The financial Armageddon we call the “festive season”

Christmas shoppingRemember those days when you looked forward to the Christmas holidays? Long lazy summer days eating lychees and mangos; waking up on Christmas morning to gifts under the Christmas tree; a family feasts where you ate until you were ready to burst.

When did that all change? Probably when you started paying for it! It’s a lot more fun when you are receiving the gifts than when you are paying for them – and not everyone gets all “Nigella Lawson” about sweating over a hot, steamy oven in 30-degree heat to feed relatives you only see at Christmas for good reason.

Let’s be honest: financial stress has become the Grinch who stole Christmas. We are at a point where we need support groups to get us through the financial and emotional nightmare we so ironically call the festive season.

A survey in the US found that nearly half the respondents get so stressed about the festive season that they would happily cancel it! Admittedly the company that sponsored the survey, Think Finance, offers payday loans and is probably directly responsible for all those stresses, but even Australian youths are tapped out by the end-of-year festivities.

Headspace, the national youth mental health foundation in Australia, found that a third of the youth surveyed said Christmas made them feel worse than usual and one in five would be relieved if the holiday was cancelled. While these kids may not be paying for the festivities themselves, they are experiencing the direct emotional fallout from their parents – almost 60 percent complained about tensions between family members while more than half mentioned financial pressures.

Time to take Christmas back

It’s time to take Christmas back and turn it into something that actually has meaning. A couple of years ago we stopped giving presents to our two sons and decided to rather give them an experience. We have done helicopter rides, swum with seals and paraglided off mountains. These family experiences have been by far the most appreciated by our children.

Rather than supporting the economy of China and spending money on presents which lose their appeal before you’ve even finished paying them off, have a conversation with your family and find out what makes each member of your family feel loved. Then find a way to give them that special gift that makes them feel loved without getting into debt. In the book “The Five Love Languages” authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell talk about the five ways that make people feel loved. We are all different so we express and receive love in different ways.

If the love language is:

Quality time: Give your child/partner a voucher for an activity that they enjoy and that you can do together. Or you could buy a gift that encourages spending time together, like a soccer ball or a cookery book.

Words of affirmation: Write a letter expressing why you love and value your child or partner – what they mean to you and how special they are. Even if words are not your forte, use words from a poem or song that express how you feel, or make a collage of words that describe them and frame it.

Gifts: For some people gifts are an expression of love, so spend time finding a gift that says “I know you”. It is not the amount of money you spend but rather a demonstration that you have taken time to select a gift that is perfect for them.

Acts of service: Buy a serving tray as a gesture that you will be making breakfast in bed once a month or a lovely single-cup teapot because you’ll be bringing them tea in bed each morning. Upload music onto an MP3 player for your technically-challenged partner or help your child to re-decorate their room.

Physical touch: Buy a soft fluffy blanket that you’ll snuggle under together or write up a voucher for a foot massage. Some teenagers experience physical touch through contact sports so a rugby ball that allows you time to “tackle” each other is a great gift. Buy your daughter a new hairbrush and give her a voucher where you make time to brush and style her hair once a week.

This article first appeared on Change Exchange

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