NEW YORK (AP) The holidays are supposed to be a fun time, but they can also be financially stressful. With gifts, social gatherings, and plane tickets home, the costs can start to pile up.
Household expenses continue to rise and many Americans express concern about their financial futures, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
“Financial concerns are the number one anxiety-inducing issue (for the holidays), said Dr. Petros Levounis, president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Here are recommendations from experts to reduce financial stress during the holidays:
In many families, the holidays mean gift-giving. But it can quickly become overwhelming if your finances make it difficult to keep up.
Managing expectations is key, according to Sarah Foster, a Bankrate.com analyst.
During the holiday season, we often feel like not talking about money, not letting individuals know how much the gift we bought for them cost, says Foster, who recommends putting aside taboos and talking how much you can give this year.
CREATE A BUDGET
Setting a budget can help prevent stress during the holidays, says Levounis.
Try not to spend more than you can afford. Make a budget and stick to it. Being with friends is more important for our mental health than the commercial aspect of this time, he said.
But not spending during the holiday season, when everyone seems to be spending tons of money on gifts, is easier said than done. If you struggle with overspending, shopping expert Trae Bodge recommends that you set a spending limit for yourself.
Bodge recommends that you write a gift list with you and stick to it when you’re shopping. If you tend to spend a lot on buying gifts for yourself, she recommends that you set a specific limit.
If you say I only have $50 or $100, you’ll spend more carefully,’ he said.
There are several alternatives to spending a lot of money. These include:
Lena Liu, 30, a fellow physician based in Massachusetts, decided to give homemade bracelets to some of her friends in the past.
It can be really thoughtful and it’s really not too expensive either, Liu said. They know that you put your work and your energy into designing the bracelet and getting the necklaces so they really appreciate that.
Gift cards may seem impersonal, but Foster promises they’re a great way to stay within your budget because you can plan the exact amount you’re spending on each card.
In recent years, Bodge has noticed that younger gifts to each other are more about experiences than gifts. But he recommends that you don’t overspend on an expensive trip but instead find affordable activities that are fun to do with your loved ones.
Examples include ice skating, hiking, or hosting a potluck. You can also provide a photoshoot or framed photos or digital albums to commemorate happy experiences.
It’s something you and your loved ones can experience and enjoy together and take pictures and enjoy,” Bodge said.
The gift of time
If you can’t take your parents on a trip or visit them during the holidays, giving them more time can be a real gift, says Levounis.
Whether it’s planning weekly video calls with your friend group or calling your grandma every day, non-monetary gifts can help.
CREATE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS
Expectations or traditions you grew up with, such as buying expensive gifts for each member of your extended family, can cause stress during the holidays. This is what Bodge refers to as keeping up with the Joneses which refers to trying to keep up with other people’s expectations rather than what is realistic for your budget.
Sometimes you may have a family member who is very wealthy financially and they love to treat you to big things. If you’re not in the same financial position, you shouldn’t feel pressured to return the favor,” Bodge said.
Creating your own new traditions can help reduce the stress of overspending because you feel pressured. Bodge recommends that you propose something different to your family, friends or work.
Additionally, for people who are grieving or have challenging relationships with their family, the holidays can represent a difficult time. It’s always good to remember to be extra kind and understanding during this time, says Levounis.
Bodge also recommends cutting costs by being selective with your expenses. For example, when it comes to hosting, even having a small group of people can be very expensive if you are expected to pay for everything. If you are in this situation, you can suggest that everyone bring a dish.
Maybe try a potluck or if you want to control the dinner menu, let people bring an appetizer and drink or dessert, she says.
COMMUNICATE HOW YOU FEEL
If you are struggling financially, it can help to talk about it with your family and friends.
Liu, who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in her first year as a medical resident, is now more comfortable talking to her family after keeping her struggles to herself for six months.
I am of Chinese ethnicity and, in our culture, it is very stigmatized to talk about mental health, said Liu.
Her parents and twin sister helped her through the tough times, and her father shared that he struggled to show emotions when he was growing up and that he wishes his generation would be more open.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO
This is the season where social events happen every weekend but if it’s causing you too much financial stress or taking a toll on your mental health, it’s okay to be picky.
Additionally, if you’re starting to feel uncomfortable about certain conversations with your family, Levounis recommends taking a break and limiting your alcohol consumption.
PRACTICE A HEALTHY ROUTINE
While your stress may stem from financial difficulties, negative feelings can spill over into other aspects of your life, making it difficult to enjoy the holidays.
Levounis recommends taking some time away from social gatherings and Christmas shopping to do something for yourself, like exercise.
Long, low-intensity activities seem to be the most beneficial, says Levounis, who suggests long walks or bike rides in nature.
Getting enough sleep is also critical. Turning off your electronics a few hours before bed can be a good practice.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOU NEED IT
If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, there are several resources you can use to find professional help.
In the US, you can dial 211 to speak to a mental health expert, confidentially and for free.
Other mental health resources include:
Veterans Crisis Line: call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text the word Home to 741-741
The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386
The Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
A version of this story moved in December 2022. This story has been updated with new details and quotes.
The Associated Press receives support from the Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its reporting.
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