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Holidays Don’t Have to Be Stressful

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dec9homespunweb.jpgBy Kathy Manweiler

RISMEDIA, Dec. 9, 2008-(MCT)-Stress often goes hand-in-hand with the holidays. Whether you’re wondering how to find enough time to finish your to-do list or you’re worrying about how much money you’ll be spending, we have some expert advice that can give you some breathing room.

“One of the biggest sources of stress is the pressure we put on ourselves to meet up to expectations,” says Nathan Regier, a clinical psychologist.

“The commercial culture would have us believe that we have to do quite a lot of stuff to match up, and of course that means spending money. My kids are already saying the Nintendo DS is the only thing they want for Christmas. They’ve already decided that I’m gonna suck as a dad if I don’t get that thing. If I buy into that, I could get really stressed out.”

But to have happy holidays, you don’t have to go into debt for that Nintendo, keep sending a card to every person you know or bake nine kinds of cookies so everyone can have their favorites.

“We try so hard to make it like it always was. Are you baking the cookies because you have to or because that’s how you feel accepted?” Regier asks. “Change those expectations and do something different.”

Think outside the box:

Instead of buying a pile of presents, find alternatives to spending money.

Don’t worry if a relative can afford expensive gifts and you can’t. “The main thing is to give,” says Stephen C. Yager, a certified financial planner in Wichita. “Give them love _ that’s more important. Write someone a really nice note and give it with love and a smile.”

Several years ago, Regier’s family started giving each other gifts of time. For example, taking a weekend camping trip or going bowling together. “My 5-year-old is spending an evening cooking with my brother to make a meal for the family,” he says. “That’s probably more meaningful and more effective than anything he could have bought for her.”

Plan ahead:

Most Americans don’t bother with a holiday budget, but planning ahead can save you a lot of headaches once the bills start to arrive in January, Yager says.

Some financial planners recommend that you don’t spend more than 1.5 percent of your annual income on gifts. But the gifts aren’t the only expenses you need to factor in. Don’t forget about the cards, postage, decorations, tips and holiday meals.

“If somebody puts together a budget and they figure out how much they’re going to spend on each person and they stick with that, I think the stress level is going to be much less,” Yager says.

If you know you strained your finances over the holidays last year, look back at how much you spent and cut it down from there, Yager suggests.

Here’s one guideline: Were you still making credit card payments on holiday purchases in February or March? If so, you spent too much.

Trim your to-do list:

- Choose to attend the parties and events that are most important to you, then say no to the rest, Regier advises. “You can say, ‘I appreciate you thinking of me. If something changes and I’m available, I’ll let you know,’” he says.

- Instead of baking a wide selection of cookies yourself, gather a small group of friends for a cookie exchange one evening. Ask everyone to make a dozen of one type of cookie for each person attending. If you have six people at the party, each person makes six dozen cookies. That may sound like a lot, but most recipes make at least three dozen cookies, so you’ll only be doubling the batch. You’ll have a festive get-together with friends plus take home a variety of homemade cookies to serve to guests or give away.

Lighten up

“The days are getting shorter, and all of us are affected by less light,” Regier says. “People prone to seasonal depression are really feeling the hit about the time the holidays come, and they want to hunker down, not go out and do stuff.”
Putting full-spectrum light bulbs in your home can help because those bulbs produce light that is similar to natural sunlight.

“Find the lights that you’re around the most in the morning and evening and replace them with full-spectrum bulbs,” Regier says. “Spend 20 minutes in the morning and in the evening in full-spectrum light. It extends the day’s light.”

Kids and money

- Consider giving kids cash. One Christmas, Yager wrote a check to his son and gave him permission to spend the money on whatever he wanted. “He didn’t spend it,” Yager says. “We would have bought $100 worth of stuff that ends up in a garage sale three years later, but now it’s his money, and it had to be something he really, really wanted or he wasn’t going to spend that money. If they’re spending your money, they’ll just spend it until it’s gone _ they want everything. But if they’re spending their money, they’re a whole lot more careful.”

- If your kids want an item you can’t afford, strike a bargain with them, Regier suggests. Tell them you’ll put up the first $50 toward that Nintendo and when the kids have saved their allowance or earned the rest of the money, you’ll go buy it with them. That strategy can teach them a valuable lesson about delayed gratification, and it could put some less extravagant things on their wish lists. “It puts some responsibility on them,” Regier says. “‘Is this what I really want, and am I willing to do some saving for it?’”

Shopping tips

- Before going to the mall, spend a little time learning about the people on your gift list and what would be meaningful to them. “Then you’re not stuck in a store at the last minute trying frantically to get stuff and leave the store just feeling guilty anyway,” Regier says.

During a talk with his nephew, Regier learned about an accessory the boy really wanted for his bike. “It wasn’t a big thing,” Regier says.

- Consider shopping online for some items; it can save you time and money because you can compare prices on similar items.

- Think about a useful gift. “You hear the jokes about men getting socks and underwear for Christmas,” Regier says. “The reason that’s a big deal is guys don’t buy socks and underwear for themselves. They wear holey stuff even though it costs three bucks at Wal-Mart. So it may seem kind of cheesy, but you know they’ll be wearing those socks and underwear.”

For many people, how we behave through the holidays influences the resolutions we make when New Year’s rolls around, Regier says.

“Think about how many of those resolutions are dealing with the guilt of what you’ve been doing the past six weeks _ ‘I spent too much, I ate too much, I drank too much,’ ” he says. “What if we could go through the holidays mindful of that?”

So this season, save yourself from some stress and have a Happy New Year.

© 2008, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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