Making Spirits Light . . .

by Lisa Reid

What is your favorite holiday memory? How much did it cost to create it? These are the questions I have been asking the people in my life to see if there is any correlation between large amounts of money spent and memorable holiday experiences.

What I have found is just the opposite - childhood memories of Christmas and Hanukkah almost always centered on a family gathering. Adults very rarely remembered more than one or two gifts they had received as children and it was never the first thing they talked about.

From my observation, people spend too much money at the holidays for two reasons: they are worried that they will appear Scrooge-like or unloving if they don't (the "what will others think of me" reason) or they want to express love and celebrate the season and believe spending money is the best or only way to do this (the "I don't want my family to feel deprived" reason).

Yet, spending too much money is not without its consequences. When we spend beyond our limits, we feel anxious, we feel guilty, we feel at odds with the goals we have set for ourselves. These feelings are a heavy load to add to the stress of the holiday season.

And do we really get much for all that money with the anxiety and guilt attached? According to my little survey, not really.

Stress is not fun. After experiencing a stressful holiday, getting to have a non-stressful one is wonderful and luxurious. Give yourself that luxury.

Fortunately, there are many ways to give gifts and have wonderful celebrations without spending a lot of money. I collect ideas that are quick, easy, and cheap throughout the year to use with my family and to publish so that other families can use them (more info, below).

Even before gathering ideas, however, see what can be pared away. For instance, limit gifts for kids to the number that they can open before their eyes glaze over. I have frequently ended up in the past with many more Christmas gifts for my children than were needed, and then felt harried and slightly out of control during the Christmas rush. How much better it would have been for me during those years to have taken the personal resources that I spent on extra unnecessary gifts and put them into handling the rush. And my children would have benefited from that choice, too, since they would have had a more peaceful home.

Recognize your family's limits and try to set your goals for a little less than the limit. How many events can you attend comfortably? If you say four, make plans to attend only the top three on your list. How much time will you really have in December to make gifts? Don't plan 16 hours of gift-making if you'll only have eight hours of time available. (My personal weakness!)

Eat simply at home this month. It takes less time and money and will be balanced by the abundance of rich foods that come with holiday parties.

The holidays can be so fun and lift our spirits up. The best in our neighbors, friends and in ourselves is elicited by focusing on what the season means to us. My goals for my family are three: 1) to take some time to remember how blessed we are and to share that with others through gifts and charity, 2) to celebrate the spiritual foundation of the season and 3) to enjoy our family traditions. When I look at my stated goals, it is clear that money (even saving money) is not the first thing that I want us to be aware of. But the way we choose to handle our money and time can support or hinder our primary goals.

So with that in mind, I wish you the best holiday season ever!

Excerpted from PurseStrings thrift newsletter for families. Lisa Reid is the author of Raising Kids With Just a Little Cash.

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