Christmas is a time for family and friends, a time to come together, to reflect on the year past: the good, the bad and the not so good. But it’s hard not to get caught up in the Christmas shopping rush to buy the best presents for loved ones or to play host to extended family.
It’s important to remember that any feel-good factor this may bring is short-lived if you’re left with a mountain of debt come January or unable to achieve the goals you have set yourself.
More often than not, we hear that financial pressure and general worry impacts overall wellbeing and happiness.
This can become even more heightened at Christmas time. As well as additional spending on presents and food, there’s increased social spending, alongside pressure for getting new outfits (always a new Christmas jumper), hairdos and grooming. Christmassy scents in the house, matching Christmas PJs for the family and of course the most sparkly Christmas lights (increased electricity spend!). Gone are the days our parents or grandparents remember – oranges wrapped in silver foil and handmade paper ornaments on the tree. It seems that now, Christmas comes a heightened level of spending on everything!
Whether you live with mental illness or not, the festive period can intensify feelings of loneliness, increase financial worries and put pressure on people to have the “perfect” Christmas.
One in ten people feel unable to cope at this time of year, according to research by the charity Mind – a figure which rises to a third of people with a mental health problem.
So, here’s a few tips to help ease the financial stress the festive season brings:
Firstly, remember what’s important: Christmas should be about spending time with loved ones, friends or family.
Focus on the Can not the Cannot: Becoming stressed by social and materialistic expectations takes away the Christmas spirit and can make you dread this time. Focus on what you can do – not on what you can’t.
Draw up a budget: And stick to it! Don’t be afraid to cutback. Maybe opt for secret Santa with friends or family with a set spending limit or club together for joint presents. Browse online for best deals and when you do hit the shops, try to use cash only, no credit cards.
Christmas is for Children: Adults can do without gifts. Tell fellow grown-ups you want no gifts and will be giving other grown-ups small homemade gifts or maybe even warm season’s greetings and hugs on the day.
Avoid stressful shopping situations: Choose quieter times to avoid crowds, do research in advance, make a list including where to find items. It’s easier to make smarter budgetary decisions when you’re not stressed or under pressure.
Do a little at a time: Spread out gift shopping and festive food and drink buying over the course of the month.
Prioritise: Make a list of who you wish to buy for and prioritise them. Get what needs to be bought first and the remainder of your budget can go on those lower down the list.
Learn to say “no”: Don’t be afraid to say “no” to children, siblings or friends. People can be demanding at Christmas but can also be understanding. If you explain that you don’t have the money this year, they’ll understand. Some may even be relieved and admit to the same themselves.
Manage expectations: Talk to young children. If they get lots of gifts from extended family, agree a modest present budget within the household. Explain that not every child has the same opportunities. Children too can get caught up in the commercialism and pressures of the season.
Get Creative: Make your own gifts, from baking Christmas specialities, making handcrafts, to collating photobooks or framing a favourite photo. Often these personal, handmade gifts are cherished more than anything shop bought.
Delegate: Taking on all the work can also mean footing the bill. If you’re hosting a get together, ask everyone to bring a dish or a bottle. Or if you don’t want to host, explain this to your nearest and dearest, they will understand and may even relish the opportunity to host themselves.
Define what’s important about Christmas for you and your family: Much of what makes Christmas so special doesn’t cost a penny; simple walks or outdoor activities, checking out the Christmas lights, cooking and baking together, watching Christmas movies and visiting friends or family. Create your own traditions, something unique (and free) to do every year.
Plan Ahead: Start planning now for next year. Take note of this year’s spending and start setting money aside in February or March. It can be as simple as saving loose change or adding £10 a week to a savings account. This will help reduce stress next year.
Remember Christmas is about your PRESENCE more than presents.