Warning: Financial Danger Ahead
It’s nearly here. We’ll soon be serenaded with the soothing lines of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and “I’ll be home for Christmas.” But, come on, it’s 2020. This holiday season will be nothing like it has in our lifetimes. Families will struggle to make the decision of what their holidays will look like. Spring holiday gatherings were skipped and summer celebrations were canceled, but the verdict is very much out on how a beleaguered population will handle the beloved fall and winter holidays.
There is little question about the COVID-19 pandemic increasing stress and anxiety for Americans, notably so for parents who have been thrust into either a work-from-home environment or those who must continue to work outside the home while also managing full-time childcare and e-learning for their kids. They are simultaneously desperate for a change while also being committed to doing their part in stopping the spread.
The fall and winter holidays are typically a pathway to community and joy as the days get shorter and we prepare for dreary winter days. But there is a potential danger in our response to the feelings of loss that accompany a holiday season unlikely to meet our usual expectations. In the absence of the anticipation and excitement, it will be easy to look for other (very possibly unhealthy) ways to get a feel-good sensation.
A very common response to loneliness and boredom is to pick up a phone and start scrolling. Multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Once the social media sites have been exhausted and without feeling perceptively better the next step is to check the daily deals at a favorite online retailer. Retail therapy, or comfort shopping, is well-recognized and provides a very short-lived increase in satisfaction.
I have challenged many clients over the years to open their Amazon app and review their purchases over a three-month period. Many were surprised to find that despite their perception of only making occasional necessary purchases that they were actually in the undeniable habit of making daily self-gifting purchases. Without the promise of gatherings with friends and family, it will be tempting to find comfort in holiday shopping to mask boredom and loneliness. There may be real enjoyment in the process of seeking and finding a thoughtful gift, but it’s not likely to yield a lasting mood boost for either the giver or receiver.
5 Tips for Financially Succeeding in the 2020 Holiday Season
1) Begin planning now. It’s no surprise that I’m advocating for making a holiday spending plan well ahead of December. There is far less pressure to influence financial decisions while we’re still thinking about Halloween. The steps are fairly simple – determine a reasonable amount that can be spent on all-things holiday and then begin breaking it down from there. Use time as an ally to make smart purchasing decisions that aren’t subject to time-sensitive deadlines.
2) Put down the phone. Reaching for a phone is now second nature. We must simply force ourselves to do something else. In my own experience in the last month, I’ve committed to picking up a book instead of mindless online time and I’m now on my ninth book. It feels great as I’m more energetic, motivated and thoughtful.
3) Buy local. Small businesses were just getting by before COVID-19 and now it’s economic life or death. Without a robust holiday season, many won’t make it to 2021. Amazon share prices are up over 80% year-to-date as of this writing. Those profits don’t come without an impact on local retailers. I urge you to consider purchasing choices carefully and how you want your own main street to look this time next year. The simple process of buying locally creates community ties that matter.
4) Practice mindfulness. When you are deep in online shopping, stop and ask “What is it I am seeking?” followed by “Why?” And then “Why” again. Ask “Why” as many times as it takes to get to an a-ha moment. From that moment, you’re in a more level-headed position to make purchasing decisions.
5) Invest in community and social connection. Spend a wonderful twelve minutes watching this Ted Talk about a 75-year Harvard study. Social connection takes extra effort in this season of our lives, but it’s quite possibly never been more important to tend. Strong personal relationships create fulfillment that leaves little to no space for empty consumerism.
We’re all learning to be more resilient and self-sufficient. The year 2020 is unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who lived through it, but we don’t have to give up just yet. My husband and I refer to his period of deployment to the Middle East as “the best experience we never want again.” The coming months can be the same. Stay in control of your approach, remain flexible and focus on the good. There are still plentiful opportunities to round out the year with intentionally crafted gratitude.