With Christmas lights illuminating the neighborhood and a cool crisp in the air, it’s safe to say that the holiday season is officially upon us. This time of year is supposed to be full of sweet memory-making moments and as we unashamedly jam out to Christmas music. Unfortunately, for many, this season turns sour as the costs begin to add up. One thing in particular that costs both too much money and too much sanity during the holidays is the pressure to buy #allthegifts for #allthepeople.
It’s hard to feel the holiday cheer when you can’t afford it.
We live in a society whose ”reason for the season” is more like “presents over presence”. Tidings of comfort and joy are muddled by the stress and anxiety and feelings of obligation to purchase gifts for numerous friends and family. More often than not, people deplete themselves of time, energy, and money by simply trying to afford the holidays. This even means sacrificing investments in their own immediate family or partners. While gift-giving can be fun and is not bad, too often the pressure to purchase consumes the season and causes anxiety. We get SO caught up trying to fit another present into the budget for this person or that person.
We become hyper-focused on how much money we’re going to spend on them when we should be on how much time we’ll spend with them.
I don’t know about you but I want to spend more of my time this season looking forward to seeing loved ones and not worrying as much about how I’m going to afford it.
IT ALL ADDS UP
I read somewhere that the average American spends anywhere from $600-$1,000 in gifts alone. That’s not including travel, gas, or anything else for that matter. Few people I know have that kind of money lying around, saved or not.
I have fallen victim to the gift-giving-stress before. For crying out loud, I’ve got a Christmas baby- and not the born-sometime-in-December kind. I’ve got the bonafide born-at-1:05PM-on-December-25th kind.
A few years ago my family was up to our eyeballs in medical debt. I was stressed as a mother just trying to pay hospital bills, let alone afford holiday gifts for family and friends when the holidays rolled around. With zero wiggle room in the budget and wrestling with guilt, I spent an afternoon crafting DIY presents. I ended up burning myself with a hot glue gun and it sent me spiraling into a full-blown meltdown.
Even without the medical debt, this year, as we entered my son’s birthday month, anxiety levels started to rise as I wondered how to afford both Christmas and birthday presents for my son again, let alone gifts for the entire family.
My husband’s family and my family combined are what I would consider being a smaller family. It’s made up of 10 adults, 4 children, and 6 fur babies. That’s not including my husband, my son, or myself. Compared to many other families out there, that’s nothing! Yet there I was, unexcited about seeing any of them because I was too busy crunching numbers and getting tension headaches from the pressure to buy, buy, buy! Does this inner dialogue sound familiar?
“I’ll have to get everyone at least one thing…and stocking stuffers…and something for the cat…oh, and the dog. My co-workers deserve a little something…and I should probably grab at least a gift card for my kid’s teacher. Wait, he’s got two teachers so I need two gift cards. Oh! We’re celebrating Christmas at my Great Aunt’s house so I have to bring something for her. I’ll also need a present for my third-cousin-twice removed because he’ll be in town too. I don’t even know his name but God forbid I don’t get him something…”
From trying to pick out the right gift to budgeting, shopping, and more…it’s all overwhelming. Before you know it, you’ve busted out the calculator and thrown it against the wall. Great…now you can add a new calculator to the Christmas list.
Regardless of family size, the dollars add up right along with the stress.
What if they don’t even like it?
You can’t afford for them not to.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Real talk: Let me be clear and say that I’m not anti-gift-giving. I LOVE giving gifts for the holidays. I fully support thoughtful touches and the genuine intention behind mindful gift-giving. What I don’t support is being driven by the anxiety-inducing stress and fear that comes with feeling like you have to get everyone and their mother a present for the holidays and feeling like a failure if you don’t. I also don’t support going into major debt just trying to afford Christmas.
I know I’m not the only one out there trying to manage stress and a (super) tight budget this season.
Friend, enough is enough. The holidays are supposed to be spent with the ones you love, not spent stressing out over who wins the out-giver award. Don’t let yourself get caught up in buying presents. Try to focus your attention on minding presence.
As a mama, I want to raise my son to appreciate the value of presence over presents.
I want him to remember the people he sat around the tree, not the material possessions under it.
