This time of year can bring on the worst kind of financial stress—the “why do I have no money but have to buy all these gifts” kind. The “but my children really want these things I cannot afford to buy” kind. The “my sister/brother/uncle/other relative is expecting a great gift from me” kind. The “I wonder how much more I can put on the credit card before I max out” kind.
How do you cope with financial stress? The first step is to change your point of view. Try some of the following:
- Who said great gifts have to cost money? The greatest gift is your time. How about providing babysitting or cleaning services to the ones you love. Calling a distant lonely relative every Sunday is a wonderful way to connect and a year-long gift of your time.
- We live in a great place! A family outing to great and totally free treats such as nature preserves, parks and museums is just a short car ride away. You will help to create memories that will last a lifetime. Spending the day with your children touring the Air and Space Museum and other Smithsonian treasures, followed by a hot chocolate treat, is a far greater and memorable gift than something that comes in a box.
- Make your own holiday decorations and let the family help. Collect pine branches, pinecones, sticks, greenery and arrange what you find into wreaths, table displays, etc. Not only will you have fun with the process, what you create will make great gifts for friends.
- How about the gift of learning how to paint or bake or weld or fix your car? I’ll bet you have friends that can teach all of these things—barter what you know how to do for lessons for someone you love. Barter works so well.
- Give back and teach your children to do the same. Anyone who volunteers at a soup kitchen, or as a driver for meals on wheels knows very well that when you volunteer, you aren’t giving a gift, you are receiving one. Teach by doing. When you involve your family in giving back to others, you will raise children who are respectful of others and you as well.
- Buying someone more stuff may not be the best way to show you care. Most of us already have too much stuff. I am reminded that when my son was young, he enjoyed playing with the boxes more than playing with the contents that came in them. Don’t spend to impress; it doesn’t work. Show someone how much you really care by telling them. Handwritten notes, e-cards, collections of family photos, a box of homemade cookies, all of these are greater gifts than the latest iPad. The iPad is wonderful, of course, but not memorable. It’s your personal sentiment that counts, not how much you spend.
- Humor is great to defuse a tense family financial situation. If you are put into the position of having to compete with other relatives on holiday gifts, suggest to your families that you scrap the gift giving and instead create a contest for “the tackiest holiday gift under $20” or “the ugliest holiday sweater.” Shopping for these gifts as a family can be great fun. Some of your family can shop and some can judge the contest.
- How about setting a monetary limit of $25.00 per gift? It’s a challenge to come up with something, but a lot of fun to look. Don’t forget the consignment shops for great choices at a bargain price. Or, how about a contest for the most number of gifts for a total of $25.00? That’s a contest that may be harder to win than you think—and fun, too.
- Winter sports fan? Skating and learning how to skate is great. There are free or low-cost skating rinks in the metro area. Try Quiet Waters Park. Or, check out the less expensive local sports teams for great entertainment.
- Neighborhood get-togethers, pot luck dinners, out-in-the-cold barbeques, all are fun and relatively inexpensive ways to entertain during the holidays.
- Explore! We’ve got Washington DC, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia at our fingertips. You don’t have to fly or drive: try a train or bus trip. Once you’re there, use the metro to get around. It’s amazing what memories a day trip to another world can give you and your family.
About the Author: Lyn Striegel is an attorney in private practice in Chesapeake Beach and Annapolis. Lyn has over 30 years experience in the fields of estate and financial planning and is the author of “Live Secure: Estate and Financial Planning for Women and the Men Who Love Them (2011 ed.).” Nothing in this article constitutes specific legal or financial advice and readers are advised to consult their own counsel.