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The 10-Step Plan to Have a Joyous and Debt-Free Holiday Season

Have your recent holiday seasons felt more like The Nightmare Before Christmas than ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas? For many people, the holidays are a mad rush of spending too much time, too much energy, and too much money. You may feel even more pressure this year due to last year’s socially-distant holidays -- an unfettered need to “make up” for the deprivation you and your loved ones felt in the midst of the pandemic. 

In this blog post, you'll learn how to examine your feelings and beliefs about the season as well as how to understand the impact they have on your behavior. By the end of these 10 steps, you’ll have the tools to build the holiday of your dreams while remaining debt-free, so that you can welcome the new year in financial peace.

Want to explore this topic further? Join me on Tuesday, November 9th at 4pm PDT for an in-depth webinar about holiday planning. Sign up here!

Be sure to download my free tip sheet to follow as you create the holidays of your dreams!

Analyzing Past Holiday Seasons

I recommend taking some time to fill out the questions below. It's not easy work, but it may just be the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season.

1. Take Stock of How Holiday Spending Makes You Feel 

The holidays are a time filled with so much expectation, and spending money on gifts is one of the most-stress inducing obligations we put on ourselves and others. By taking stock of how spending makes you feel, you may find that spending less on an equally meaningful gift brings you just as much joy as making a big splash and going over budget.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking of your gift list this year:

  • Do you feel that the only way you can express your love and gratitude for the people in your life is to overspend on their gifts?
  • Do you feel compelled to buy gifts for many people, only to feel resentful, regretful and depleted come the new year?
  • Do you feel satisfied and fulfilled when the holiday season comes to an end?

Your answers to these questions may influence your approach to gift-giving this holiday season — and that’s okay! The key is to prioritize what feels good to you about the holidays and to spend your time and energy on those areas.

2. Examine Your Positive Beliefs About the Holiday Season

The next step in designing the holiday of your dreams is to focus on what brings you genuine happiness. It could be specific songs or foods that remind you of beautiful memories. It’s important to examine your positive beliefs and do more of the things that fill your life with positivity instead of reverting to practices that may be expected or baked into the mold.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you enjoy most about the holidays? 
  • What traditions bring you absolute joy? 
  • Are they rooted in childhood memories?

Similarly, many people have negative feelings about the holidays because it is a complicated time with demands on our time, energy, emotions, and money. By examining our feelings, we can aim to avoid the behavior and habits that lead to bad experiences.

3. Examine Your Negative Memories About the Holiday Season

Filling out this section can be unpleasant, but it is critical to understand how our memories — both good and bad — shape our behavior. Think about which negative recollections have stuck with you around the holiday season. Disappointing behavior, unrealistic expectations, or revealing truths that upset you are all valid here.

Now that you’ve thought about steps 1 through 3, it’s time to connect the dots between how your past experiences and behavior influence your feelings. This next step is your chance to empower yourself to make a change.

Developing Your Vision for An Ideal Holiday Season

4. Connect the Dots

In this step, you’ll examine how your holiday memories have contributed to your recent holiday behaviors and feelings. There is almost always a direct connection between the two. 

Once you are aware of it, it will be far easier to make positive changes.

  • Can you connect the high and low points from step 2 and 3 to see how they might be affecting your behavior today?
  • Are you trying to make up for the negative memories? 
  • Do you feel pressure to take over as the matriarch in the family and do everything for everyone so well that even Martha Stewart would be impressed? 

“It's (not always) a good thing.” - Karen McCall

At this point, you may be thinking: Karen, this is no fun! I understand, but by shedding light on how your experiences and emotions impact your money behaviors, you are giving yourself the gift of clarity.

Plus, the fun is about to begin! Get ready.

5. Create Your Holiday Vision

In this step, you'll have the opportunity to envision the holidays precisely the way you'd like them to be! It's an essential step because you're far more likely to achieve it if you can picture success. 

Be aware that the “perfect” holiday may not look anything like the holidays you've had in the past. This year, more than any other, is the year to let go of “but that's the way we've always done it!” thinking. Close your eyes and imagine the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and events. The more details, the better! Write it all down.

