‘Tis the season to be so jolly that you forget your budget and all of your financial goals. It’s also the time when we try to buy our ways into hearts or establish our image with generous gifts that might not be appreciated. Many of us complain about “them” taking Christ out of Christmas, as we leave our families to camp outside of retail stores for supposedly great deals on hot items that have probably been marked up before given their sale prices. The marketers are good, and they know how to tap into so many of our emotional needs. If only we could truly solve our problems so easily, we would open our wallets and buy the gift to end all wars, heal all wounds, and unite all people.
If you’ve already overspent, you have some options, but let’s go back to The Seven Choices first.
- Forgive yourself. You are not the only one who overspends during the winter holidays, especially in the United States, if that’s where you are. As an extended family member explained, even Jewish families bought into this by making Hanukkah a bigger holiday than it is, so their children wouldn’t feel left out when all their friends were celebrating Christmas and getting gifts. Again, the marketers are good at their jobs.
- Acknowledge yourself. The fact that you are still reading this post suggests you are willing to take some action to resolve the conflict between your financial means and your purchases. Action is the way to create change.
- Forgive the world. Marketers aren’t evil just because they are good at their jobs. Retailers aren’t stealing the money from your pockets. Your family probably has a few dysfunctions (as does mine) that sometimes cause you to revert to behaviors you know aren’t the most effective. But all of this is normal and has created you as the wonderful, unique human you are. Forgive them all, and while you’re at it, forgive yourself again.
- Free the emotions. The winter holidays make me sad, frustrated, sentimental, happy, and many more things. I’ve learned to give myself safe spaces and plenty of time to experience all of them, and I have even created “escape routes” in case I need some extras. I plan to leave places where I am not treated with respect or am in any kind of emotional, financial, or physical danger, and before I go, I know exactly how I will leave in those events. I research where I can take walks or breaks, and I have the Calm app or friends available for quick re-sets.
- Clear your mind. Imagine yourself experiencing the winter holidays for the first time, with no expectations, no traditions, and no spending requirements. You don’t have to participate in anything you don’t want to, and you don’t have to give anything you don’t want to or can’t afford. You get to be appreciated simply because you exist.
- Assume nothing. If you must make any assumptions about the holidays, assume you know nothing about anything. Let yourself explore by asking the people you love what they enjoy most about the holidays, not what gift they want you to buy or Santa to bring. Is it a smell, an outfit, a decoration, or a treat? What do they like least?
- Listen with your third ear, or your heart. Listen deeply to your loved ones discuss what matters to them. Don’t judge or compare. Don’t challenge or debate. Hear what maybe isn’t expressed when you’re rushing from place to place. Or making assumptions about them, yourself, or your life together. Listening is an act of generosity.
I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know. For years, you’ve probably known that you are sabotaging yourself each December and trying to buy love, forgiveness, acceptance, and more. With a “gift”. That has strings. You don’t mean to tie your insecurities or needs to it. You know what that feels like. Yet you can’t seem to stop. Until now. No excuses. (I have an action to respond to each of them anyway.)
- Plan. If you didn’t create a budget for holiday giving, there is still time. Even if you have already completed a lot of your shopping, many items can still be returned and exchanged. Unless you were contributing to a holiday savings account throughout the year, you probably can’t afford to spend more than 20% of your monthly income on gifts. You might choose to spend more, but make sure you have a plan to pay off that debt as quickly as possible, or by the end of March.
- Act. If you’re over budget already, consider returning what you can and exchanging the gifts for something within your budget for each person on your gift list. Review your list and be honest about why each recipient is there. Remove anyone who you are trying to impress or buy acceptance from. Any gift that has a condition is not truly a gift. Be honest with yourself about your expectations and free yourself from them.
- Revise. Re-work your budget, as you buy gifts. When you find great deals, leave the savings in your account. You don’t have to spend equally, especially not to the penny, on everyone. You’ll often find that your loved ones value gifts based more on their preferences and interests than price. For example, I will be happier with a carefully chosen card and a hug than a pair of shorts in my sister’s size (which is what my sister gave me one year for my birthday) or something you wish I would wear. Watch for when you are trying to change someone or your relationship through a gift.
- Repeat. Keep planning, acting, revising, and repeating, until you can both meet your financial goals and give thoughtful, strings-free presents at the holidays.
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).