How to stop over-gifting, over-spending,
and under-joying this Holiday Season

written by Bari Tessler December 3, 2018

As joyful as the Holiday Season is supposed to be, it’s no secret that it wreaks some major havoc and stress on many people — especially when it comes to money.

I’ve often heard people in my Art of Money community (and beyond) say things like:

  • The mere thought of Holiday presents stresses me out. I hate having to buy all that stuff, but feel guilty when I don’t.
  • I was doing so well with money stuff, and then the Holidays hit. I blew my budget and beat myself up for it.
  • I swore I wouldn’t do it again this year, but I woke up in January with a major spending hangover!
  • My husband and I make a lot more money than a lot of our family members, and struggle with feeling guilty over the Holidays.
  • My wife and I make less than our family members and struggle with how to participate over the holidays.

Make no mistake: this is tricky, complex stuff. This is the perfect winter storm of social pressure and sugar buzzes, family dynamics and blinking lights, emotions and cashflow and in-laws and more.

So, let’s spend a little time honoring both the inner and the outer dimensions of your money relationship, this holiday season.

One note before we begin: please remember, there is no One Right Way to do money at the holidays. There’s simply inching your way closer to a more relaxed, joyful, aligned and meaningful way for you, for this year. Progress, not perfection. Your way, not mine. Deal?

Part One: First, turn within.

If you’d like to be more conscious with your spending, giving, and celebrating this year, it might be tempting to jump straight to lists and budgets and planning.

With love, dear friend … slow down.

Outer change sticks best when it springs from within. From clear connection with yourself, from clearly stated intentions, from coherent choices.

Below, you’ll find some gentle (but potent) prompts to help you understand your emotions and values and translate them into a meaningful plan that you can feel good about.

So clear a little space — in your day, on your desk, and most importantly in your heart. Grab a pen and paper (and just maybe a spreadsheet, for later). Pull out a piece of paper and pen. Light a candle or nibble some dark chocolate. Do a Body Check-In. Give yourself the gift of a little inner reflection.

Let’s start with some inward reflections.

What is your Holiday Money Story?

Just as we all have our own, unique relationship with money (what I call our “Money Story”), we all have our own, unique collection of beliefs, emotions, and patterns around money at the Holidays: our “Holiday Money Story.”

Take a little time and reflect …

  • How does your family like to do holidays? What are some of your favorite Holiday traditions and memories?
  • How do your family members and culture relate to money, at the holidays?
  • What comes up for you when you consider money and the Holiday Season? Simply tune in and notice: what feelings, sensations, judgments, memories, emotions come up?
  • Have you ever spent a lot more or less than you wanted? What happened, and how did it feel?
  • What are your patterns, beliefs, and emotions about money around the Holidays? Do you “go unconscious” around money, or refuse to budget? Do you feel lots of stress, shame, or fear? Do you go along with other people’s plans and expectations more than you’d like? Are some of these patterns alive in your larger money relationship, too?
  • Are there any patterns you’d particularly like to shift, this Holiday Season?

More on your Holiday Money Story here.

What’s your love language?

At its best, gift-giving is about love. But it’s certainly not the only way to show love — and some people don’t resonate with it very much, at all!

I love the idea of “love languages” — that is, the different ways we all like to show (and receive) love. It can be so affirming and helpful to recognize your own love language (and that of your loved ones).

My own love language, for example, is definitely not gift-giving: I’m far more connected to experiences, and I show that in my gifts. I’ve given my team members tarot readings, for instance, or treated Forest’s parents to a lovely dinner together at a restaurant or massage gift certificates.

  • How do you relate to giving gifts, in general? What about receiving them?
  • Is gift-giving one of your main love languages, or not? Would you prefer showing and sharing your love through other love languages —words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, or physical touch? (Remember: it’s OK, no matter what your answer is!)
  • How do you imagine this might color how you’d like to act and gift, this holiday season?

More on Love Languages here.

What about this particular Holiday Season?

Money — like life — is never static. We move through different chapters and phases, ups and downs, twists and turns.

Take a few moments and zoom out, so you can recognize and honor where you’re at, this particular Holiday Season.