“I believe... I believe... It's silly, but I believe.” - Susan Walker (Natalie Wood), Miracle on 34th Street

6. Create Your Holiday Spending Plan

Now that you've envisioned an enjoyable holiday, it's time to make a spending plan that will help you meet your goal. It's not a budget. It's a vision-based plan based on what you want and what you need this year.

Follow these steps:

  1. Consider your expenses. Write out a list of every single item you would like to spend on this season, including decorations, gifts, wrapping, shipping, food, drink, music, etc.
  2. Estimate the cost. Assign a dollar amount to each expense based on what you would like to spend.
  3. Return to the work you did in step 1. Think especially hard about gifts and what they really represent for both you and the recipient.
  4. Leave it alone! Avoid making any adjustments to the numbers you've assigned, even after you've tallied it up.
  5. Determine how you will cover these expenses. Identify where the funds for each item will come from, such as checking, saving, holiday bonus, or holiday saving account.

Challenge: Try to figure out a way to pay for everything without using a credit card. If you must pay by credit, carefully monitor the charges so that you don't end up with a holiday credit hangover.

Enjoy a Debt-Free Holiday

7. Balance the Books

The goal for a solid spending plan is to ensure that the funds you have designated for holiday spending will cover the expenses you've planned. If the numbers don't balance out, you can adjust! The key is to be creative and stick to your heartfelt vision.

Check in with your plan by asking yourself: Are you going to earn more or spend less? If you're going to spend less, start by going back through your plan from top to bottom. Consider small adjustments in many categories rather than eliminating one category altogether. Look at your list and identify which things you really need versus which things you simply want. Something else to think about: Is there another way to meet that need by spending less or no money at all? If you're going to earn more, think of ways to do so without stretching your time and energy to the limit.

While conscious spending is a critical component of having a stress-free and debt-free holiday season, it is not the be-all and end-all. Your time and energy are valuable assets that you have to assign both consideration and value.

8. Plan How to Spend Your Time and Energy

Minding your money doesn't begin and end with finances. How you spend your time and energy is part of the whole equation. In fact, it's what we call the TEM equation at the Financial Recovery™ Institute: time, energy, and money. 

The goal is to plan things out so that you're not depleting yourself and you don't spend more than you have. In other words, you're taking care of yourself first.

Here’s your plan of action:

  • List your activities for December. You may need to be flexible with these plans based on the pandemic, but it's still important to do.
  • Ask yourself if your plans seem reasonable. Do you have more time planned than seems plausible?
  • Adjust your activities so your time and energy are in balance.

If you follow my approach to money management, you know that tracking brings me joy. I feel happiness from having total control over my finances and directing where my hard-earned money goes. The holidays are no different.

9. Making Your List, Checking It Twice…

Now that you've created a balanced plan, it's time to put it to work! 

Here’s how you do it:

  • Record all the money you spend in your money management system. Don’t have a system yet? Consider purchasing MoneyGrit.® It’s the holidays after all — you deserve to treat yourself too!
  • Check-in with your plan's total and remaining balance.
  • When you have reached the maximum allocation for any given category, congratulate yourself on a job well done!
  • If you go over in any sub-category, make the necessary adjustments and decide where you’ll adjust in other areas.

10. Enjoy the Holidays!

As the holidays draw near, many people panic that they haven't done or bought enough.

Here are a few things to remind yourself that will help you stay in balance:

  • I am confident in the plans I've made.
  • I am in control of my spending.
  • I will maintain balance throughout the holiday season.
  • I am excited about meeting the goals I have set for myself.
  • I have done enough.
  • I am looking forward to enjoying my holiday vision of success.

It's not the gifts we get or give that we remember; it's the experiences we create for ourselves and our loved ones. Now, all that's left to do is get a good night's sleep and enjoy the most wonderful time of year. You deserve it!

Happy Holidays!


Want to explore this topic further? Join me on Tuesday, November 9th at 4pm PDT for an in-depth webinar about holiday planning. Sign up here!

Be sure to download my free tip sheet to follow as you create the holidays of your dreams!

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