Does holiday shopping & spending stress you out?

A few years ago I stopped doing the holidays. My corporate job had me on a plane every 3 to 4 days. My daily work hours were in the double-digits, and the mere thought of picking out – let alone sending – holiday cards was enough to throw me into tears. Shopping for presents… forgetaboutit. I didn’t have the emotional energy to face the crowds and stores.

Ironically, saying “Ba-humbug” to “traditional” holiday habits increased my happiness. How? It caused me to reboot my ingrained thinking and come up with a new game plan for how to joyfully participate in the holiday season in a way that felt right to me. If you are reaching a holiday excess breaking point, here are three steps to help you have less holiday financial stress:

1.     Set a shopping strategy & a specific dollar amount. This time of year there are a number of excellent news stories on how to “Avoid Holiday Spending Hangovers” and “Tips For Keeping Holiday Spending In Check.” They almost always start by saying set a budget. That’s excellent advice. Yet very few people do it – perhaps because “budgeting” sounds like deprivation. So instead, strive to create your own shopping strategy and assign a total dollar amount that you will spend in executing that strategy.  Will you go wide and shallow (low priced gifts for many people) or narrow and deep (few incredible gifts for a handful of people)?  Unless money is no object the key here is to avoid… wide and deep!

2.     Measure your progress. It’s an oft-quoted axiom of business that “what gets measured gets managed.” An easy way to see how well you are doing at executing your shopping strategy is to write at the top of a piece of paper your total holiday spending budget. At the end of any day in which you shopped for the holidays just add up our receipts, write that number on your tracking sheet and subtract from the total. You’ll then have a simple way to know how much you have left with which to enjoy spreading holiday cheer. You can also take this up a notch to spreadsheets and online resources, but the key is it to get it down in writing.

3.     Don’t be afraid to think out of the holiday box. The slow grind of this rough economy has caused many friends and families to reset gift-giving practices. But if you haven’t yet, this is a great year to ask questions like these:  Should we only give gifts to kids under 18? Should we do a one-name-one-gift holiday grab bag? Or do we want to rethink gift-giving all together and instead donate time or money to charitable causes and enjoy ourselves by simply spending time together? Writer Francine Jay ( has wonderful advice in her upbeat “Gift Avoidance Guide.”  Blogger Leo Babauta ( shares some wonderful non-traditional thoughts in his “The Case Against Buying Christmas Gifts.”

I’m still in the early stages of figuring out what new rituals work for my family, and its been a fun process. If you are rethinking your habits, you might find this podcast in which I speak with Melissa Foster Cook about holiday budget cripplers helpful (click here to listen or here to download).

What about you? What changes are you making to have less holiday financial stress this year?