Family celebrating Christmas for many years together

Bright blinking lights, nonstop jingles, crowded shopping malls and one too many sips of sour eggnog are enough to give almost anyone a bad headache. For most of us, skating through this season stress-free can be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine. So we asked the professionals how to keep your home happy and your wallet safe without losing your head. Cherish your cheer this holiday season by practicing some of the following tips.

Set Limits and Stick to Them

Overspending is perhaps one of the biggest stressors during this season. Writing out a plan on paper can help relieve the stress of thoughts whirling around your head. “Preplan a month in advance the budget specifically for the holiday,” advises Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and host of “The Power of Different” podcast. “Collaborate and compromise with your partner on this budget. Write the numbers down for each category of spending and then hold firm on those numbers.”

Financial coach Pegi Burdick of TheFinancialWhisperer.com recommends giving kids a budget. “Ask them to list five things they want, then you decide what you can afford,” says Burdick. Let your children know price and quantity ranges before they make their lists. Giving older kids a set dollar amount to spend is a great way for them to feel empowered and engaged in keeping the family on budget.

“With kids under three, go to the 99 cents store and buy many things and then gift wrap them. Kids love to unwrap things,” says Burdick. This way your children will get to open lots of gifts without burning a hole in your wallet. Remember that more often than not, a year from now they won’t even remember all the gifts they received.

Skip the third cocktail and opt for a steaming mug of spiced apple cider instead. “Holiday time is laden with opportunities to drink too much alcohol, and that in turn will lower your inhibitions around already difficult limit setting,” says Dr. Saltz. This means you may be likely to spend more than you planned to or give in to over-budget requests. Stay on the safe side of your budget, and “stick to a drink or two,” she adds.

Rethink Your Reasons

Before our budgets get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it could be helpful to take a step back and reflect on what’s really motivating that new tablet purchase or preference for high-end models of products. Dr. Saltz recommends asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who are you competing with and why?
  • Who are “the Joneses” for you, and why do you need to beat them?

“Often the insight into who you actually feel competitive with and what makes you feel that way will help resolve the feelings and allow you to not overly participate in the competition in the first place,” says Dr. Saltz. “Many competitive motivations are unconscious, stemming from earlier life events or competition with siblings, for example.”

You may find that in the process of identifying the true sources of competitive feelings, your desire to spend beyond your means is lessened.

Ask for Help

Facing the prospect of prepping for the holidays on your own can feel overwhelming. Whether you have your own family or will be spending the holidays with friends, the true spirit of the season is found in celebrating the connections we have with those we love. Get your loved ones engaged in the preparations, advises Dr. Tina Tessina, a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California.

“You’ll find that a lot of camaraderie comes out of working together, and a lot of the holiday fun will happen behind the scenes as you work with others to get ready,” she adds. Splitting up the to-do list not only lightens your load but also empowers your family and friends with the shared responsibility of making this season memorable.

Sustain Your Holiday Spirit

Although the tune of the season is giving to others, it’s important to remember that you can only give as much as you have yourself. In the midst of caring for others, take time to look after yourself so that you’re not pouring out of an empty cup.

“I think mindfulness definitely helps as well as really looking within and realizing the real purpose of the holidays, which translates into presence for others rather than presents,” shared author Richard Singer of RickSingerBooks.com.

The additional stressors present during the holidays can aggravate anxiety symptoms. “Sleeping well, eating healthy, exercising regularly and having a little relaxing time each day will help with anxiety and stress,” advises Dr. Saltz. This is especially important when facing the mall crowds.

“Practice meditation daily, and especially before shopping. It will keep you centered,” recommends Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, a psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in addressing fears and stressors related to managing money as well as improving financial health. “Tired, ‘hangry’ people make for aggressive and impulsive shoppers!” she adds.

Try a New Tradition

Travel and multiple schedules and family obligations compel many families to exchange gifts after Christmas Day. “Remind yourself that all of this stuff will be on sale for half-off December 26th,” reminds Dr. Kubacky. 

Get creative with your giving to pair down your holiday spending stress. “Make a pact with family and friends that you will only spend a set amount, only give to children, or will alternate years as giver and receiver,” she suggests.

“Be realistic about presents,” says Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago area psychologist. “Not everyone is going to love or even appreciate your gift.” Spending some quality time with your loved ones might be more special than anything you could grab them off the rack.

Figure out what memories mean the most to you. “Sit down with your friends or family members and choose one or two activities that you would most like to have happen over the holidays,” suggests Dr. Allen.

Feeling overwhelmed? “Cooking together is a great way to enjoy what the holiday really means: being grateful for what you have and showing generosity to those who have less,” says Burdick.

So remember to take a deep breath and then choose your favorite tip to jumpstart your plan for sailing debt-free through this holiday season.

How do you deal with stress during the holidays? Share your advice with your fellow Zing Blog readers in the comments section below!

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