3 ways to curb pre-holiday money stress
There's not enough money in your
account. Your kids want so many things. You always spend more than you have at this time of year. How can you possibly pay for it all?
Ah, the holidays. From Halloween to New
Year's Eve, it's common to experience the financial freakout. Must you,
though? No, say the experts. There are ways to keep the stress level low.
Here's how to stay sane and within budget ... starting now.
1. Quell pre-shopping jitters
"My financial anxiety comes in waves,"
says Kansas City, Kan., resident Yosef Silver, founder of the kosher cooking website This
American Bite. "I was feeling better about our
income and expenses,
and then we learned that we're having a third child."
Hanukkah is covered, says Silver, since family
to the daily gifts, but his biggest fear is Black Friday, the traditional first day of winter holiday shopping, marked by crowds drawn to
deep discounts. "You get sucked into a sense of the
Silver is hardly alone with
such concerns. A 2013 survey conducted by the American
Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) found that 44 percent of U.S.
adults feel a high level of financial stress. As seasonal expenses loom, these
"People are very afraid right
now," says stress management psychotherapist Steve Rosenberg of Elkins Park, Pa.
After being in practice for 33 years, he recognizes the signs of pre-holiday
worries. "Halloween, Thanksgiving and beyond, everyone is looking at the
Rosenberg's primary message to
worriers: stop anticipating negativity. Dark projections will ruin the unique pleasurable experiences the season can offer.
Grave statistics about the
country's recession and unemployment rates can also heighten tension, so
consider a temporary broadcasting blackout. "Don't listen to the news," advises
Rosenberg. "The media definitely is reporting accurately what is happening with
the economy, but people start to personalize it." Instead, focus on the
positive things in your life and be realistic with your own circumstances.
Question whether you really are in a bad financial place or are anticipating
If funds are truly tight and extra holiday costs will impact
essential bills, panicking is expected. It's also a sign, though, that you need
to change your mindset,
says Ramani Durvasula ("Dr. Ramani") a Los Angeles clinical psychologist and
co-host of the Oxygen Network show "My
"It's easy to get caught in the frenzy
and get distressed," says Durvasula. If you're having a tough financial year, you
may "experience a drop in self-esteem, then overspend, become exhausted and
perhaps even downright depressed."
Worse, the AICPA survey found that
money worries can cause illness, resulting in even higher costs as you take
time off work to recuperate or pay for medical bills.
Therefore, take relaxing and reducing
spending seriously. The key, says Durvasula, is to remember that most of the
upcoming holidays are about gratitude, not obligation. Easier said than done,
perhaps, but a soothing truism.
2. Smooth financial fears with a plan
If you're certain that you'll be
increasing spending soon, the best way to offset the fear of overdoing it is to
determine how much you can and want to part with far in advance. Like,
"Start now in building out your
holiday timeline of planned activities and expenditures that may fall outside
of the daily norm," says Sarah Ely, vice president of communications at
MasterCard Worldwide. "Know what you can comfortably spend for all your holiday
needs and keep track of your purchases as you move through the season."
Take 30 seconds right now to recall
how stressed out you were this time last year. Remember how
crummy it felt to rip open the credit card bills in January?
Author, "Brilliant Frual Living"
Chances are you'll soon be swiping
plastic at lightning speed, so before ramping it up, make sure you benefit from
the transactions. This way you'll gain control, which can banish apprehension.
- Reading the inserts or email updates from your credit or
debit card issuer. "Oftentimes during the holidays, they'll send along special
savings opportunities for spending at certain stores or retailers."
up additional rewards card points. "Many issuers
provide cash-back increases or bonuses for spending within certain categories,
such as retail, electronics or for simply shopping online."
in your earnings. "As you build
your holiday gift list, look for opportunities to leverage rewards points
you've built up to help make those purchases."
out which of your favorite retailers offer the best card deals. "Retailers often provide exclusive holiday sales and
increased savings for cardholders who have a store credit card."
To feel secure while charging, the balances ought to be payable in a
month or two. If you fear they won't be, you can use
those nerves effectively, says Kristen Hagopian, a Philadelphia-based author of
"Brilliant Frugal Living" and frequent radio talk show host.
"Take 30 seconds right now to recall
how stressed out you were this time last year," says Hagopian. "Remember how
crummy it felt to rip open the credit card bills in January?" That bitter
memory should bring your budget back down to reality.
Tranquility comes with acceptance of
your economic situation, so whether your maximum holiday budget totals $10 or
$1,000, respect your personal boundaries. It's unlikely that your loved ones
want you to sacrifice for an extravagant meal or pricey bauble.
There is no shame in simplicity and,
says Hagopian, you're usually better off focusing
on the inexpensive things that create
memories, not liabilities. "Think back to the fabulous food you enjoyed as a
kid. Was it a special cookie recipe? Candy? Chocolate? Recreate it and give it
out freely to everyone and anyone who means the most to you. That is a gift
As for creating your spending plan,
don't delay. The earlier you get it done, the happier you'll be, says Ramani. "Procrastination contributes
to anxiety and poor decision making. If you have some leisure time now -- and you have set your budget and list
-- then doing this gradually can make it
3. Keep stress away while shopping
Ready to hit the costume superstore,
the supermarket for the big Thanksgiving spread or the mall for just about
everything else? Better shape up.
"Take good care of you," says Durvasula.
"Exercise, get enough sleep, eat well. These things may help you be more
resilient in the face of the holiday shopping stressors." Dress comfortably,
wear walking shoes and ditch the heavy purse. When your body feels good and
relaxed, so too will your attitude.
Tech tools can help, too. Though Silver
still plans to seek Black Friday's bargains, he's started to rely on websites
such as lifehacker.com
to identify the best deals throughout the year. "I found out that January is
the best time to buy a TV," says Silver, who will now wait for that particular
purchase. He'll also keep to his spending guidelines with
the app Evernote, which syncs his
predetermined shopping notes to all his computers and electronic devices. "I
put my shopping list on my phone, so it's
in my hands and I keep checking it. I stick to it."
Of course, even with the best of
intentions and rigorous preparation, hyperventilating
in the middle of the mall is still
possible. Your throat may constrict, heart race and a headache
emerge. At that point, stop and breathe deeply,
"Take a deep breath though your
nostrils, hold it to capacity, then let go, counting, 'five, four, three, two,
one.'" says Rosenberg. "Take another second
and do the same thing, then a third time. Then breathe normally and think the word 'clear.'
Do this until your mind really is clear. It's a tried-and-true technique and only takes a minute."
Once you feel better, continue to take
it easy. "Don't marathon shop," says Durvasula. "The longer you are in the store,
the more your decision making skills and willpower fade. Give yourself not only
a money budget but a time budget." Her rule is two hours, then take off.
Ultimately, if you
want a stress-free holiday season, it's there for the taking. Turn your
attention to what's important, says Hagopian: "Family, friends and carbs. Then, if
you're anything like me, the only reason you'll have to dust off your panic
button in January is if you make the critical error of stepping on your
See related: 7 free ways to reduce the stress caused by money, finances
, 18 ways to get gift cards for less
Published: October 28, 2013