In December, I find myself having great expectations and bracing for the traditional chaos. The Christmas season not only includes my birthday, but all three of my childrens’, and now my two granddaughters’ as well. Because of this, I am exceptionally aware of the potential for increased spending and heightened emotions.
Every year I strive for a perfect and memorable Christmas holiday and birthday celebrations for my entire family. Perfect means having the right tree with glistening ornaments, exchanging thoughtful gifts, and preparing food to be savored and remembered. But here is my confession. I’ve had a history of overspending, over indulgence, and showing my love through gift giving. Every year I vow that I’m not going to do it again, but I end up running around like mad at the last-minute buying one more gift and wrapping at midnight. Predictably, when the tree comes down, the Christmas music has ceased, and the kids are gone, I’m left with the bills to pay and increased stress. Every year I say never again, but every year I repeat the cycle. Sound familiar?
As a financial coach, I am very aware of those who struggle with impulse buying, and that the holidays are especially triggering. When there is a tendency to overspend, it is easily justified when doing so for others. Even with the best intentions, holiday spending can put people deeper into debt which often results in increased fear, anxiety, guilt and shame. It is a vicious cycle. In the United States, because there is a never-ending supply of shiny new toys, we often buy to fill a void. But the void is in our heart and soul and can never be satisfied by simply buying more stuff.
This year I am going to do things differently. A few days ago, I received a powerful gift from an old college friend who has lived in Zimbabwe for forty years. In exchange for a photo of my perfectly trimmed tree he sent photos of a “shopping mall” and butcher shop outside the city of Blantyre, Malawi. If ever I needed a reminder of the abundance and extravagance we have in America, I have received it.
After seeing this photo, I felt a heightened awareness of all that I and those around me have. Later that day, I ran out to do some errands to prepare for my weekend and the upcoming celebrations. Shopping at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, Colorado is quite the retail experience. Every international designer is alluring. I was incredibly tempted to buy more toys and darling matching outfits for my granddaughters. I admired an expensive designer scarf that would be stunning on my daughter. Yet, as I shopped, the images of Africa came to mind, and I questioned my own reality. When is enough is enough? In that moment I recognized the point when my generosity and giving-spirit can become excessive.
Now with the holiday shopping season in full swing, I ask myself, “What is the deeper meaning of Christmas and what is it that I desire this season?” On the 22nd of this month I will turn 59 years young! My commitment to myself is to take time to reflect on the holiday. From the lens of a financial therapist, what is the best possible advice I can give to myself and practice in my own life?
With intention, I will spend quiet time considering what the Christmas season means to me. How do I want to feel in the days and weeks to come? What can I do to create a joyful experience and not overindulge in all of the merriment (eating, drinking, and over-spending) that may result in more anxiety? How can I take good care of myself this season? Before I shop, I will decide how much I can afford to spend on each gift. I will stick to my budget. Most importantly, I will remember that happiness cannot be bought with gifts. I will focus on gratitude and the experience of time spent with loved ones and welcome in a new year. This Christmas, I am going to be less stressed and more grateful for the abundance that I am blessed with.