By Jan Bruce
We could debate endlessly about the commercialization of the holidays, and how we've turned it all into one long expensive exchange. But now's not the time to bemoan the Way Things Are. I don't want you to boycott the system or write off the holidays. But whatever and however you decide to spend this season, I ask you to do so mindfully.
I know your urge to spend comes from a good place: You want to please the people in your life. You want to impress them and make them happy. And while you know they'd be just as happy with something small, you want to go over and above.
The problem is that spending can get away from you, and debt is no way to start the New Year. Here are my guidelines for mindful spending this holiday:
Think first, spend later. It's easy to get spurred by the catalogs, advertisements, storefronts, and specials that try to convince you that this -- whatever this is -- is what you need to get. Now! That siren call is tough to resist. So instead, ask yourself: What do I want to give to this person? How much do I want to spend? Write this out for everyone on your list and then add it up -- it's still going to be a lot, and you're probably being conservative. Know what your wiggle room is going in so you're not slapped with more than you can handle come January.
Look under the surface. Don't just ask who you're buying for, but why? Think about what you're hoping to achieve. Maybe one gift is serving up as a big thank you for something that person helped you with this year. Or is it that you've been on rough terrain and are hoping a gift will smooth it out? Peer below the surface of your relationship to see if perhaps there's another issue at play.
Perhaps you're hoping your gift will compensate for something you're missing. Maybe you're trying to prove something. It's hard to separate actions from beliefs, so in order to really understand what you're spending, look hard at what other issues are at play.
Then ask yourself: Will buying this gift, or spending that money, change something, and if so, what? If you can see that your itch to overspend comes from a place of need or fear, time to reassess your actions.
(Read more about how under-the-surface ideas can affect your behavior.)
Take your time. If you are contemplating a bigger purchase, keep contemplating. Don't give in to the rush-rush-panic-purchase cycle (which is, of course, being instigated by the people with something to sell). Do a shopping round where you don't buy a thing -- just look. Visualize. Consider. Build in a delay between the urge to purchase and the actual transaction. You'll be glad you did.
Think quality, not quantity. It's easy to fall into the trap of layering your gifts -- buying lots of other stuff to make up for what you fear is "not enough." This is a scarcity-driven approach to gift giving, one that fears you don't have or are not enough. What you want is abundance. Rather than cobble together a bunch of "stuff," focus on the one thing you want that person to have. It is enough.
Extend the exchange. The fun of gift giving should go beyond the moment the wrapping paper comes off. Do your best to meet the people you want to give to in person, and spend some time together. Remember, it's really not about the gift as much as you think. The real gift is what you are to each other, and that deserves more than a simple exchange. So meet for hot chocolate, or lunch. Stop by on a Sunday. Share some quality time. When you put your heart and soul into every exchange, you'll find you have far more to give than merchandise -- and that you receive far more in return.
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