The holiday season is my favourite time of year. Celebrating Christmas with friends and family, making memories, and enjoying delicious food is so much fun. However, this season can also be very stressful.

When I think of holiday stressors, I immediately jump to the financial stress that comes along with Christmas. This stress can lead to arguments, feelings of panic, and dread towards the season. This time of year should not be about spending money, but instead spending time with loved ones.  However, there is often a pressure to buy gifts, participate in exchanges, purchase food, and travel far distances to see the ones we love. Though these things are all great, they can make us feel very stressed out.

Here are three ways to help you manage the financial stress that comes along with the holidays.

Create a Budget

Set a budget before you start buying presents. When you know how much you are able to spend, you can decide how much money you are willing to put into each exchange.

Once this budget is set, stick to it! If something is out of your budget, do not buy it.  Remember what this season means to you, and that it is not all about buying gifts! It may help to physically write down what is important to you about this season, and whenever you are tempted to buy something out of your price range, look back at this!

Example:  My family and friends will love me whether or not I spend ____ amount of dollars on them. The meaning of this season is not spending tons of money on loved ones, but instead celebrating Christmas with these people without being bitter and stressed!

Remind yourself of this whenever you are tempted to purchase something outside of your budget!

Set Clear Boundaries With Family and Friends

After setting your budget it is so important to put boundaries into place. Have open communication about your budget to your loved ones. Anecdotally, we have found that when being open about budget concerns our loved ones have responded more positively than if we just say that we don’t want to participate in gifts.

Conversation starters may include:

“In the past Christmas was really hard on us financially. This year we set a budget, and we can only spend $30 instead of the usual $50 on our gift exchange. If this does not work, we will sit out on the exchange this year.”

Though this may be a difficult conversation to have, it will help you enormously because you will be living within your means!

Give Experiences Instead of Tangible Presents

Think about giving ‘experiences’ instead of tangible presents. We all love opening gifts and seeing what is underneath that beautiful wrapping paper. However, if you are having a year where finances are tight, there is still great options for gifts! These can be far less expensive, and can be a great way to build a memory with your loved ones! This is something that my husband and I have always done at Christmas time (and birthdays, Valentines Day, and any other gift giving holiday), as when we were first married we were fresh out of university with no money and a lot of debt. Now that we are both working, we still enjoy doing something together instead of giving gifts. We have also given “experiences” as gifts to many of our family and friends. Here is a list of some things that we have done instead of tangible gifts:

  • Make a nice dinner together.
  • Bottle of wine, takeout, and watch a movie.
  • Go for a drive to see Christmas lights (We grew up near Niagara Falls and would go to see the lights there!)
  • Go out for breakfast (still costs something, but is cheaper than dinner!)
  • Drive to a different city and walk around there! (Recently we went to Elora for the first time and loved it!)
  • Check out a new restaurant in our town.
  • Go to the orchestra! (If you are under 50 the tickets are very cheap 😉 )
  • Check out a new cafe in town.
  • Go to a local Christmas program or play (these are usually very inexpensive!).
  • Offer to babysit for a couple that has children.
  • Make your friends a meal.
  • Offer to clean someones house.

We have found that it can be so meaningful to enjoy an experience with someone instead of giving a gift, as an experience is something that you can always remember!

Hope that these tips were helpful to you, and will help you reduce your financial stress this holiday season! Always remember the reason for the season, and try to not allow yourself to get caught up in the consumerism!


Jess VanderWier

Registered Psychotherapist & Mom of 3

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