  • Where does this Holiday Season fit into your overall money-and-life story? Was this year leaner, more abundant, or a time of big transitions? How does it compare to last year, or the last five years?
  • What do you feel about this holiday season? Are you excited? Ashamed you don’t have more money to spend on gifts? Worried your gifts won’t be up to snuff? Resentful you even have to buy gifts? Anxious, numb, grumpy, lit up? Simply notice.
  • How would you like this Holiday Season to feel, this year?
  • How might money support that?

More on this kind of “zooming out” — which I call Money Mapping — right here.

Bring your values into your gift-giving.

What are your values? What truly, deeply matters to you? And how can you express all of that through your spending, saving, and giving?

There aren’t quick, easy answers to those questions, by the way: this is a practice I call Values-Based Bookkeeping, and it’s something to keep returning to and fine-tuning, over time. For now, I invite you to consider:

  • What values are important to you? And how can you express them through your gift-giving this year?
  • If you’re committed to sustainability and environmentalism — and want to give eco-friendly gifts?
  • Are there certain social causes you feel very strongly about, and could support through your gift-giving? (For example, by buying fair-trade or buying gifts through your favorite nonprofits.)
  • Are creativity and beauty important for you — so you’d like to give finger-painting sets and books of poetry and gifts to the symphony?
  • Are you all about the meaningful, personal touches — so a thoughtful card or mixtape would be the best?
  • Are you fed up with the whole economic system and simply want to skip all monetary gifts this year and invite people over for eggnog and charades, instead?

More on Values-Based Bookkeeping here.

Part Two: Make meaningful plans.

Mindful money work is all about starting within, getting clear and intentional … and then marrying those insights and intentions with your outer reality, with clear, coherent action. This is how money can help us bridge heaven and earth, inner and outer.

So. Let’s take those inner reflections you just did and start translating them into outer plans.

1.  Who’s on your list?

  • Who would you like to give gifts to, this year? Make a list.
  • Check in with yourself: are you giving freely? Or out of obligation?
  • Do you want to make sure to include favorite charities and non-profits on your giving list?

2. Look at the numbers.

Yes, I know. This may be asking a lot. Deep breath. There’s clarity on the other side.

  • What’s the reality of your financial situation, this year?
  • How much money can you comfortably spend on gifts and experiences?

Note: this is where having a regular Money Practice can come in handy!

3. Make a merry, mindful little spreadsheet.

  • Given all the reflection you’ve just done, do any gifts spring to mind, for each person on your list?
  • Look back at your love language inventory and all of your intentions, from Part One. Do you want to gift experiences and quality time? Physical gifts? Something else?
  • Can you drain some of the expectations and stress away from gift-giving and spending? Look back at your intentions. Center yourself there. What’s most important to you, this holiday season?
  • How much are you willing or able to spend? (Remember: spending more money on someone doesn’t mean you love them more!)
  • Are there other holiday expenses you need to consider? Ex: travel expenses, decorations, a new dress for the holiday office party.
  • Deep breath. Add up all of your holiday expenses. Look at the total dollar amount. Is that realistic? How does that compare to your current financial reality? Remember: this is all about compassionate curiosity, not shame or worrying.
  • Are there any ways you’d like to adjust your spending plan — whether more or less? Would you like to buy a few less gifts and write a few more thoughtful cards?
  • Are there any non-gift-related holiday activities you’d rather focus on? Ice skating, driving through holiday lights, listening to music, reciting poetry, warming yourself by the fireplace, having family dinners?
  • Are there any money patterns you’d specifically like to bring mindfulness to, this Holiday Season? What might help with that?
  • Are there any other actions you’d like to take? Are there holiday money conversations you’d like to have with anyone? Or activities you’d like to schedule?

You can make this Holiday Season as meaningful, reflective, and mindful as you like.

And you can choose to make money your ally in this — truly! You don’t need to succumb to the cultural pressure to buy more gifts and spend more money or worry about sporting the perfect up-do at your office party.

And, as always: this isn’t about perfection. If you end up buying a gift out of obligation, there’s no need to beat yourself up for it. Notice how you feel, shower yourself with compassion, learn, and move forward.

You’ll probably still want to do a review after the holidays to see how everything went and felt to you, so you can make a plan for next year.

So, for now, I invite you to see if you can bring more mindfulness, intention, and compassionate planning to this year. But please know: this is all a loving experiment. Be kind to yourself, treat it as a learning experience, and enjoy the best of the Holiday Season.

Wishing you warmth and wellness, this season and always,

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