Don't let the spirit of the season rob you blind


The holidays are a time of great weakness for me. Christmas is my Numero Uno, Top of the Mountain, Best of the Best holiday. All other holidays pale in comparison. And as much as the selfish, Nintendo game-hoarding seven year old in me would cringe to hear it, gift giving is my absolute favorite part.

As I’m not presently a self-made millionaire, that can be a problem.

Now, to be clear – I’m not a total financial-advice-giving hypocrite. I budget out my seasonal expenses in advance. I put together a sturdy little spreadsheet each year, setting a firm spending limit and tracking my purchases against that limit. It’s really a rather nice spreadsheet. I can even assign budget percentages to my various gift recipients. Very efficient, indeed.

The trouble, however, is that I tend to do my purchasing early and then…well, the season keeps moving along and great ideas for gifts keep popping up. “Oooh…just one more,” I tell myself. “One more and then I’m really done.”

I’m sure I’m not alone. Shoppers are expected to spend about 10 percent more than they did last year, which works out to about $1,121 per consumer. The holidays are a time of massive spending, much of which is unplanned and spontaneous. So if you’re like me and you struggle to stick to the plan, here are a few tips that I’ve found can help.

Stop looking

Once you’re done shopping stay away from stores and online retailers. Don’t go near the mall. Block Amazon on your browser. If your budget is exhausted, those places no longer exist to you.

Focus on what you’ve already bought

This may sound odd, but I often find comfort and distraction in gift wrapping. I focus on making each gift look as good as possible, trying different methods each year (again, the child in me is rolling his eyes so hard he can see his own brain). In other words, I keep my desire for quantity at bay by putting all my energy into quality.

Think ahead

I have two young nephews. They get a lot of presents at Christmas. Just an obscene amount (as someone who once awoke to discover that Santa had replaced his Christmas stocking with a pair of Christmas sweatpants because there was simply too much loot for a single stocking to hold, I say this with no judgment). As much as I enjoy tossing more stuff on the pile, it helps me to remember that Christmas is but a single day of the year. There are birthdays and other happy occasions to consider. And while one more toy may get lost in the madness of Christmas morning, if I save that money and invest in a fun adventure or gift some time later in the year, we’re likely to all appreciate it just a bit more.

Remember what the season is all about

I love giving presents. I like getting presents. But in truth, as each season comes and goes, I hardly ever remember what presents were given and received. I’m much more likely to remember individual moments and feelings. And I think that’s true for most people (and it’s certainly true for my family). So when the urge to buy just one more gift starts creeping up, I consider how I feel about receiving gifts – it’s nice, but not even a little necessary. And that’s what that “one last present” is – nice, but not necessary. After all, the best parts of the season never require a credit card.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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