Enjoy the Holidays, Avoid the New Year Blues

It’s November, and a Chicago radio station has flipped to holiday programming. Local stores are thoroughly decked, and it even snowed two weeks before Thanksgiving. Various efforts to push up the holiday shopping season are afoot, and there just doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid the reality of the situation: The holiday season has begun!

We seem to be waking up from the recession — just a little — and perhaps a tiny bit of optimism is creeping back into our collective unconscious. Now is the time to make your holiday plans, and that must include taking a sober look at the family finances and deciding what you can spend on the holiday season this year.

Your holiday budget probably includes gifts, parties, decorations, clothes, and charitable donations. It’s so easy to get caught up in the spirit of the season and take a, “Spend Now, Worry Later” approach, but that will generally lead to a very painful new year that includes overwhelming bills. Looking for motivation? Imagine your Valentine’s Day, 2015. Is it romantic and lovely, or do you spend it in marriage counseling because you’ve been bickering for a month about money? The decisions you make now will impact which path you are on come February. So let’s get down to good decision making.

First, what can you really afford to spend this year? It might be helpful to look at the last few years to get an idea of where you comfortably spent and overspent in holiday seasons past. Use that as a place to start. You may have to consider where you can move money around within your budget to free up enough for your priorities.  It might not be the year to invest in new decorations if you really want to take the family on a ski trip.

Second, if you really want to show your loved ones what they mean to you this holiday season, spend some down time together. This is a two step process. First, leave some blank spaces in the calendar so that you actually have “down time.” You may need to protect the space by scheduling, “Down Time.” Second, line up some low-cost fun during that time — board games, some holiday baking, a family sing-a-long if music is your thing. And no cell phones during family time (that includes you, mom). I know this may seem especially challenging for those of you with teens, but make it happen. It will remind everyone what the season is really about.

Finally, for the holiday season to be a success, you have to be your best self, that means working in your own personal time for self care. No, this isn’t an act of selfish indulgence. It’s absolutely essential if you’re going to get through the holidays peacefully. This could mean a hot bath and your favorite book, bundling up for a brisk walk in the morning, or taking 5 minutes between errands or driving your kids around to just sit and breathe. When you are your best, grounded self, you are less likely to make impulsive decisions, and that includes impulsive holiday spending decisions that might lead to trouble in the new year.

The bottom line is that this holiday season doesn’t have to come with a big hang over in the new year.  Plan, relax, enjoy… and then look forward to a sweet Valentine’s Day in 2015!


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