How to Spend Less, and Give More: Escape Holliday Stress by Adhering to a Few Tips
by Tricia Louvar
If you’re at all tuned in to commercial America, you know that the holiday season was here two months ago. The stores have once again regaled us with merchandise, paying no attention to our credit limit. So, credit cards out, let’s unite via paraphernalia and exorbitant grocery bills!
Maybe this sounds a little jaded. Blame it on the poor economy; call it a tightening of the purse strings or, in my case, carting around a threadbare purse (such is the life of a writer). Strife is real, and attitude is everything.
How do we keep our chin up and enjoy the holiday season in style? Humor helps, for one thing. Also consider adopting some of these tips, which will help you sail along with the living rather than holing up alone until the New Year.
Choose Your Tschotskes Wisely
Platters, knickknacks and other diminutive something-or-others that might involve gilded leaf will most certainly be wrapped and given away this month. You may be the receiver or giver — who hasn’t bought these impersonal gifts at the mall, with an hour left to shop and a strong urge to pee?
The stores are filled with lame gifts, sorry to say. If you’ve been a bad gift giver in the past, make a resolution now (raise your right hand): I will buy a gift that reflects someone’s true tastes and interests.
When it comes to buying presents, ask yourself three questions: Is this item really necessary? Would you want this gift? Is it worth the money? Be mindful of these questions as you embark on your voyage into the sea of merchandise competing for your attention and money.
If you cannot find the right gift, consider donating money to the person’s favorite charity. At least this way the money will be going to a good cause. If this doesn’t sound right, then think about buying lottery tickets, a nice bottle of wine, food baskets or movie theater vouchers, which are useable and have a shelf life.
Just Say It, Somehow
Which way will you go this year — paper or electronic sentiment? Depending on your propensity for crafts, buying or making holiday cards might make you giddy or cringe.
You can create a custom photo card for less money than a box of premade ones, in most instances. Check local drug stores or online photo printers for such a service.
If the whole idea of a snail mail card stresses you out, there are a few alternatives: the mass email card (attach photos and a short note) or the New Year’s card (the same premise as a holiday card, except it’s just not on time).
Lastly, if paper cards and e-cards are not your speed, then Tweet one or drop a line on Facebook (include photos, too). Holiday cards are not a requirement for good cheer, so don’t let them weigh you down.
Stay Active During Family Visits
How much space do I have to write on this one? Kidding … or am I?
Perhaps you are from a mutant family in which everyone gets along swimmingly and praises each other when even the simplest task is done right (“My, you tie a splendid bow!”).
But if this isn’t your family, chances are catching up with long-lost relatives can feel more akin to a root canal than a merry roundtable with tasty drinks and treats. Leave your watch at home, because the time you spend with these people is only for a short period of time, so make the best of it.
This is not the time or place to air resentments or rehash bad blood in the company of so many. Be the bigger person and bite your tongue if barbs are launched. Let your grace shine through.
In order for everyone to get along, abide by the house rules. As a houseguest, you should be nearly invisible. Leave no trace behind. Pick up after your own mess, clean up after someone else, bless he who sneezes and flush.
The host shouldn’t have to work hard to satisfy your wants. Instead, offer to help with anything — moving chairs around for dinnertime, laundering kitchen towels, hand-washing dishes, taking the dog for a walk, whatever. Don’t just sit back and bark orders or, worse, nap on the sofa. Engage in an activity.
Break Bread the Right Way
Holidays bring out all the recipes for comfort food … lots of it. Traditions resound, however, and sometimes people and their tastes change. Instead of making an entire spread for a large family feast, remind people to bring their favorite dish. The potluck dinner takes the pressure off the host to foot the food bill and to make sure everything is served hot.
You also should not expect the cook to know about all your food allergies or dietary requirements. If this is a concern of yours, then politely call ahead of time and discuss some food options with the host. You might offer to make the dishes yourself, allowing you to share food and eat what is agreeable to you.
Show Some Impulse Control
Put down that frosted scone and gigantic pumpkin latte before it’s too late. Calories are cumulative, and day after day of sweet treats might lead you to the weight scale of self-hatred by January first. Resist! It’s hard, I know, with the office bakers and the generous friends.
Giving in is usually the path of least resistance. Showing restraint shows maturity and engaged thinking — rather than quick reactions — with the short-lived pleasure principle involved.
Perhaps controlling impulses is the biggest task around the holiday season. Put back half the cookies you’re about to eat, buy fewer gifts than you thought you needed, smile at the zingers and respond with humor.
Financial stress weighs in on familial ties, which spreads to just about any other relationship on the planet. If you’ve come undone (or on the brink of it), then know that you are not alone in this time of crisis. People all around feel the world pressing down, too. That should make you feel a little less stressed, right?
Originally published in Working World Magazine, 2009