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Managing Holiday Expectations
Sure, the holidays are filled with fun and family. But too often they are also filled with stress, and much of that stress comes from unrealistic expectations. You want things to be perfect, your kids have a whole list of presents, and family and friends expect you to show up for their holiday party or their Christmas dinner. The time to start managing those expectations is long before you are caught up in the holiday madness.
Start by thinking about two things: what you want, and what you can afford. If you are married, include your spouse. Talk about how each of you sees the holidays. Do you want to have time to relax, or do you enjoy the wall-to-wall entertaining? Whom do you want to see – and whom do you want to avoid? What holiday traditions do you feel strongly that you want to create or follow, and what ones can you do without?
Then talk about money. Spending often gets out of hand during the holidays, leaving you facing a ton of bills in the new year. Did you spend more last year than you intended? Where did your extra spending come from, and how can you avoid it this year?
It helps to make a budget. Start with what you feel you can comfortably spend, and then allocate that spending. How much for entertaining, how much for decorating, how much for travel? And of course, how much for gifts? You have the best chance of staying within your budget if you write down what you plan to spend and keep track of what you actually spend as the holidays approach.
There are lots of ways to reduce holiday spending. For example, you can cut back on entertaining or host a potluck rather than a formal dinner. You can send e-cards rather than actual cards. You can make gifts rather than buy them: Does your elderly aunt really need another box of candy, or would she prefer a simple framed photo of herself with your family?
If you are thinking of cutting back your gift list, talk to the people involved. For example, you may find that your brother is more than willing to be cut from your gift list as long as he can cut you from his. Or suggest that, in lieu of gifts, your family or group of friends make a donation to a charity.
Once you and your spouse decide on an approach, communicate that. If your children are old enough, talk to them about the need to place a cap on holiday gift spending. You might even discuss with them whether they would prefer to skip gifts altogether and do something as a family, such as take a trip or go see a play.
If you have decided to cut back on your entertaining or on your holiday visits, let the people involved know. Explain why you are cutting back, but don’t let yourself be talked out of your position. You might suggest that you get together after the holidays, when everyone has more time.
Finally, remember that the whole point of the holidays is not spending too much money or spreading yourself too thin. It is spending time thinking about and being with the people who are most important to you.