Feeling Good When Festivities Are High And Finances Are Low: How To Cope With Financial Stress During The Holidays
Author / Source: Kathy Nickerson, PhD
For most of us, the holidays represent a joyous time and images filled with family members, friends, and frivolity. But this year, many of us, especially women, are experiencing a lot of stress about how to make the holidays feel cheerful and light during a very difficult financial time.
As women, we are conditioned by society to be the caretakers of people’s emotional needs, as well as the people who create a beautiful and loving home. These roles usually incorporate making the holidays “happen” for the others in our lives—buying, wrapping, and delivering the gifts, selecting and mailing cards, baking, organizing travels, hosting friends and family. Such tasks create a lot of pressure, especially when you flip open a magazine and see “budget-friendly” holiday ornaments for the bargain price of $50. From what we see on TV and read in the media, we develop a sense that we should spend a lot of money on the holidays and that we are neglecting people’s feelings if we buy them a modest gift (or no gift at all). Many women also report feeling a sense of failure if they are not able to provide a beautiful and spectacular holiday for everyone. Deep down, we worry that there’s something wrong with us if we can’t deliver that. Talk about stress!
If you have recently lost your job, my hunch is that you’re already feeling pretty down, particularly if the loss was in any way not amicable. It used to be that men were the ones to derive most of their self-esteem from work and work accomplishments, but more and more now, women feel this way. We’re proud of what we do and we identify ourselves through our jobs. It used to be that the job was a secondary role; the primary role was as mother, wife, or caregiver. Now, our occupation is our identity, our brand. So many women struggle with losing their identity when they lose their jobs.
Now add to that a very emotional time of year—the holidays! The holidays are the Olympics of social events; many people save and scrimp all year so they can put on a beautiful spread and give lavish gifts. If you’ve recently lost your job, and you cannot afford to do it anymore: the spending all of your savings on making the holidays a gift-fest, dress-fest, cocktail-fest. This creates an even worse feeling of failure and inadequacy, with many women thinking, “Yeesh, I just lost my job, and now I can’t even afford to go to the holiday party . . . I am such a loser, such a failure.” Depression then worsens, and what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year becomes a miserable time.
Seeing others having fun while being unable to participate leaves many people feeling hurt and angry. There are a couple of things to know and keep in mind if you find yourself in this spot: (1) it’s ok to feel hurt and angry, it’s normal, it’s ok, and you’re not a bad person, (2) things will change, you will find another job, this is temporary, and you can and should take it one day at a time, (3) go easy on yourself, others are in the same spot, and it could help to be realistic—not everyone is buying new gowns, drinking cocktails at the Ritz, and purchasing elaborate gifts. More people than you realize are in the same spot and you will get through it.
With all of this on your mind, you might be wondering how to stay positive and enjoy yourself at parties and gatherings when you are riddled with worry about spending and perhaps not being able to buy your partner something nice. The thing to do is to challenge your mindset and be honest with your loved ones about your budget this year. There are a variety of ways to downgrade gift-giving, and you may be surprised to find that if you suggest downgrading from an all-around gift exchange to a Secret Santa, or from a Secret Santa to no gifts at all, others might be relieved and thank you. After all, almost everyone is affected by the economic downturn, so if your pocket is empty, chances are that your friends’ and family members’ pockets are empty, too.
When you think about gifts, remember that a nice present does not always mean the most expensive present you can afford. A nice present is something that really touches the receiver and is very personal. So think about how the person you loves like to be loved: what types of gestures, acts, behaviors, experiences, or words touch them the most? If your mom most appreciates having someone help her around the house, then create a coupon book where each coupon is for some different task you can do for her (e.g., this coupon is good for one kitchen cleaning, this coupon is good for one load of laundry). If your father likes to have new experiences, research and find a great place to take him for a walk/hike/photo-taking session, and bring a picnic lunch. If your sweetheart values words of affirmation and praise, you’ve lucked out! Create him/her a box full of romantic fortunes, where you write mini love letters on tiny pieces of paper and fold them up to be opened whenever a bit of affirmation is easy. If your partner is the physical touch type, well, create a zesty coupon book for fun in the bedroom. Be creative!
If you’ve lost your job, you might also be worried about how to cope with any feelings of shame or discomfort at being quizzed during holiday gatherings about what you’re going to do next. If you find yourself in this spot, follow Dr. Kathy’s Golden Rule: always conduct yourself in ways that make you feel proud and good about yourself. You can respond in a variety of ways when someone asks you a question like, “I heard you got the axe! What are you going to do?”
You could say, “I’m not sure yet. It’s rather new, so I’m taking the holidays off to enjoy myself, and then in January, I’ll start brainstorming.”
You could also say, “Thanks for asking. I’m exploring some options, let’s talk about it more in a week.”
Or if it’s your mom or someone else you’re close to who’s asking, say “Thanks for asking, that means a lot to me. I love you very much, and I would love any help you can give, but right now, let’s just enjoy the party and we’ll talk about it over coffee next week.”