The 10-Step Plan You Need to Have a Joyous Debt-Free Holiday

Have the last three holiday seasons felt more like the Nightmare Before Christmas than ‘Twas the Night before Christmas?

Does the thought of celebrating the holidays without family and friends cast a shadow over what is supposed to be the "hap-happiest time of the year?"

For many people, the holiday season is a mad rush of spending too much time, too much energy, and too much money.

This year's uncertainty has only added to the pressure we feel. 

In this blog post, you'll learn how to examine your feelings and beliefs about the season and the impact they have on your behavior. By the end, 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.

I recommend taking some time to fill out the questions below. It's not easy work, but it just may 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 on gifts is one of the most-stress inducing obligations we put on ourselves and others. 

By taking stock of how spending actually makes you feel, you may find that spending less on an equally meaningful gift brings you just as much joy as splashing out 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 impact 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 bring back 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 negative experiences.

#3. Examine Your Negative Memories About the Holiday Season

Filling out this section can be unpleasant, but it is critical to understanding how our memories, good and bad, shape our behavior.

  • Which unpleasant memories 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 one through three, 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.

#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 feature you on her "Christmas Special?

"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 getting clear and connected to how your experiences and emotions connect to your money behaviors, you are giving yourself the gift of clarity.

Plus, this is where the fun begins. In the next step, you’ll create your holiday vision!

#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 this year 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 "that's the way we've always done it" thinking.

  • Close your eyes and imagine the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and events. Write it down in detail, and you're done!

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

In the next step, you’ll create possibilities around your vision with a spending plan that works.

#6. Create Your Holiday Spending Plan

Now that you've envisioned a pleasant, new 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. Expenses - write out a list of every single item you would like to spend on this season (ex. decorations, gifts, wrapping, shipping, food, drink, music, etc.)
  2. 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. Avoid making any adjustments to the numbers you've assigned, even after you've tallied it up.
  5. Identify where the funds for each item will come from (ex. checking, saving, holiday bonus, 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!

#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 the following questions:

  • 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.
    • Ask yourself: 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 consideration and value to.

Next up, planning to spend your time and energy so you can enjoy the holiday season.

#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, 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. This may be few and far between given the circumstances of this year, but it's still important to do.
  • Ask yourself if the plan seems 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 get joy out of having total control over my finances and directing where my hard-earned money goes. The holidays are no different.

So, in the next step, you’ll learn how to track your money so you have no surprises or hefty credit card bills.

#9. Checking It Twice … heck, just keep track!

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 (get in on the MoneyGrit presale now! Give yourself an early present that has the potential to transform your business and personal life - it is truly a gift of 30 years in the making!)
  • 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.

And finally, in step 10 you enjoy the holiday you’ve envisioned and created.

#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 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 holiday magic and joy. 

You deserve it!

Happy Holidays!

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