Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Addressing money worries at Christmas

Although it should be a happy time of the year, the festive season can be a worrying time where finances are concerned.

In the run-up to Christmas, when we're expected to be preparing for a season of fun and festivity, many of us become more anxious and stressed as the Big Day approaches. Undoubtedly, it’s an expensive time of year when money worries become even more concerning.

Debtpression

We’ve all the heard the phrase ‘money is power’, and a study in the Journal of Consumer Research saw participants actually salivating at the concept of money when primed to feel they lacked power. So what then of debt? How does it effect how we feel about ourselves and what is debtpression?

Many people equate money with power and success, believing it to make them appear more attractive, popular and successful to others. Conversely, not feeling able to spend can create a strong sense of powerlessness and failure, which can be highly disturbing. Debt equates to emotional pain. Indeed, debt and mental health problems often go hand in hand.

When we feel low, we spend money to make ourselves feel better. We’re bombarded by adverts telling us certain products will lead to positive emotional experiences. Spending therefore becomes habitual as it meets our deep-rooted psychological needs.

When we're in debt we often feel stressed, anxious and depressed. To cope with these feelings, many people ignore the debt and continue to spend money to make themselves feel better. In the long term this leads to more debt and the feelings of guilt and anxiety return. This becomes a vicious circle, which harms mental wellbeing and has been dubbed ‘debtpression’.

It all sounds so gloomy, but debt can have positive outcomes too, driving people to be resourceful. Many small businesses have been started in recessions as individuals become more creative in their attempts to make money. Debt can also force our hand, making us face our fears and try new things. Whatever our approach, acknowledging debt and taking action are crucial steps to avoiding debtpression.

Tips for budgeting at Christmas

It can be difficult to get to grips with our finances, especially if we already struggle to pay the bills or have the burden of debt. Even though you might prefer to stick your head in the sand and not think about your financial issues, this can lead to further stress in the long run.

Scrutinise your money situation – This will enable you to set realistic budgets that can prevent you from becoming ill with worry. Firstly, make sure the most important aspects such as paying bills are your priority. Work out how much you can afford to spend and look for ways you can cut back on costs. Most of us have things that we waste money on, for example, an unused gym membership, too many takeaway coffees, buying lunch on work days, buying books when we can borrow them from the library, etc.

Shop around – If the thought of not buying presents leaves you feeling uneasy, shop around for offers. With online shopping so easily available, you’ll find plenty of bargains. Ok, so it might be more time consuming, but it will consume less of your budget. Scour comparison sites to get the best deals as they will do a lot of the legwork for you. Money Saving Expert is another great place to find money saving tips at Christmas.

Don’t rely on credit – Tempting as it may be, unless you know that you're able to pay off your credit in full, resist borrowing as it can be a disastrous trap that could send your debt spiralling out of control.

Make a pact – Most adults, particularly those with children, will understand if you’re unable to spend a fortune on gifts. So, suggest that you only buy presents for the children – they’ll likely feel relieved themselves!

Spread the cost – There are two ways of doing this; put a set amount of money away each month throughout the year so that come December, you have a nice little pot of cash to spend. Alternatively, buy a present each month so it’s less of a shock on your purse strings.

Finally, remember that the festive season isn’t as important as your mental and physical wellbeing. Make sure you put yourself first (no matter how much of a Scrooge you feel). If you're in a situation where you can’t afford to spend any money at all, so be it. How about writing out some time tokens instead - you could wash their car, take their dog for a walk, make them a cup of tea, do a session of babysitting, get them a bunch of wild flowers - these things are free or cost next to nothing and sometimes the smallest acts of kindness are the things that matter most to people. And don’t forget, Christmas is one day of the year and it will be round again soon enough.

If issues with debt are causing you serious cause for concern and are having an impact on your health, National Debtline has lots of useful information and offers free debt advice.

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