Sense & Centsibility Blog
Smiling couple in holiday scene outside holding warm beverages

Happier Holidays: Three Tips to Get Off the Consumer Escalator

Let’s face it: the holidays are going to be different this year. With the restrictions in place due to the pandemic and many of us feeling the pinch – or pain – of reduced income and/or total unemployment, some of us might wish we could climb in bed and pull the covers over our heads until the holidays are over. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, you don’t need to be visited by three ghosts to find a different meaning for the holidays. Follow these three tips to create happier holidays without spending a ton of money.

1) Practice Self-Care

If you have been on an airplane, you’ve probably heard of the oxygen mask rule — in case of the loss of oxygen, put your own mask on first before helping others. This is logical because if you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone else. In a similar way, if you don’t take care of yourself around the holidays, you won’t be able to care for anyone else. Some simple steps to follow include:

2) Guide Your Gift Giving with the Five Love Languages

Some families might need to reduce their gift giving significantly this year. Many households are strapped for cash, and we all might need to get creative about traditions because of social distancing. Therefore, it’s crucial to have conversations about expectations for exchanging gifts. Even if these conversations can be difficult and embarrassing, always remember that your family and friends don’t want you to go into debt or be stressed because of the holidays. And I believe that gifts don’t have to be material to be appreciated.

To guide gift giving this year, try using Dr. Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages,” which are ways we communicate and like to receive communications that express love. We all have a primary love language; the five love languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Not sure what your loved one’s love language is? Try this quiz to sort it out. Here are examples of Love Language gifts:

  • Words of Affirmation:  Write a letter or story to tell someone all the things you love about them.
  • Quality Time: Spend a day with your loved one doing an activity of their choice. Turn off your phone and be present at that moment.
  • Acts of Service: Order groceries online for this person. Do you know their neighbor? If so, pay that neighbor to shovel your loved one’s walk for the winter. Or think about hiring a babysitter for an hour or two to give a stressed parent a break.
  • Receiving Gifts: The holiday season is all about this person’s love language, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy them a gift. Make them a batch of their favorite cookies or knit them a scarf. Not talented at crafts or baking? Put together a photo calendar for them with memories of time you spent together in previous years.
  • Physical Touch: Because 2020 is the year of social distancing, physical touch is probably the most difficult love language to communicate. Take it from a hugger like me; this pandemic is killing us. If you can’t hug the person whose language is physical touch, perhaps you can ask someone else to do it for you. Or get them a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure or massage once restrictions are lifted.

3) Make Memories

Have you ever heard the expression, “money can’t buy happiness?” Research has shown that there are alternatives to spending your money that will bring more happiness than buying “stuff” ever will. The person receiving the gift will experience more happiness, too. Try them out!

  • Buy experiences. To get the biggest bang for your buck, make sure it is something that brings you together, creates a memorable story, is linked to the identity of the receiver and is a unique opportunity. You can start a new tradition this year!
  • Buy time. Time is one of our scarcest resources as we grow older. “Buy” time for someone you know by paying someone else to do the jobs they hate. Or better yet, offer to do it for them, which also saves you money. Someone whose love language is Acts of Service would love this gift!
  • Use Your Money “Pro-Socially.” Whether you donate to a charity in someone’s name, spend time volunteering with someone, or take a friend out for coffee or lunch, pro-social spending is a way to invest in relationships or your community in a meaningful way.

There is one final thing you can do to create happier holidays: don’t engage in “compari-sinning”. This is the practice of comparing yourself to others (aka, “keeping up with the Joneses”) or comparing this holiday season to the last one.  Focus on the present moment, and do what makes you and your family happy without breaking the bank.

From all of us at LSS Financial Counseling, we wish you a safe and fulfilling holiday season.

If you have financial stress, LSS Financial Counseling can help. Contact us at 888.577.2227 to schedule a free session with one of our experienced financial counselors. They will work with you to create a realistic budget and plan to take back control of your finances. Don’t want to call? No problem! Get all your support online.

Shannon Doyle


Author Shannon Doyle is a program manager with LSS Financial Counseling.