Let’s face it. The holidays put a lot of expectations on basically everything. From picture perfect home decor to realizing you forgot to budget for your company’s white elephant party, there is a higher level of stress in the air, even if you don’t always realize it.
You’ve probably started seeing the memes of “My mom affords a really nice present, but all I can afford is a candle,” and you might be thinking, “Wow that’s me.” I totally get it! Your intentions may be in the right place, but if your bank account can’t accommodate an expensive purchase, take it from me, it’s not worth pushing it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized I could have spent a third of what I did on my niece and nephew, and they would have still had their best holiday yet.
According to CNBC, Americans racked up an average of $1,054 of debt last holiday season. And in fact, more than 2 in 5 gift shoppers feel pressured to reach deeper into their wallets than they’re comfortable with, according to the 2018 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey.
So before you stress yourself out over financing the perfect gift and racking up serious credit card debt, set realistic expectations — with both yourself and your loved ones.
First, Get #Real With Yourself
My biggest piece #RealMoneyTalk? Don’t be so hard on yourself during the holidays. Deep down you know that fancy new airpods or Beyonce tickets aren’t forging a stronger bond with the receiver. You want to give the over-the-top gift because you likely want to express all the love you have for that person in one gift! But remember, meaningful connections rely on day-to-day love and respect, not just seasonal check-ins and gifts.
So before going all out on a shopping spree and destroying your credit score, make a plan and stick to it. Ask yourself: How much money do I have in my budget for presents this year? Are there things I can do in the next few weeks to save? How much should I really put on my credit card?
Between end-of-year work deadlines and New Year’s Eve plans, it may seem like there isn’t time to focus on your finances. The holidays can be a hard time to cut back and make large financial jumps, but there are a bunch of smart money moves you can master before the ball drops. Consider giving yourself one of these gifts:
- Plan to Max Out Your 401K Contributions
- Check Up On Your Flexible Savings Account – your money may not roll over at the end of the year!
- Set Financial Goals for 2019 – how much did you actually spend monthly in 2018? Is this realistic for 2019?
- Check Up on Your Credit Score
- Set up Automated Payments for 2019
Most importantly, carve out time for yourself before 2018 ends to set yourself up for financial success in the New Year. By the time the holiday season comes around next year, you’ll feel more financially secure and can afford a fancier candle.
Have the #RealMoneyTalk with Your Friends and Family
Family expectations around the holidays may be unrealistic. Breaking with tradition could lead to over-the-top disappointment from one family member (tip: it’s generally not about the tradition itself, but a memory attached to it. Offer this family member an opportunity to share what that memory is to understand it better). Whether your family is insistent upon wearing matching J. Crew pajamas or expects everyone to fly to a new vacation destination, we can all relate. My family, in particular, is known for going way overboard every year with a wall of presents around our Christmas tree. But it’s important to remember that you are really entitled to broach the conversation with your family and let them know where you stand. Just be honest and set boundaries.
I recently just got back from three weeks in India where I (surprise!) got married! It was an incredible, over-the-top, 4-day traditional Indian wedding. I was so incredibly grateful that my family flew across the world to be there for my special day(s), but also hyper-aware that it was a huge expense for everyone.
On the big day, as the groom’s parade was happening, my mom, stepmom and I were hidden away waiting to make our grand entrance. And I, being as graceful with timing as ever, took this quiet, special moment to… propose scaling back for Christmas this year.
This potentially tense conversation was surprisingly well received — we decided to scale back to one stocking stuffer gift per adult ($20-50 max) and one homemade gift from each couple. Since my mom and I tend to be the biggest offenders when it comes to holiday spending, it took no convincing at all to get the rest of the family on board. (Not to mention, my budget-conscious groom was extremely happy!).
I don’t recommend choosing such a high-intensity moment for this kind of talk! Thankfully it went over well this time (I might have taken advantage of the “it’s my wedding day” spoils). But in all seriousness, ask your loved ones: How much are we spending on each other? Are we buying gifts individually or for couples/families? If you’re in a relationship, are you also buying presents for your partner’s family? The last thing you want to happen is that you go into debt for gift giving. And certainly, your family doesn’t want that for you either. Try suggesting Secret Santa with your family or White Elephant with friends to not break the bank And if you spend the holidays with multiple families, team up! Maybe all of your siblings go in on gifts together for your parents, grandparents, etc.
You can come up with creative, frugal gifts like giving an act of service, or a future activity to experience together. And never underestimate the power of a written, heartfelt note! Just remember the true value of a gift does not depend on the dollar amount, but the thought behind it.
And if a roundtrip plane ticket just isn’t in your financial scope this year, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You can’t please everyone, and that’s ok! You don’t have to craft some detailed story about having to work during the holidays, or feigning some bogus illness. When you’re honest about your financial limitations, nobody’s feelings get hurt. Tell the truth and explain to your family that while you love them and wish you could be there, you just aren’t able to swing traveling this year. Take advantage of tech and set up a FaceTime or Skype session!
How are you expectation setting with gifts this year? Tell us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with #RealMoneyTalk!