How to approach the Holidays Financially

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With Thanksgiving, black friday, and Christmas right around the corner I thought it would be fitting to talk about how these holidays truly effect us. I have always thought deeply about this because these have become very consumeristic. This has always bothered me and put a lot of stress and pressure on me to buy gifts I don’t really want to buy just so I don’t feel like i’ve let my family/friends down. I would assume a lot you of go through this type of guilt where we feel obligated to buy gifts especially because we are expecting to get some gifts in return. This was reiterated by a quote I read from Jim Carrrey saying “No holiday should manipulate you to the point where you’re going into debt just to show someone you love them”.

Now before I get too far, I am definetly not against giving gifts. Christmas happens to be one of my favorite holidays and I think the idea of giving gifts every once in a while to the people we love is a good thing. BUT, in this country like most everything else, we tend to over do it. We flood the stores looking for the best deals spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on gifts for our families and mainly for our kids. If you think back to our statistics on debt I mentioned that approx 60-70% of people could not afford an unexpected $1,000 expense. This leads me to wonder how so many families can spend thousands of dollars every Christmas despite being broke. What tends to happen is that we let that guilt I mentioned earlier consume us and we will do whatever it takes to make our families “happy” by buying them gifts. This often means taking on extra hours at work or even getting a seasonal job just to cover the costs of gifts.
So how can we approach this in a different way.


I think the main idea we have to grasp is that gifts really don’t mean all that much to us. Now to back that up I understand many people will argue that there are sentimental gifts they have given or recieved that mean the world to them. I completely understand this and I would urge you to give those types of gifts as they will mean much more to both you and the person receiving them. But what I’m speaking of is the piles of christmas gifts around the tree including multiple toys, games, electronics, clothes, etc. These types of gifts especially with children offer a very temporary surge of happiness followed by a desire to know what the next gift is.


In my family I have been studying this pretty deeply over the past few Christmases. My mom is definetly one of those people who loves to give gifts especially to her grandkids and every year I am amazed by the mountain of presents that surrounds our tree. I have multiple nieces and nephews who are chomping at the bit and can’t wait to open their presents. So what I’ve done is sat back and watched them and here’s what i’ve noticed. As soon as these little ones ranging from 5 years old to 12 years old sit around the tree they immediately become the most greedy little people I’ve ever seen (I say this jokingly but it’s somewhat true). They quickly start fighting over who gets to open their gifts first and begin tearing the wrapping off before they even know who the present came from. Once they open it they get that surge of happiness then toss that gift to the side wanting to open the next one without even saying thank you to the person who bought them the gift. The problem is that they are not realizing what is happening. They aren’t aware that someone went out of their way to buy them a present and in return they haven’t learned to have gratitude and be thankful for it because it’s just how Christmas is. I’ll also say they are aware these gifts aren’t coming from Santa and do realize they are from some of the family members.


So as I continue to sit and watch and try to urge the kids to say please and thank you, I generally notice that the stress levels begin to rise in the room. The kids are acting out, their parents are getting fed up, and the grandparents are beginning to see that all of the time and money spent on these gifts probably aren’t being appreciated the way they thought they would be.


I try to think back when I was a kid and I’m sure I did the same thing. What I do remember is being thankful for the bigger ticket items I got. This ranged from an electric guitar, a stereo, a playstation, a new bike, etc. Those items were the ones I always really looked forward to and all the other gifts meant next to nothing because I got the big ticket item I really wanted.
This leads me to my next point, buy your kids the things they want that you will be able to afford but that you also feel will increase their happiness. Is this a gift they will just set to the side and forget about? Or is it a gift they will cherish and enjoy for many months or years? Another thing you can do is get the whole family on board to buy these kids the bigger gifts they want. Maybe they want that new playstation or guitar so you ask grandpa and grandma and maybe the aunts and uncles to pitch in on that gift to ease the financial burden on everyone. Again the kids don’t really care where the gift came from as long as they get what they really wanted.

Now for the adults, I am a big fan of gifting experiences rather than just giving a gift card or money. Trying things like planning a weekend away, a day trip to do something fun and exciting, or even just a night out without the kids may be far more beneficial than a gift card to target. In life we seem to value experiences much more over material things and those experiences will generally bring your families closer together.

Take some time to think about these ideas this holiday season as I know this can be a stressful time. The idea of having to go shopping, go further into debt, and meet an expectation that society has pushed on us can be hard. It is also the exact opposite of what these holidays should be about. They should be about spending stress free time with family and friends, playing games, and sharing memories that will stay with you forever.
So please enjoy your holiday season, make memories, and cherish the time you have with your families.
Happy Holidays
-Matt-

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