Categorized | Expenses, Relationships

Dealing with Holiday Financial Stress

As we jump into November, we find ourselves neck deep in the Holiday season. Some stores have already started putting Christmas/”Winter” decorations up. Others are waiting until the end of November when Thanksgiving is officially over.

One thing that the holidays mean is increased financial activity for the economy as a whole. People are busy buying lots of food and lots of gifts.

I wanted to discuss the financial pressures that the holidays bring, and ways to relieve the stress.


Causes of financial stress:

Here are some common social pressures that cause financial stress during the holidays:

  • Attaching Happiness with Material Things – Retail industry gears up for the holidays, telling you that to be happy you need things and you believe them. You shop till you drop, thinking that the things in your basket will make this holiday a happy one. However, the more you spend, the larger your debt grows. Once the holiday is over, you’re facing large amounts of debt.
  • Social Expectations – Oftentimes you feel the need to protect your friends and family from your financial difficulties. You feel the social pressures to be happy and successful. You might spend money you don’t have to meet these social expectations.
  • Too Many Responsibilities – You over commit to your loved ones. You schedule too many parties, too many extra activities and too many family obligations. The financial burden of these obligations can make a difficult situation worse.
  • Topping Yourself – Every year, you want this holiday to be better than the next one. You feel as if you can’t “beat” last year’s holiday then you’re a failure. Or you’re in competition with another family member to provide the “better” holiday. Sometimes in the heat of the competition with yourself or someone else, you spend far too much.

If you ignore these social stressors, it can have a negative effect on you and your loved ones.

Negative effects of financial stress:

Stress isn’t just a pain in the butt that exists in some sort of emotional vacuum. No, it effects other parts of our lives in drastic ways. Financial stress can affect you in many ways:

  • Health – Financial stress can have an effect on someone’s physical and mental health. It can cause someone to feel angry, depressed and fatigued if they’re staying up at night. More extreme cases can cause headaches, upset stomachs and muscular tension. AARP survey on the Impact of Economy on Health Behaviors found that 20% of the participants reported health issues due to financial stress. (Source)
  • Lashing Out – Financial stress can cause someone to lash out against their family and friends. In some extreme cases even lead to domestic violence. Last holiday season, National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) ran a 6-week study on the link between financial stress and domestic violence and found that 54% of victims who called their national hotline reported a change in their financial situation in the past year. (Source)
  • Self Destruction – Financial stress can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as increased drinking, illicit drug use, over-eating, excessive gambling and even additional spending. These behaviors can start effecting one’s work, school or home life negatively.

You may feel like you’re alone. That you can’t reach out. You might feel guilty that you can’t offer the holiday that you feel you should. Those negative feelings are not going to help you.

How to Cope with Financial Stress

Instead, start coping with your financial stress with these strategies:

  • Be Real – Stop putting on airs to your family and friends and be honest about your financial situation. Being honest with them will relieve many of the financial pressures that come with the holiday.
  • Take Care of Yourself – It’s hard enough to deal with problems when you’re healthy. If you’re having physical and/or mental health issues, you need to seek help from a healthcare provider, spiritual leader, school counselor, psychologist or community health clinic.
  • Deal with Your Debt – Hiding from your debt problems and continuing your current spending habits will only make the situation worse. It’s never too late to start dealing with debt.
  • Release Stress – Physical exercise can go a long way to release stress and reduce anxiety. You can also funnel your negative stress into free activities and hobbies to get your mind off your debt problems.

How Do You Cope?

When you feel financially stressed out because of all of the pressure from the holidays, what do you do?

Just realize: You’re not alone. According to the National Retail Federation, this tough economy is impacting two-thirds of families this holiday season. Many families are going to be spending less, shopping the sales, using last year’s decorations and cutting out holiday travel. Focus on your family and be thankful for what you have this holiday, rather than what you don’t. Just by changing your mindset, you can have a happy holiday.

Get to know the author!

Kathryn Katz is an avid cat lover, single mom, internet marketer and professional copywriter. Kathryn is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor and works for Consolidated Credit Counseling Services.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. ctreit Says:

    I have another idea how to deal with this kind of stress: plan ahead and stick to your plan. If you know that the holidays cause you stress year after year, you should be motivated to plan ahead this time so that you avoid negative feelings.

    I have made a major change around the holidays. Instead of focusing on material things, we conscientiously focus on spending time with family. It is cheaper (unless we have to fly to see our family), but this is definitely much more rewarding.
    .-= ctreit´s last blog ..Does your family budget have room for a PupStep Plus? =-.


    MyLifeROI Reply:


    I think you make a great point, planning is KEY.

