We’ve entered into what is often the most difficult time of year for shopaholics, the holidays. I probably should have done this post several weeks ago, as it seems the holiday shopping season begins earlier and earlier each year. Even in mid-October, I saw glittering red and green decorations festooned among the displays at Macy’s. Stores don’t even wait until Halloween has passed to start the holiday push.
If you’re anything like me, you have a long history of overshopping during the holiday season. In many ways, this time of year creates a “perfect storm” of temptations for those of us who struggle with compulsive shopping. In today’s post, I highlight some of the primary danger zones inherent in holiday shopping, along with some tips for dealing with them.
The Siren Song of the Sale
Once heralded as the beginning of the holiday shopping season, at least in the United States, Black Friday is the “grand poohbah” of sales. Virtually every store in the country, from department stores to big box stores to small “mom and pop” shops, offers special limited Black Friday sales. Many of these sales have even seeped into Thanksgiving Day, as the stores try to one-up each other and capture their slice of the holiday shopping pie. Before long, I fear that Thanksgiving Day store closures will be a thing of the past.
Of course, many people don’t like to immerse themselves in the chaos that is known as Black Friday, so the retail industry came up with a wonderful (insert sarcasm here…) alternative for them. Cyber Monday was born, allowing the “crowd-phobic” to partake of all the irresistible deals from the comfort of their own homes.
I’ve never been one to brave Black Friday, perhaps due to my propensity for claustrophobia, but I’ve definitely dipped my toe in the Cyber Monday pool. I recall spending countless hours scouring the Cyber Monday deals last year. Although I’d already far exceeded my shopping budget for the year, I didn’t want to miss out on all of the fabulous deals on offer. The items I ended up purchasing were all ill-advised and were either returned or added to my list of “wardrobe benchwarmers” in short order.
Dealing with Black Friday and Cyber Monday
My advice regarding Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to avoid the temptation altogether. It’s far too easy to buy things you don’t need and won’t use simply because you fear you might miss out on a deal. At such sales, we often get swept up in the buying frenzy and buy more than we need in order to “score” additional discounts.
Think about it… How many things have you bought at these holiday sales that you were happy with? In contrast, how many do you wish you’d left at the store or in your online shopping cart?
If you do choose to shop these sales, here’s some advice:
- Set a budget for your shopping. If you’re shopping the brick and mortar stores, use cash instead of credit cards. Place your shopping budget in an envelope and leave your credit cards at home.
- Shop with a list. Itemize what you plan to buy and adhere to that list. If you’re shopping for friends and family members, decide how much you plan to spend for each person and write down ideas of what to buy for them. This will help to keep you on track and less tempted to buy other things.
- Remember H.A.L.T. – Don’t shop when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. If you’re not a night person, don’t go to the mall at midnight on Black Friday. Get some sleep so you’ll have your wits about you when you shop. Take some snacks and water with you, as it will likely be difficult to get food and drinks in a crowded mall.
- Take a break – Before you buy anything, take a few minutes to check in with yourself. Ask yourself if you really need what you’re considering buying. If possible, take a “power pause” or at least allow yourself a bit of time to be sure you’re making a good decision. If you’re shopping online, leave your computer and take a short walk or call a friend before clicking the “buy now” button.
Although it may sound like it, I’m not completely against sales shopping. However, I do feel that many overshoppers make a lot of mistakes in such environments. If you’re on a fixed budget, sales can help you get more for your money, but don’t allow yourself to “settle” simply because something is being offered at a low price. You should always shop with a list, even if you’re shopping a sale. If something you truly need and want is on sale, great. But remember, it’s only a deal if you end up using it!
Buying As Love
Somewhere along the line, the holidays became associated with gifts more than pretty much anything else. We’re told to show our love for the people in our lives through buying them things. Many of us feel a great deal of pressure to find the perfect gifts to appropriately communicate the warm and loving feelings we have toward our family members and friends. In some cases, we don’t even feel all that warmly toward these people, yet we feel compelled to buy gifts for them out of a sense of obligation. We may even put ourselves into deep financial debt simply because we feel we should buy gifts for everyone we know.
Many shopaholics struggle with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. We often don’t believe we are good enough and our buying can be a way to compensate for feelings of lack within ourselves. The holidays really bring out these feelings and can push our shopping into overdrive. Not only do we shop for ourselves, but we buy – and buy and buy – for everyone else in our lives as well. We buy things for others to express our love, as well as to try to earn love from difficult parents, siblings, children, and friends.
