The Holiday season can be filled with joy, love, and laughter. The holidays can also be full of stress, unmet expectations, and even financial hardship.
During this time of year, couples may discover they are pulling out their credit cards more, and all the added expenses of gifts and festivities are weighing heavily. So, I offer a little advice to lessen the stress: establish a budget as early as possible.
Once a couple has mutually agreed to a budget, sticking to the budget is the next step in lessening the holiday stress. After all, money is one of the top sources of conflict between couples. Adding ground rules from establishing a joint budget can reduce arguing over money.
Here are my four best tips to help you and your partner stay connected and loving during your holidays.
Four Tips to Reduce Money Stress During the Holidays
Tip #1: Be Specific about Money Worries and Money Goals.
If you set a general gift budget, that's a great start. However, have you and your partner discussed the details of each person and the expense of gifts on your list? You both may have very different ideas about who needs a present and how much to spend on each person, so start here first.
- Create a list of all the individuals you want to purchase something for - personal and professional relationships.
- Break your list into a budget category with dollar ranges.
- Include people you'll give items like baking cookies and treats. That adds up, too!
- Be sure to add yourselves to that budget too! You may want to get something special for your partner.
Tip #2: Create a Budget Beyond Holiday Gifts.
Here's a list of questions you and your partner should go over together to stay on budget for the holidays:
- Are you throwing a holiday party?
- How much will the food, drinks, and decorations cost?
- Will you and your partner need a new outfit for the party you host?
- Are you attending an office party?
- Do you need a white elephant gift for the party?
- Do you need a new outfit for the office party?
- Do you have an annual friends get-together every holiday season?
- Maybe a girls’ high tea? Or a guys' night out? Or even a couples party?
- Add the total expense to your budget.
- Are Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the sales so enticing that you want a few for yourself?
- Talk openly with your partner if you see something you both want or need.
- Are there any holiday events in your area you'd like to attend? (holiday play, holiday ballet, holiday festival)
- What would each of those fun events cost to attend? Include total transportation costs, food, tickets, and even childcare if needed.
- What about new holiday decorations?
- Did any of your decorations get damaged last year, or would you like to add more with a new theme this year?
- Talk about it together.
- What about holiday meals?
- Is it your turn to host the entire family for the holiday dinner?
- What will that cost for food, drinks, and decorations?
- What about holiday travel to see family or enjoy the sun or snow?
- If so, what will that cost for hotel, flight, house sitters, etc.?
- What about sending out holiday cards?
- Do you take a photo and mail it each year?
- If so, what does that cost – with postage, too?
- What about the increase in your utility bills?
- If you're adding lights on the house and running the heater more, have you figured that into your budget?
All the items above add up to the bottom line, so ensuring you and your partner are on the same page with a holiday budget is critical.
Tip #3: Take a Break When Discussing Money and the Holidays.
As a marriage counselor for many years, I've found that one of the biggest obstacles people encounter when discussing money is letting their temper get the better of them. The best relationship advice I offer when discussing money with your partner is to take a moment to breathe and take a break from the discussion if things get heated.
Both partners must feel heard and seen – calmly – when discussing how they feel about the holidays and money. You need to listen to your partner's point of view and keep an open mind.
We all have expectations and individual points of view about the holidays. We may treasure certain family traditions or events that cost money, and our partners may not. Remember, your feelings in your relationship must be openly shared and discussed with curiosity and an open heart.
Tip #4: Stick to Your Holiday Budget Together as a Team.
Once you've both agreed on a budget, you both must follow through. Working together as a team shows your partner that you respect the agreement you came to together and will make money matters more manageable in the future.
If you make a mistake and realize you've exceeded the budget, consider whether you can return the item and buy something else. If this is not possible, the best relationship advice for this situation is to be honest with your partner. Apologize, accept responsibility for the mistake you made with the budget, and look to see if there's another place in the budget you can trim to make up for the overage.
I hope these four tips help you and your partner better communicate so you can enjoy the holiday season together. If you need help with communication in your relationship during the holidays or any time of year, we're here to help with our online and in-person Imago Relationships Workshops and Imago Relationships Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops too!
This blog post was written by Damian Duplechain, the co-founder, and chief clinical officer for the Center for Marriage & Family Relationships in Houston, Texas.
Damian brings decades of experience to his practice, helping hundreds of couples and families discover how to co-create the relationships they want. He has also supervised many clinicians in couples and family therapy over the years.
His work in helping couples and families learn to communicate effectively and connect more strongly, and to practice understanding and empathy is rooted in Imago philosophy. He is a certified Imago therapist with additional training in the Emotional Freedom Technique, John Gottman’s model, Terry Real’s model, and PACT (Psychological Approach to Couples Therapy) by Dr. Stan Tatkin.
He has presented 200-plus Imago Couples Workshops that have served more than 2,000 couples and has collaborated with a number of his colleagues on clinical presentations both in the United States and internationally.