Written by Frankie Barnet
The leaves have fallen, the candy is half off at the drug store, and your zombie Garfield costume is back in the closet. With November, the holidays officially approach. When we were kids, the winter celebrations that took over our households may have been dominated by food, family, and fun, but as adults it can sometimes be hard to see past the dollar signs. Between travel home, gifts for an expanding family, or the hints your partner’s been dropping about whatever new gadget they heard about on TikTok, the cash-strapped among us would be forgiven for wanting to throw our hands in the air and declare, “bah humbug!” once and for all.
So, for anyone celebrating next month, here are five tips to hang on to some peace of mind—financially, at least (your drunk uncle Brian is another story).
1. MAKE A LIST
Creating a budget might sound like the precise opposite of the relaxing and generous spirit of the holidays, but some careful planning before you start shopping can save you from a world of trouble come January’s credit card bill.
To start, write a list of everyone you plan to give a gift to and be honest about how much you can afford to spend. It might feel cruel moving your cousin from the $50 column to the “plate of cookies” column but being up front about these things is necessary to reduce stress. Plus, you’re more likely to enjoy making big ticket purchases for closer friends and family when you know you can afford them.
2. CHECK IT TWICE
This time, look for the hidden costs. This includes the stuff besides gifts, like transportation costs, decorations, or specialty grocery items. Nobody’s saying they aren’t important, but these are the small things that add up, bond together and declare war on your bank account balance.
3. REMEMBER: THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH
With Black Friday ads clogging your inbox, it's impossible not to be tempted by all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime deals at unbeatable prices. No wonder the website blackfridaydeathcount.com keeps a running tally of all the deaths and injuries that occur on this fateful day. But before you don protective gear to go the mall, consider the fact that no matter how discounted an item may be, there’s always a cheaper route. It’s called staying at home and buying nothing.
4. DARE TO BE DULL
There’s nothing like the perfect gift. Something that makes your loved one laugh, cry, and gasp for air at the same time. Bonus points if it’s homemade and/or sparkly. But this can get stressful fast and, in my experience, has resulted in some of the most disappointed and vacant “oh... thanks,” looks amongst my friends and family.
Yes, it can be wonderful to give a great gift, especially for a partner, parent, or any other VIP in our lives, but if you truly don’t know what to buy someone then save yourself the stress and go with the gift card, scented candle, socks, or whatever thing you know for hundred percent they might not love but will definitely like.
5. RESIST THE JONESES
Maybe your sister just got a big promotion and is celebrating by mentioning it every five minutes. Maybe your dad, who you only see once a year, is trying to make up for it by buying some exorbitant present you don’t even want. The holidays, like a wedding, vacation, or any other high-cost event, reveal a lot about how we view the intersection of money, extravagance, and affection. Nobody’s beliefs are right or wrong (except, mine, obviously), but when they clash in close quarters, things can get awkward fast.
That’s why going into these gatherings with a solid financial plan can help arm you against last-minute temptations to spend more than you can afford.
It isn’t easy. A lot of our beliefs about money come from our families, and the holidays were likely a time of year when finances were brought to the forefront. Maybe you dreaded the first day back at school in January because it meant seeing everything the other kids got. Maybe you were one of those “lucky” kids with a new Nintendo, but it came at the price of late-night fights between your parents, stressed over their credit card bills.
Why not try a radical experiment? We all know that the holidays are more about spending time with loved ones than they are about presents, just like who we are as people is less defined by how much money we make than it is by how we treat the ones we care about. In other words, we all know that money doesn’t define us, but this year, why not give yourself the gift of actually believing it?
We can help.
This holiday season, give yourself the gift of a personalized financial plan for the low, low price of free. CBIA/Lawyers Financial is a not-for-profit organization that offers free financial planning services to every member of Canada’s legal community.
Frankie Barnet is a Montreal-based writer whose new book, “Kim: A Novel Idea,” is available from Metatron Press.