How To Avoid Holiday Spending Hangovers

holiday hangovers

How to avoid holiday spending hangovers: How do you get through the season without one type of hangover or another? 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 spending hangover starts with stuff.

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. The air is stuffed with emotions. Thus, several types of Thanksgiving hangovers start with stuffing.

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 stuffed hangovers.

What do overdrinking, weight gain, TV watching, family dynamics, and overspending have in common? Unaware, we are stuffed in over our heads before we know it, leading to regret later. How can it be caught before it goes too far?

Have an Awareness Strategy

To avoid regret later, it helps to have an awareness strategy to keep track along the way. For example, I joined Weight Watchers in December 2000. The best tool of the program for me was the daily journal. Logging what I ate every day had more impact on my diet decisionmaking than any other single factor. It brought the awareness to what I was eating. I lost 20 pounds by the next Christmas.

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.

Ideas For Building Spending Awareness

The holiday season often leads to a spending hangover. The most effective, and for some, drastic method is to use cash. But it’s not the most Covid-friendly method. Here’s how it can go:

Decide on the holiday spending maximum.
Take that amount of cash out of the ATM.
Go shopping at physical stores that will take cash.
When it’s gone, you’re done shopping.
Voila’, no hangover.

Some people even keep a separate envelope for each person on their list (kind of crude, but effective). [And my grandmother would have wanted 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 while using this method, too.]

What About Online Shopping

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

Credit Cards and Overspending

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, as 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 for a 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 a final Public Service Announcement: if you’re concerned about hangovers 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. Or, call a local Certified Addiction Professional for more one-on-one advice.

See our Resources page for recommended books on the psychology of money.

Imagine getting through January with no hangovers! You’ll be glad you did.

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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