Have the Courage to have the Christmas You Can Afford
by, 08-10-2009 at 08:24 PM (4657 Views)
I was talking with a group of friends about the upcoming holidays and one said, “I’m so afraid of Christmas. I don’t know how we’re going to afford it and I just know we’re going to end up in financial trouble because of it. It terrifies me, but there’s nothing I can do about it!” The others in the group all chimed in with their own fears and worries, as well.
I sat there listening to the various tales of fear and despair wondering what, exactly, the problem was. It seems simple to me: Have the Christmas you can afford. If you’re strapped for cash say, “No” early and often. Enjoy what you can comfortably do and let the rest go. Problem solved, right? Why make yourself sick with worry over a spending situation that is completely within your control? When I finally got up the courage to say this very thing, the room fell into complete silence and six faces looked at me like I had a third eye stuck on my head.
“Well, you have to spend a lot of money at Christmas to have a good time,” one woman said. “The kids expect certain gifts, you have to buy for your nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters, and then there’s the entertaining. We have to have three parties — one for my husband’s coworkers, one for our friends, and one for family. It all costs so much!”
“And don’t forget the Christmas cards. We send out over one hundred each year, all custom printed with our year in review letter,” another said.
“Not to mention all the other gifts you have to give,” said another. “You have to give to teachers, the postman, the paper carrier, the garbage man, and the hairdresser. The expectations are so high.”
“And I can’t afford any of it this year,” wailed another friend. “It’ll all have to go on credit cards and we already have too much credit card debt!”
These women are not normally fearful. Most of them are very level headed, focused, and in-control individuals. But Christmas was turning them into terrified, helpless people and it wasn’t pretty to watch. I wondered: What makes otherwise normal people want to hide under the sofa when Christmas rolls around and how can we create a sane, enjoyable holiday that doesn’t involve the fear of financial ruin?
I understand how this fear comes about. We want every aspect of the holidays to be perfect. We want everyone to have a good time at our parties and talk about them for weeks afterwards. We want the fairy tale Christmas where our kids run to a tree brimming with presents and squeal in delight when they get everything they asked for. We want our relatives to be impressed with our prowess in the kitchen and awed by our decorations. Above all, we don’t want anyone to think we are struggling, or cheap, or that we can’t give as much as our friends and neighbors.
It’s an understandable situation. Everyone wants to be liked and admired. For most of us, the holidays mark the one time of year when our means are on display to people who otherwise wouldn’t know anything about our financial situation. People we rarely see are coming into our homes, seeing our possessions, and receiving gifts and cards from us. Like it or not, right or not, those people are passing subtle judgments against us based on the things they see and receive.
This creates a lot of pressure. It’s not that different from being in high school and not having the “right” shirt or handbag. Not doing Christmas “right” can make you feel ostracized from your circle of friends and coworkers. No matter that many of those friends and coworkers are racking up debt to have the “perfect” Christmas. It’s terrifying to be judged as “less than” and it’s equally terrifying (although courageous) to be the one to step out alone and say, “I can only do so much and I refuse to go overboard.”
Understanding how this fear comes about is the key to understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way. Every bit of the financial fear of Christmas is self-inflicted by us. There is nothing externally beyond our control that threatens us. It’s not the same financial fear that you experience when your spouse is laid off. The fear of Christmas comes about through our own need to keep up with others, to compete, and to be judged as “worthy” by our peers. We put the fear into ourselves and we can overcome it.
So how do you get past this fear of Christmas and enjoy a financially healthy holiday season? The answers are different for everyone, depending on how willing you are to do things differently, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
(Read the rest of the article below.)
-Author: J. Derrick