to refresh was bananas and milk! No random trips to the grocery store meant less opportunity to put things in our cart. We had what we had and that was it. We saved significantly this way.

Spending Freeze:

One thing we really had no choice but to do was implement a spending freeze. We spent nothing. Zilch. No coffees, no takeout, no buying extra groceries, no online shopping, nothing. We were totally and completely frozen. This is an excellent way to save quickly, especially if you aren’t already someone who has a strict budget in place. You would be surprised how much money is literally slipping through your fingers and you don’t even know it. It also really opened my eyes to what is a necessity and what is a want.

Free Events:

It is summer and of course that generally means extra money spent on road trips and activities. We decided to stick close to home this month and take in free events. There are tons of options, especially this time of year. Free concerts in the park, theater shows, events hosted by our city. We still had plenty to do and we live in a fairly small place. If you check it out, there are probably endless opportunities in a larger area.

Recoup Costs:

We were owed a bit of money. Unsubmitted expense sheet here, borrowed money not paid back there. Overall, we were able to recoup some of this and add to our goal!

Coming up with $1000 is tough, but it isn’t impossible. We are doing this on the slimmest of budgets after our emergency electrical work. If we can curb spending and magically come up with $1k in one month, anyone can  make strides towards their financial goals.

Now, to do it all over again. And again. It’s a good thing we like our house.

What are your best tips for saving money quickly?

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