NEW YORK (AP) The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, but they can also be financially stressful. With gifts, socializing and plane tickets home, the costs can start to pile up.
Household expenses continue to rise, and many Americans are expressing concern about their financial future, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
“Financial concerns are the number one cause of anxiety (during the holidays),” said Dr. Petros Levounis, president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Here are expert recommendations for reducing financial stress during the holidays:
In many families, the holiday means giving gifts. But this can quickly become stressful if your finances make it difficult to keep up.
According to Bankrate.com analyst Sarah Foster, managing expectations is key.
“During the holiday season, we often feel like we don’t talk about money, we don’t let people know how much the gift we bought them cost,” said Foster, who recommends putting aside taboos and talking about how much you can afford to give this year. .
MAKE A BUDGET
Setting a budget can help prevent stress during the holidays, Levounis said.
“Try not to overspend. Make a budget and stick to it. Being with friends is more meaningful to our mental health than the commercial aspects of this season,” she said.
But it’s easier said than done not to spend at Christmas time, when it seems like everyone is spending so much money on gifts. If you struggle with overspending, shopping expert Trae Bodge recommends setting yourself a spending limit.
Bodge recommends writing a list of your gifts and sticking to it while you’re shopping. If you tend to spend a lot on gifts for yourself, she recommends setting a limit.
“If you say ‘I only have $50 or $100,’ you’re going to consciously spend more,” he said.
There are several options for big money. They contain:
Lena Liu, 30, a fellow physician living in Massachusetts, has previously decided to give homemade bracelets to some of her friends.
“It can be really thoughtful, and it’s actually not that expensive,” Liu said. “They know you put your work and energy into designing the bracelet and getting the beads, so they really appreciate that.”
Gift cards may seem impersonal, but Foster says they’re a great way to stay within your budget because you can plan the exact amount you’ll spend on each card.
In recent years, Bodge has noticed that younger people prefer to give each other experiences rather than gifts. But he recommended that you don’t overspend on an expensive trip and instead look for inexpensive fun activities with your loved ones.
Examples are ice skating, hiking or organizing a potluck. You can also gift photography or framed pictures or digital albums to commemorate happy experiences.
“It’s something that 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 afford to take your parents on a trip or visit them during the holidays, more time can be a real gift to give them, Levounis said.
Whether you schedule weekly video calls with your group of friends or call your grandma every day, non-monetary gifts can go a long way.
CREATE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS
Expectations or traditions you’ve grown up with, such as buying expensive gifts for each of your relatives, 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 spending realistically.
“Sometimes you might have a family member who is very wealthy financially and they love to treat you to big, lavish things. If you’re not in the same financial position, you shouldn’t feel compelled to return the favor,” said Bodge.
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 workplace.
Additionally, for people who are grieving or have a challenging relationship with their family, the holidays can be a difficult time. During this time, it’s always good to remember to be especially kind and understanding, Levounis said.
Bodge also recommends cutting costs by being selective about spending. For example, when it comes to hosting, hosting even a small group can be very expensive if you are expected to pay for everything. If you are in this situation, you can suggest that everyone brings a plate.
“Maybe try a drink, or if you want to control the dinner menu, let people bring appetizers and drinks or dessert,” she said.
CARING FOR YOUR FEELINGS
If you are having financial difficulties, you can talk about them with family and friends.
Diagnosed with anxiety and depression during her first year in nursing, Liu now feels more comfortable talking to her family after keeping her struggles to herself for six months.
“I’m ethnic Chinese, and it’s very stigmatized in our culture to talk about mental health at all,” Liu said.
Her parents and twin sister helped her through the tough times, and her father said she struggled to show emotions growing up and that her generation could be more open.
DON’T be afraid to say NO
It’s the season of social events every weekend, but if they’re causing you too much financial stress or damaging your mental health, it’s good to be selective.
Also, if you start to feel uncomfortable with 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 struggles, negative emotions can spill over into other areas of your life, making it harder to enjoy the holidays.
Levounis recommends taking time out from socializing and Christmas shopping to do something for yourself, such as working out.
“Long periods of low-intensity activity seem to be the most beneficial,” said Levounis, who suggested long walks or bike rides in nature.
Adequate sleep is also important. Turning off electronics a few hours before going to bed can be a good practice.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOU NEED IT
If you are experiencing mental health issues, there are a number of resources you can use to find professional help.
In the US, you can call 211 to talk to a mental health professional confidentially and for free.
Other mental health resources include e.g.
- Veterans Crisis Hotline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis text line: Text “Home” to 741-741
- Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth: 1-866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860
The version of this story changed 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. from Inc. AP is solely responsible for its journalism.
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