A few years ago, I did something kind of radical.
My family and I decided not to do Christmas gifts. At all.
Every other enneagram two’s just fainted –– I can feel it.
It’s not that I don’t love giving gifts. I like, reaaaaalllllyyy love giving gifts. However, we came to this decision together because Christmas gifting can sometimes feel like a landmine. As much as I love gift-giving, it can also be one of the hardest things to do for family. So instead, we’re just spending time together –– enjoying the Christmas season for what it means to us.
I still showered the shit out of my friends with gifts and did company gifts for the HFK team. I made that choice because I wanted to, and it aligned with my values system. It’s also just way easier to shop for friends and my team.
I get to make these choices because of my finances and not in spite of them, which is an incredibly privileged place to be.
As we head into the holidays, you might be juggling the financial weight of an upcoming recession, the weight of family expectations, general financial strain, and so much more. This time of year can be joyful, but it can also highlight some of the hardest parts of life. Trust me, I get it. That’s why today I’m sharing some of my best tips on setting emotional and financial boundaries for the holidays.
The Practical: Sinking Funds
One of the simplest money tools I use is “sinking funds.” I’ve got a whole article on what sinking funds are and how they’re best used, but to sum it up quickly –– think of sinking funds as little piggy banks for your big purchases throughout the year. I’m talking vacations, weddings, house down payments, birthdays, and of course –– the holidays.
You calculate your sinking funds by starting with the budget first and then breaking it down into how many “payments” you’ll be able to make into your savings account. We’re pretty close to the holidays now, but you still have a few weeks left to get started on a holiday gifting fund.
Breaking it down, if you get two more paychecks between now and Christmas and you’d like to budget $300 for gifts, you’ll need to set aside $150 per paycheck into your “holiday sinking fund.”
Now that you have this handy strategy, you can plan ahead for next year and put aside smaller amounts over a longer period of time.
Bonus: make sure to keep your savings in a High Yield Savings Account –– that way, your money will earn interest as your savings grows! Your regular bank interest account is earning you literal pennies, so switching to a HYSA will help you start earning more money right away. And don’t worry — I know the holidays are busy af, but switching to a HYSA is easy and will only take a few minutes!
Need help with your spending? I’ve got a free gift tracking spreadsheet that might help you this holiday season!
The Emotional: Set Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries can be incredibly difficult during the holidays –– especially if you’re already a part of a family dynamic where just saying the word “boundaries” could open the door to familial stress or conflict.
Setting healthy holiday budgeting boundaries for gifts might sound like, “this year has been difficult for me financially, and I have set a hard boundary of not going into debt to pay for gifts. Is there another way I can contribute to our gathering that’s within my budget?”
It may be difficult to talk about your personal finances –– know that you don’t have to go deep into detail. The best thing you can do is offer an alternative option, like bringing food or a gift that can be enjoyed by the whole family like a board game or a favorite film. And as cheesy as it is –– sometimes the best gift is truly your presence.
This same script can be used outside of family gatherings. Oftentimes, work or friend holiday parties can come with big expectations. It’s totally okay to opt out of the white elephant gift exchange this year or ask for a budget to be set for gift-giving games to make it more accessible to those who don’t have as much to spare.
Practical & Emotional: It’s Okay to be Choosy
In the spirit of opting out of awkward work parties or gift exchanges, give yourself permission to be choosy about who you give gifts to this season. This might mean breaking your overall holiday budget into categories based on people you’d like to buy an extremely thoughtful or more expensive gift for and people who you just want to show a little love.
The latter can include people like your kid’s teachers, coaches, favorite gym instructor, work buddy, pet sitter, or clergy member. You don’t have to go all in and spend hundreds on these gifts –– to be honest, they’ll probably be thrilled that you took the time to think of them, even if it’s just a personalized card or a bar of artisan chocolate (yum!).
What’s really important when it comes to gift-giving is to not let how others do it affect you. Every year is a little different –– you might be able to give a lot of gifts one year and need to be more selective the next. Do what works for you and your budget.
Let’s Be Honest: The Last Couple of Years Have Been a Dumpster Fire
There’s not really a nicer way to put it –– the last couple of years have been ROUGH for so many of us: a global pandemic, political strife, a crazy housing market, an economic downturn…the list goes on and on. Now that doesn’t take away all the good that has come out of these last few years — in fact, it’s often times like these that reveal just how much we all have to be grateful for.
But what I want to convey is that many of us feel like our energy is at an all-time low and our mental health is…well, it could be better. I want you to know that, if you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. And I want to remind you that — this year more than ever — it’s totally okay for the holidays to feel different; not just financially, but in less tangible ways too.
I implore you, friends –– take care of yourself this year. Create some space to enjoy what you can and not feel let down by all the ways this holiday season may be less than what you’d hoped. You’ve got this.