Here we go, into the year end (2023 was a whirlwind, wasn’t it?) … hopefully it’s been a good year personally, in spite of all of the external goings ons… stress makes us all less patient and more trigger-happy on our emotional outbursts. And since the holidays are also a stressful time of interacting with people or maybe even planning NOT to interact to get some downtime … I think it’s a good idea every year to be proactive about managing expectations.
Since my mom and dad passed, I am alone in my celebration traditions. When everyone was alive, the family dynamic and how everyone felt about the holidays could really start to annoy me and push my buttons. Sometimes even before the holidays, just talking about things!
The fundamental issue with allowing your buttons to get pushed over the holidays (or any other time) is that you start from a position of weakness. If you’re feeling down, put upon, or inconvenienced by something, I have found that often, people feel justified in “fixing” that issue with money. Suddenly, you’re throwing money at something you never intended to, because you’re trying to balance or manage your frustration. Believe me, I’ve been there.
The thing is, though, I have a choice. I can make myself miserable holding onto the past, or I can move forward into this new reality.
Choose your happy
I run into this all the time with money issues; people get their buttons pushed because they hold on so strongly to the past (good AND bad) that they can’t properly move into their current money reality – which is essential to becoming financially happy. Or, there’s a part of you (and me) that actually ENJOYS complaining (not that we’d ever admit it!).
But here’s the thing: No one else can “make me” feel anything I don’t want to. It’s your decision as to how you perceive the external environment—people included—that creates your reaction, nothing else. So, in reality, when you feel like you’re getting your buttons pushed, it’s always about you, and never the other person!
Maybe you give extravagant gifts to try to make up for a distant relationship with a family member or you throw huge parties to try to impress someone who is never impressed. Maybe you overspend on your kids to make up for feeling a lack of love from your own family. Or maybe you start acting like Scrooge because of the stress holiday bills cause between you and your spouse.
The key then is to nip these behaviors in the bud this year — before they take hold.
Eliminate your buttons
I figured it out for myself a while back… it was important for me to understand my expectations and then build my holiday spending plan around that. But to do that, I had to really get clear around what was bugging me and what I was going to do about it:
Write your story. For me, it’s easiest to get my entire story out if I pretend that I am writing an email to a friend who isn’t familiar with my family, and explain to this person how my family acts around the holidays and why it’s so frustrating to me. I list all of the things that I resent, what I expect, and what annoys me about my family members. I don’t actually send this to anyone but myself! But it sure is cathartic.
List all of the buttons being pushed. After I read my own email, I identify the things that push my buttons… and the patterns that tend to come up as a result. For example, maybe Aunt Marge always brings up the fact that I’m not married yet, which makes me want to show off that I’m financially happy and successful on my own, so I end up taking the entire extended family out for an expensive meal… And so on.
How do you WANT to feel? This step took me a long way toward feeling more empowered about my holidays, but I still have a ways to go to make the season fully satisfying. I decided that I want to feel connected, grounded, happy, and peaceful. If I can achieve those feelings on a daily basis, I’ll consider the season successful. So…
How can you achieve those feelings on your own? This is where I (and you) need to translate those feeling states into specific behaviors. For example:
Connected means – plan visits with friends, attend group events
Grounded means – maintain exercise routine and self-care, schedule hair appointment, get a massage
Happy means – plan holiday activities (as small as having a Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks, driving to look at holiday lights in the evening or strolling through a holiday bazaar to see the crafts)
Peaceful means – stick to a daily meditation routine even when out of town, schedule downtime to just sit around and enjoy my decorations
What’s awesome is that you can almost always find ways to feel what you want to feel during the holidays and stick to your financial plans. Want to feel generous? Maybe donating a $20 gift for a kid who otherwise wouldn’t have any will push that button better than pricey gifts to your family and friends ever could. There are sooo many paths to achieving financially happy holidays.
The point is, going in with your eyes open and with a plan instead of reacting from your gut every time a button gets pushed is a much savvier way to approach the holidays — both from a financial and an emotional place.
P.S. I have some holiday worksheets in my library of free resources, you can get those here.