Holiday Hangovers: Stuff, Stuffed, and Stuffing

Holiday hangovers: how do you get through without them? Halloween is now the second biggest holiday for consumer spending, after Christmas. What used to be a couple hours of candy collection with a homemade costume and a paper grocery bag is now practically a national holiday. More candy is consumed. More costumes are purchased. Yard decorations have grown to need extension cords with extensions. When it’s all over, where does all the stuff go? In the attic, the garage, the storage unit, or the garbage? Thus, the Halloween candy-and-stuff hangover.

Next comes Thanksgiving, where we stuff ourselves with, literally, stuffing. We stuff our brains with football and TV. Some families stuff all of the important conversations for the past year into a few hours at the table. Emotions can run high. Thus, the Thanksgiving stuffing-football-and-family hangover.

And finally, Christmas, the king of holiday stuff. Decorations, trees, food, family, parties, gifts, more candy, cake, and alcohol can all lead to some kind of hangover. When it’s over, depleted bank statements and depleted emotions can cause the same headache as chips and eggnog. Christmas – king of hangovers.

What do overdrinking, weight gain, TV watching, family dynamics, and overspending have in common? Unawareness we have gotten in over our heads before we know it.

How To Build Awareness

Building awareness involves some way to keep track of where we are along the way. For example, I joined Weight Watchers in December 2000. The best tool of the program was the daily journal. Logging what I ate every day had more impact on my diet decisionmaking than any other single factor.

Similarly, when a group of experimental homeowners were given an electric meter next to their thermostat, they used 7% to 19% less electricity than those with outside meters. Another proof that awareness works.

3 Ideas for Overspending

If overspending is the holiday hangover to avoid, the most effective, and for some, drastic, awareness-building method is to use cash. This would involve deciding on the holiday budget ahead of time. Take that amount of cash out of the ATM and go shopping. When it’s depleted, it’s depleted. Some people even separate an envelope for each person on their list (kind of crude, but effective). (I know anyone in law enforcement reading this would want me to add that it’s physically risky to carry around a bunch of cash, especially at the holidays, so be aware of your surroundings, too.)

Increasingly, though, holiday shopping is being done online. Same concept, but use a pre-paid debit card. This is almost like watching the cash deplete in your wallet, but not quite the same psychological impact.

Credit Cards

Let’s say you use a credit card. Using credit cards is like having the electric meter on the outside of the house. You never get to compare what you have spent to a predetermined budget, or to the amount available on your prepaid card. Psychological studies show that when used in stores, since the credit card is handed back to us, it reduces the feeling that we have spent anything. Our wallet looks the same afterward. No awareness.

To build spending awareness and still use credit cards, sign up fora daily or weekly reminder of your charges and the current balance. (Not all companies will do this, tragically.) Then, transfer your charges for that period from your bank account. At the extreme, you might make 30 payments on your credit card over the holidays, but so what? It’s helping you avoid the hangover.

So if you are concerned about how you will get through the holidays without financial regret, plan in advance how to stay aware.

And if your hangovers are of a different kind, you’re not alone. There is help. AA.org helps with all kinds of addiction. Al-anon.org is for friends and families of alcoholics or addicts, where family dynamics are a struggle. Or, call a local Certified Addiction Professional for more one-on-one advice.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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