Ho, Ho, Ho or Bah, Humbug?

by Gary Foreman

Ho, Ho, Ho or Bah, Humbug photo

How much of your life are you giving up for a hectic holiday? It might be worthwhile to consider changing the way you handle the holidays.

Let’s take a quick poll. How many of you are feeling jolly right about now? You know. Ho, ho, ho and all that stuff. My guess is that many of you would use words like rushed or exhausted to describe yourselves. Is it just possible that the thought of another crazy holiday season is something that you’d really rather avoid?

Before anyone accuses me of being a Scrooge, let me assure you that I love Christmas. It’s a wonderful time of family, faith and fun. But, it wasn’t always that way. Awhile back it had become a chore. A race to see if you could get all of the tasks done before the deadline. In some ways it was harder than anything we do on our jobs.

What brought the fun back into the holidays? Mostly it was a rethinking and rediscovery of what was valuable. You might find it worthwhile to consider changing the way you handle the holidays.

How many hours did you work to pay for last year’s holiday?

You can start by figuring out how much money you spent on gifts last year. Then compare that amount to your total income.

If you spent more than one percent of your after tax income on holiday gifts, you could have a problem. That means that if your income is $40,000, you’d spend $400. And that number is fairly realistic. The National Retail Federation predicts the average family will spend about $648 for holiday gifts this year and an additional $349 on food, decorations, and other holiday expenditures.

Perhaps it will help if we look at it from another angle. How much of your life are you giving up in order to buy those presents? To find out, simply divide the amount you’re spending by your hourly pay. That’s how long you’ll need to work to pay for those gifts. In reality it’s about 20% longer because of taxes, but you get the idea.

For instance, if you’re making $14 per hour, it would take you 28 hours to earn enough to buy $400 in gifts. Don’t forget to add the time you spend shopping for all these goodies. That’ll probably bring the total up around 35 to 40 hours of your life that’s consumed by gifts.

And it’s not just money. The typical schedule for the holidays is, well, overly full. Every moment seems to be filled with a party, potluck, family gathering or some chore that seems essential for holiday happiness. Taken all together it’s easy to lose the joy of the season.

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A few changes that can make the holidays both merrier and more affordable

Now that everyone is in a ‘bah, humbug’ mood, let’s consider some alternatives.

Identify those holiday activities most important to you and your family

The first step is to decide what’s really important to your family. Take a little time and consider your happiest holiday memories. If you’re at all romantic, they probably include fireplaces, snow and the smiles of your loved ones.

We’ll use that as a starting point. Your memories can tell you what’s really important. We want to focus on that. We’re going to try to identify the things that aren’t important and then eliminate them so that there’s more time and energy for the things that are important.

Consider limiting your holiday party attendance

Most of you will have a schedule that’s full of holiday parties. And, yes, they can be fun. But having some slack time in the schedule can be more important. At first you will be reluctant to turn down invitations without having a good excuse. But, soon you’ll begin to tell people that turning down the volume on the holidays is improving your life. You’ll be surprised that many will say that they understand and some will even display a little jealousy!

If, however, your fondest memories are of parties, then by all means party on! Look for something else to eliminate. The goal is to do the things that bring you joy.

Do you really need to be part of so many gift exchanges?

The next change you might want to consider is to stop exchanging gifts with friends. To avoid embarrassment talk with them weeks before Christmas and tell them that you want to simplify.

You’ll find that most will be relieved. You’ll be solving a problem for them. You see, they didn’t know what to buy for you, either!

You’ll also discover a bonus. After the holidays you won’t be completely worn out. And you won’t have to work extra hard to pay for holiday binge buying. So there will be time and energy to enjoy leisurely visits with your friends after the holidays.

Next start simplifying with your family. Don’t stop giving gifts completely. Rather, explore giving simpler, more meaningful gifts. You’ll find that grandparents would rather have a 5×7 framed picture of the kids. And it doesn’t need to be a studio portrait. An enlargement of a recent snapshot will do fine.

Out of state relatives present unique problems and opportunities. When you don’t see people often it’s hard to know what they need or want. One thing that you can be sure that they’ll enjoy is an audio or video recording of your family. It’s a great way to see the kids grow up and for cousins to share the highlights of their year.

There’s another option for friends and relatives that live far away. Call them now before they go shopping for you. Agree to not send presents, but to call each other on a planned, regular basis in the new year. Another tie in the closet won’t add much to your life. Sharing stories with your sister frequently will keep you closer together. (See also: A Merry Christmas from a Distance.)

Perhaps these suggestions won’t work in your family. But if you consider your holiday memories you should get some clues as to what types of gifts will work for you.

Now none of these ideas is particularly earth shaking. It’s all pretty commonsense. Mostly it’s a question of what you want to do with your life.

You can choose to do exactly what you did last year. That can mean a chaotic holiday and a credit card hangover that lasts until next summer. Or you can take control now, eliminate some non-essentials and have a much happier holiday.

Hope your choice brings a wonderful holiday.

Reviewed November 2021

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. You can read Gary's full bio here. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews.

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