“I’ve got to spend less on the holidays this year.” Advice from a trauma-informed, holistic financial coach on how to reduce holiday spending without feeling restricted.

Approximate read time: 7 minutes

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Time to start holiday shopping!

And keeping up family traditions.
And socializing.
Of course all the gifts.
Oh ya, and the parties
And the concerts.
Don’t forget there will be fewer work days too.
And making sure your home is welcoming and festive inside and out!

Sure every year we tell ourselves we’re going to spend less, but every year we end up spending more, or worse, having no clarity at all on how much we’ve spent. Meanwhile, there are more choices to be made, more options to consider, and less and less money. 

The result of all of that processing is that we often get overwhelmed and say “fuck it” to any plan for our spending. That apathy isn’t a personality defect, by the way… it’s a way we protect ourselves from getting even more stressed out and having to make ONE MORE *!&@(!! decision.

But when those credit cards come due in January we’ll have ample opportunity to fail ourselves, beat ourselves up, and tell ourselves all the things we “should have” done. “Next year,” we tell ourselves, “I’ll make a budget for holiday spending or save up ahead of time.”

And all of a sudden it’s November again and we’re trying again to restrict ourselves to spending less.

It’s time to break that pattern.

As a holistic financial coach, who helps individuals with financial coaching services, I have a bunch of tools in my toolbox to help my clients learn how to reduce holiday spending without feeling restricted (or any spending, really).  Some of those tools require that you already have an adaptive, personalized, forward-looking budgeting (link) system in place. But today let’s talk about three tools you can implement quickly, even if you don’t have a budgeting system.

Three Ways to Decrease Your Holiday Spending Without Feeling Restricted: Tips From a Financial Coach

  1.  Find the purpose of your spending
  2.  Evaluate your choices
  3.  Practice expected spending (The Target Spending Game)

1. Find the purpose of your spending

Try this exercise for just a week:  Every time you spend money, remind yourself of the purpose of the spending.   What job is this money doing for you?  Some examples:  “This $100 is so I can have dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow.”  “This $2000 is so my family has a nice house to live in.”, “This $45 is so my house feels decorated and welcoming.”

By reinforcing to ourselves the purpose of spending we’re doing a few important things. We’re reinforcing to our brains that we are spending money, making it “real”.  

Second, we are slowing down our spending.  Any time you can include a little slowness in your decision-making, you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll make a better decision!

If you’re buying a holiday gift for a family member, really savor the purpose of this spending! Of course, as you slow down and understand the purpose you might find other options.  If the purpose of spending on this gift is so that this person knows you love them, how else can you show that love… This leads us to the second way to change holiday spending without feeling restricted…

2. Evaluate the choice you’re considering

Start with one option open to you (not a “this-or-that”).  Let’s say I’m considering a very small choice; buying a bottle of carbonated water.

Step One. What are the possible values of this choice?

The value of choice CANNOT be its price.  Too often we conflate the value of something with its cost.  

Possible values of this bottle of carbonated water:
Hydration is necessary for life.
The bubbles are refreshing.
It’s convenient.
I like it (it’s yummy)
It’s  __________.    (What other values can you think of?)

Step Two:  What are the possible risks associated with this choice?

The risks of a choice CAN and should include its cost.  The monetary cost of this bottle of water is $3.  Applying the concept of an opportunity cost to this is pretty intuitive…. Once I spend this $3 on this bottle of water I cannot spend that same $3 on anything else.

So the opportunity cost is one risk.

Other risks could be:

I drink it too fast and get a brain freeze.
It could have been manufactured incorrectly/it’s gross.
It could be ________.  (What other possible risks can you think of for this bottle of water?)

Step Three:  Is there any other way?

Specifically is there any other way to get some of the values without some or all of the risks?  

Sometimes there is no other way. What is important is that we are taking the time to LOOK for other ways. 

What are some other ways for this bottle of water?

I could get a cheaper bottle of plain water.
Wait until I get home.
I could drink from the drinking fountain.
Ask for a cup and get water from the soda machine.
I could  ______________.  (What other ways can you think of?)

There are rarely right or wrong choices in life.  Our lives are far too beautiful, complex, and messy to provide us with simplistic black-and-white, right and wrong choices.   Locking yourself to only seeing your choices as right or wrong (need or want) sets you up for failure… and humans do not make good choices when we are acting from a place of failure, crisis, or limited choices.  The beauty of the strategy is that it gets you looking for other choices.  

How do you think your spending during the holidays will change if you practiced assessing the values, risks, and any other ways of just a few of the choices ahead of you?

3. Target Spending

I love this game! It reinforces expected spending and permits you to spend while trusting yourself.

Step One: Choose a small, variable part of your spending:  

Good examples: coffee, ice cream, clothes, eating out, gifts for the kids, holiday decorations

Not-so-good examples: mortgage payments, utilities

Step 2: Choose a fairly short time frame:

Between two days and two weeks

Step 3:Choose a specific dollar amount. 

Example:  “I’m going to spend exactly $17 on ice cream in the next 10 days.”
“We’re going to spend exactly $42 on towels in the next 2 weeks.

Not so good example:

“I’m going to spend up to $24 on pencils tomorrow.”  (this is a restriction)

Gameplay:

Your job is now to spend EXACTLY that amount of money in that time. No more. No less.

We want this to remain a game, not a budget, so that’s why we’re keeping the time frame and scope of spending fairly tight.  And this is just a game.  So if you spend more or less, does that matter?

Nope, because this is just a game.  

You are now practicing expected spending. That $17 (or whatever amount you choose) has a specific job to do.  

As you play this game what do you think you might notice? Do you think it will be easy or hard to spend exactly that amount on that specific thing in that specific amount of time?

There is a dual purpose to this game. First, it’s to practice expected spending rather than restricted spending. The second is to begin to trust yourself with money.

Let’s test this out. Which statement is restricted spending, and which is expected spending?

“I’m going to spend $45 on a gift for Ginny this year.”
“I can’t spend more than $50 on a gift for Ginny this year.”

Our brains do not make good choices under the influence of restriction. Restriction is emotional and reactive. Expected spending, on the other hand, allows us to practice thoughtfulness.

A Financial Coach’s Final Thought on Reducing Holiday Spending Without Feeling Restricted

Changing how you spend during the holidays isn’t about restriction, missing out, or doing without. If you want to spend less on holidays in a gentle way, practice expected spending, learn how to trust yourself with money and practice a better way of making decisions!

Next Recommended Article:  How to Survive a Recession

 

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