    You’re change towards spending time with family over purchasing material items is a great thought. Sometimes I wish my parents would do the same thing… but they just like to buy things. Unfortunately!


  2. Craig Says:

    The holidays are a time to enjoy with friends and family, it should not be stressful. sit back, relax, plan accordingly and everything will be fine. If you have saved some money prior to this time, presents, food and more will be ok.


    MyLifeROI Reply:


    Great point. I haven’t used Budget Pulse (tbh), does it have a feature similar to Mint where you can plan for irregular expenditures in your budget?

    For example: Say I spend $600 every December for Xmas gifts. I can have Mint budget $50 every month and roll it over so that in December I see I have “$600 to spend.”


    Craig Reply:

    @MyLifeROI, In our new savings goals function you could create a “gifts” goal and have $50 recur to that account from your desired account to see it accumulate and grow over time. I believe that is what you are asking. That is a lot to spend on gifts, ha. I have begun saving and don’t spend nearly that much, you have some lucky friends and family.


  3. Abdullah Says:

    Thanks for offering insights on all the potential side effects that financial stress can cause. One must take certain precautions in order to completely avoid these kinds of negative and sometimes destructive behavior. I think financially-related problems can really provoke many headaches. But if one does not deal with the core of the real problem, then there cannot be any solution.


  4. Bret @ Hope to Prosper Says:

    I was always stressed out around the holidays. The pressure of work, buying all of the gifts and atending all of the social functions would alsways wear me down.

    So, about three years ago, I called a family meeting and I told everyone that I was changing Christmas. I told the family that were were going to start doing more giving and less receiving. I started giving them more Christmas money to shop with and I bought them fewer gifts. They all loved it. They got to do more shopping and I had a lot less stress.
    .-= Bret @ Hope to Prosper´s last blog ..Plight of the Consumer =-.


    MyLifeROI Reply:

    @Bret @ Hope to Prosper,

    Interesting concept. Gifts inevitably lead to a deadweight loss (meaning: You give a $20 pair of headphones to your son, which he isn’t too fond of. If he had $20 to spend otherwise, he could have made himself much more satisfied. This is inevitably a “gap” or “deadweight loss” between expectations and results).

    By getting less gifts and just giving money, I can see how that would make things easier and more enjoyable. However, it could be weird if everyone is just exchanging money. At that point, why not just go buy something for yourself based on how much you were going to give and forego the giving?

    Too much thought into this.. ;)


    Kathryn Katz Reply:


    It’s funny, but my joy in the gift giving is getting something for someone that they wouldn’t get for themselves, but could definitely use. Then seeing the excitement or joy that the gift brings. Money just doesn’t have the same thoughtfulness to me.

    What’s important is that gift doesn’t have to come from a retail store. I found a great site,, that promotes the giving of someone’s time rather than a monetary gift. :)


    Bret @ Hope to Prosper Reply:


    No, I didn’t give them extra money just to buy something for themselves. I gave them extra money to buy gifts for others. So, I was promoting giving instead of receiving. And, they liked buying and giving gifts a lot more than getting a bunch of gifts from me.

    Now, my kids are getting big. They have jobs and earn their own Christmas money. But, they still have the Christmas spirit of giving.


  5. Emergency Cash Says:

    My wife and I have made a pact that we don’t put pressure on ourselves to keep up with the commercial pressure to spend a bunch of money.

    We send out holiday cards, make some merry Christmas phone calls and then enjoy Christmas day at home with our own kids.

    We have learned that being able to say NO is GOOD for the SOUL!
    .-= Emergency Cash´s last blog ..No Teletrack Payday Loans =-.


  6. Credit Guru Says:

    I’m extremely frugal, so fortunately I have no trouble saving for the extra expense of “giftmas”, but I see and hear about others troubles every day throughout the season. I know one thing, it really gets out of hand sometimes, IMO it’s not about giving the best or most expensive gifts, it’s about being with your family and enjoying the time together. I know it sounds cheesy, but am I wrong?
    .-= Credit Guru´s last blog ..Do not get ripped off by credit consolidation con artists =-.


  7. Adam Says:

    The key to eliminating financial stress to planning, and simply not living beyond your own means. This seems to prove very difficult for most people, but it’s really common sense.

    I mean, we know that Christmas is coming each year so saving some cash a few months ahead of time will surely make life much easier from a financial standpoint come gift buying time!


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    [...] Life ROI – Meanwhile, MLR discusses the financial pressures that the holidays bring and ways to relieve the stress.  In the post, MLR notes that, “Financial stress can cause someone to lash out against their [...]

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I'm MLR. After graduating from college debt free, I decided to write a blog encouraging people to adapt responsible and sensible personal finance rules.

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