I want to approach the holidays with cheer and anticipation, not fear and anxiety because I can’t afford more stuff.
It’s not supposed to be this way and it doesn’t have to.
LIES THAT TELL US WE HAVE TO BUY #ALLTHETHINGS
Giving gifts wasn’t intended to be chaotic or stressful but this has become the reality for many families during the holidays. Why do we do this to ourselves every year?
There are some lies that trap us in this mindset, leaving us exhausted both financially and mentally. Here are some of those lies:
THE BIGGER THE PRESENT, THE GREATER THE LOVE
If you don’t buy something worth a certain amount, it means you don’t love that person all that much. Getting them something “small” means they’re not as significant in your eyes.
The truth is that whether it’s a big gift, a small gift, a homemade gift, or no gift at all, your heartfelt thought and kindness is what matters. Stop equating your love with gift-giving. Stop trying to measure up by way of material possessions.
IF YOU DON’T GET THEM SOMETHING, IT MEANS YOU DON’T CARE
Not getting something for someone in the family must mean you don’t care or don’t love them. If you did, you would have pulled a rabbit out of a hat or made more of an effort.
The truth is that just because you don’t get something for every single member of the community doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. You’re probably just trying to afford groceries for your family this month. The same applies to you. If someone doesn’t get you something, don’t jump to any conclusions.
YOU FEEL OBLIGATED TO DO IT AND FEEL GUILTY IF YOU DON’T
Stop and ask yourself why you’re actually getting people gifts. Is it something they genuinely could use or want? Or do you feel insecure and you’re buying it out of a sense of obligation and you’ll beat yourself up for months if you don’t?
Allow me to free you from this, friend. You’re not obligated. The earth will keep orbiting even if you don’t buy the thing.
The truth is that you don’t have to do something you don’t want to. It may have been a certain way growing up, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the case now. You can break the cycle if you want to. You have a choice. You just need to communicate it to others (kindly and with respect) and be willing to stand your ground. Doing things out of love and obligation is not love.
WHAT YOU CAN FOCUS ON THIS SEASON INSTEAD OF BUYING #ALLTHETHINGS
Whether you plan to give gifts or not, here are a few things you can focus on that are both affordable and leave a lasting impact.
LETTING YOUR PRESENCE BE GIFT ENOUGH
Instead of buying all the things for all the people, let your presence be the gift this year. Spend quality, mindful time with those you love. Gift an experience and time with them. Bake something or DIY something cute together (just watch out for those hot glue guns). Let your kids choose an activity, play their favorite games, or read a book with you.
SPENDING YOUR TIME, NOT MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE
The holidays don’t need to send you into debt. Big businesses continue to profit while you’re stuck paying with your sanity and money that you don’t have. Instead of swiping the credit card for every deal you see, ask yourself if this purchase is life-giving to you or your family. Is it something they/we could really use or need? Is it something worthwhile that’s going to contribute to your/their well-being or will it add more stress and financial strain to your plate? Is there something else you/we already have or can I think of a more creative, affordable option?
USING YOUR WORDS
Words have power. Speaking life and love into others is one of the best gifts you could give. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to write a heartfelt letter to somebody you love. Send a simple card, write a letter, or push aside the gift-list and write down all the characteristics you appreciate about them. Frame the dang thing and wrap that sucker up! Here’s a thought- tell someone you LOVE THEM.
Affording the holidays should not cost you your mental and emotional health this season. Having open, honest conversations with your family and friends about this will help clear the air and invite understanding. Vulnerability is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself and others. You might even be surprised at how many feel the same and were hoping someone would say something.
Remember, buying gifts and wanting to give to others isn’t the problem.
The problem arises when you become so overwhelmed by feelings of obligation and anxiety trying to afford presents for everyone that you lose sight of the holiday spirit.
All the presents in the world aren’t worth your peace of mind. At the end of the day, presents aren’t what truly matters. It’s the time you spend with others and the memories you make that matter most. Go ahead and get another game for your kids, just don’t forget to play it with them too. Buy all the gifts, just don’t let it cost you sanity or spiraling into more debt.
Your presence is priceless. Let that be the focus this season.