You know “stuff” isn’t what makes the holiday season truly fulfilling. Yet each year, despite your best intentions, you end up shopping too much, rushing too much, stressing too much…and savoring the moment too little. Here are 10 suggestions to help you maximize your joy by making small, deliberate changes in the way you spend (or don’t spend) your money this holiday season
Set a gift-giving budget
By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have learned that giving and receiving unneeded gifts is an enormous waste of money. Sit down (perhaps with your spouse) at the beginning of the season and develop a holiday budget. Draw names for extended family members.
Replace gifts with experiences
Experiences are much more memorable and fulfilling than “stuff.” Instead of participating in a gift exchange, you and your loved ones might spend a morning baking cookies together to enjoy or give as gifts; choose a local charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, nursing home, or homeless shelter; organize a lunch or dinner together; or take a drive to look at holiday decorations, attend a concert, or visit a museum or nearby town. Get creative as you plan your experiences.
Make a list, check it twice
Make a list of the people you want to buy for and brainstorm specific gifts you’d like to find for each individual. With your list in hand, you’ll be less likely to become sidetracked by all of the attractive store displays.
Leave credit cards at home
Commit to using cash when you visit retail stores. Studies have shown that we spend about 15 percent more when we use a credit card rather than cash.
If possible, do your shopping during off-peak hours, as early in the season as you can. The less you have to fight the crowds, the easier it will be to find everything on your list — and the less stressed you’ll be.
Browse some virtual shelves
Many online retailers offer attractive discounts that are difficult to find in brick-and-mortar stores, and some even offer free shipping. Again, just be sure to shop early so that the items you want are in stock, and so that you don’t have to pay for rush shipping.
Understand that value often has nothing to do with price
Of course you want recipients to like, use, and value the gifts you give them. That’s why we’re tempted to go all out and purchase expensive items — they’re certain to make a big impression! But the most memorable, treasured gifts often don’t come with big price tags.
Remember the reason for the season
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the holidays are most fulfilling when you focus on your family, your spirituality, and your values.
Celebrate your success
Celebrate the positive financial changes you’ve made by planning a special treat for yourself sometime after the holidays.
Donna Skeels Cygan, CFP, MBA, is the owner of the financial advisory firm Sage Future Financial, LLC, and the author of The Joy of Financial Security: The art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future.