Slash Holiday Money Anxiety With These Strategies

Slash Holiday Money Anxiety With These Strategies

Cash flow problems are a top cause of seasonal stress. But they don’t have to be.

In a perfect world, the holidays would be stress-free—a joyful time spent making memories with loved ones. But when you’re strapped for cash, the season may seem like more of a burden than a celebration.

Lack of money is the second biggest stressor of the holidays, behind only lack of time, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. About 6 in 10 of those questioned said they were sometimes or often anxious about seasonal spending. When it’s chronic or untreated, stress can contribute to depression, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure and even heart problems.

Spend strategically
Cutting back on holiday money stress starts with managing your cash flow. Begin by creating a realistic budget that includes all your potential spending, from family gifts to stamps for holiday cards. Use a list when you shop, so you’re not tempted to buy extra items. Track every purchase on paper or with a smartphone app. Save all your budgeting and spending information to give you a good reference for next year. 

If you can, begin shopping early. Many good deals emerge at the beginning of the season, and last-minute shopping can make it easier to splurge. Pay with cash at stores, since credit cards may tempt you to overspend. Online, search for coupon codes before purchasing anything; they can save you big bucks. Note return policies and hang on to both digital and paper receipts, just in case.

Traveling? Book flights and hotels well ahead of time. Look into homestays or even short-term rentals, which may be more affordable. Ship gifts to or shop at your destination to cut back on baggage fees.
Do things differently
While it’s important to uphold traditions, it’s okay to change things up, too. When you’re pinched for cash or feeling anxious, scale down or try the holidays another way. 

To start, speak with family and friends about your money limitations—they might be fine with cutting back. If you’re still on the hook for multiple gifts, propose limiting the number by drawing names from a hat or doing a white elephant swap. Baked goods, homemade presents or donating your time may also be options. No busy parent has ever turned down free babysitting.

Try easing up on your obligations, too. Endless seasonal events and fundraisers often come at a mental and financial cost. Stick with the ones you love and bow out of those that may add to your stress. Hosting something yourself? Ask others to pitch in.

Finally, when you find yourself overwhelmed by money anxiety, take a break. Go for a walk, have coffee with a friend or get some rest. Take the focus off the holidays for a little while. Avoid drugs or drinking excessively, which can lead to more problems in the long run. Reach out to loved ones for support. If your stress lasts beyond the holidays or makes it difficult to function, speak with a healthcare provider for help.

Medically reviewed in October 2019.

American Psychological Association. “Holiday Stress,” “Stress effects on the body: Musculoskeletal system.”
Mayo Clinic. “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.”
Stone, Jillian. “’Tis the Season for Saving.” Military America Saves. November 16, 2017.
McGarvey, Suzi. “Reducing Holiday Financial Stress.” University of Missouri Extension/ November 28, 2016.
Northwestern Family Institute. “How to Deal with Holiday Financial Stress.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Federal Occupational Health. “7 Healthy Holiday Tips,” “Managing Holiday Stress.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "12 Ways to Have a Healthy Holiday Season."
Collins-Sharp, Beth A. “Say ‘No’ to Holiday Stress.” December 17, 2014

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