In some cases, we feel that others are expecting amazing and fabulous presents from us, when all they really want is the pleasure of our presence around them at the holidays. The pressure to buy the perfect gifts often comes more from within ourselves (along with the retail industry, of course) than from anyone else.
Confessions of a Former “Ultimate Christmas Shopper”
For years, I was the ultimate Christmas shopper. I carefully selected what were often overly extravagant gifts for a large number of people. I bought more than I needed to buy and spent far more money than I needed to spend. In the process, I often made other people uncomfortable, as they either didn’t buy anything for me or their gifts were much more modest by comparison. I had positive intentions with all of my buying, but it was so unnecessary. A small thoughtful gift or a card would have sufficed in almost every instance.
I no longer buy Christmas gifts for most of the people in my life. Little by little, others requested that our gift exchanges be discontinued. At first, I was sad at this new development, as I enjoyed shopping for gifts, wrapping them, and presenting them to the recipients. I felt like much of the joy of the holiday season was being taken away from me.
Over time, however, I’ve come to feel relieved at no longer needing to brave the crowds at the mall and the post office. I see and read about the stressed out masses and am glad to no longer be among that group. I still enjoy decorating and baking when the holidays roll around, as well as watching the holiday movies and television specials. I even like many of the Christmas carols that are played ad nauseum wherever I go. I’m not a very religious person, but I still enjoy the special and sacred true meaning of the season.
Alternate Gift Giving Suggestions
If you’re like I used to be and you break your back and the bank each year with your holiday shopping, I’d like to make a few suggestions for what might be a better way of doing things.
- Give experiences instead of gifts. Instead of giving your loved ones clothes and trinkets they may not appreciate or use, give them an experiential gift or better yet, share an experience with them. Give a gift certificate for a massage or a facial, or go together for a manicure or pedicure. If they like sports or music, buy tickets to see a game or a show together. For movie lovers, how about taking them to a new release and springing for the refreshments, too? Spouses may opt to take a short vacation in lieu of gifts to each other. These are just a few possibilities in the experiential gift realm.
- How about a homemade gift? I often bake cookies and bread for my loved ones at the holidays (and other times). I find these gifts are always appreciated and there’s no need to worry about where to put them over the long term. Baked goods are only one type of homemade gift that can be enjoyed. If you like to sew, knit, or craft, you can make all sorts of wonderful presents for the people on your list. Photo albums or personalized calendars are also appreciated, especially by parents and grandparents. Homemade gifts feel very personalized and are often kept for many years to come (other than the baked goods, which are usually devoured within a few days!).
- Exchange names. Instead of buying gifts for your entire family, how about drawing names and buying for just one family member? The same can be done among groups of friends. This will allow you to focus on one person, make him or her feel really special, and spend less time and money on shopping overall.
- Set some limits. Rather than having the sky be the limit for your gift expenditures, apply some limitations on how much you spend, how many things you buy, or both. This is something you can do on your own or upon agreement with your loved ones. Set a number you feel comfortable with that doesn’t leave you strapped for cash come January first. Challenge yourself to buy meaningful gifts instead of expensive gifts. It’s not necessarily easier, but it can be fun for you and touching for the other person.
- Opt for no gifts. This is how it is in my family these days. The only people I buy for are my mom and my niece and nephew (ages 4 and 10). My husband and I sometimes exchange gifts, but other times we just do Christmas stockings and then share a fun experience together. You can still spend time with your loved ones, but removing the pressure of buying gifts can eliminate some of the holiday pressure for all of you.
The Other Side of the Coin
I could write a lot more on this topic, and I’m sure I’ll have other holiday-themed posts, but I hope the perspective and suggestions I shared are helpful for you. While overshopping and overspending are often the holiday norm, it is possible to go too far in the other direction and adopt a “Bah, Humbug!” attitude toward the holidays.
While I haven’t taken things that far, I do feel that I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm for this time of year. This year, I plan to recapture some of my holiday joy through revisiting past traditions and creating some new ones. Although I definitely don’t wish to go back to the place of rampant consumerism that was my status quo for many years, I do want to appreciate what can be a fun and joyous time of year. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll do this just yet, but I’m setting the intention here and now.
If you’ve also lost your holiday enthusiasm amidst the commercialism and buying frenzy, I invite you to join me in taking the holidays back. If you’ve managed to carve out a beautiful oasis for yourself in the middle of all of the chaos, please share what has worked for you. I would love to read your tips for keeping the holidays special without going into debt or stress overload. I’m sure we can all learn from each other’s lessons, challenges, and mistakes.