There’s a chill in the air and a battle over when Christmas music can be played. The start of the holiday season is unmistakable. With all the promise of glitter and gifts, there’s also plenty of advice that gets floated around.
Only spend X dollars.
Purchase precisely Y things.
Make sure you have Z experiences.
Quite honestly, there are more recipes telling people how to spend their money than there are variations of eggnog drinks on Pinterest. After being in the personal finance world for half a decade and a shopping enthusiast for decades of my life before that, I’ve seen (and tried!) just about every spending tip there is.
Here are the five real tips that I think everyone needs to consider between Black Friday and New Year’s.
1. Your budget is between you and your spreadsheet.
One of the most insulting things we probably ever did to my nana was try to tell her how to spend her money. The woman made it through the Great Depression and a world war to raise three kids on her own as a young widow, and somehow we thought she needed tips on how to stretch and save.
That’s the problem with people who have more money than others. It’s easy to assume that because we do have more money, we know better. In my nana’s case, we were all better off because she busted her butt on our behalf.
So whenever we would dole out money advice, she was quick to tell us where to put it. Rightfully so.
If I can say it more kindly, know that your budget is your business, not anyone else’s. There’s plenty of advice swirling online about the best ways to shop for the holidays (spend more! spend less! buy it all! buy nothing!). But the truth is, everyone gives that advice through their own lens. And that might not fit your situation. So instead of basing your spending off someone else’s situation, focus on yourself.
RELATED POST: “Don’t Tell Me How to Spend My Money”
2. Shop your values when you can.
Like all good things, there’s a fine line between enough and overindulgence. Just as someone who has said yes to way too much eggnog, the interwebs are saturated with calls to shop small and support local businesses.
If you can do that, awesome. Now–maybe more than ever before–voting with our dollars is a way to choose the companies that we want to survive and thrive. So yes, we should try to shop locally and ethically when we can.
But if it’s a matter of driving in slippery conditions or wading through a pandemic with a pre-existing condition, it’s perfectly fine to see what Target has to offer, too. The point of personal finance isn’t to achieve perfection; it’s about doing the best we can with what we have.
If you can pick up the phone and place an order with a local business for curbside pickup, do it. If you can’t, try to support small businesses in other ways. Money is tight and times are tough. We’re all doing the best we can.
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3. Enjoy Black Friday…or don’t.
You don’t owe anyone an apology for shopping on Black Friday. Of course, I think you should shop small and shop online if you can. But all the people who criticize Black Friday shoppers? They’re taking an easy shot. Seriously, it’s me grabbing HP’s Little Tikes basketball set and claiming I can dunk. No one’s impressed.
What’s worse is that these critiques are missing a huge point: Many people use Black Friday as an opportunity to test out budgeting and dollar stretching, and if that isn’t one way to get better at this money stuff, I’m not sure what is.
It goes without saying that no one should be brawling over air fryers in pandemics, but if you want to buy some books or gadgets that you need (or want!) at a great price, go for it. Seriously.
RELATED POST: What Black Friday Critics Miss
4. Opting out is a privilege, not a requirement.
There’s this thing that happens around this time of year. People mistake insulting individuals with fighting consumer culture (and dare I say the challenges of capitalism?). Putting down your neighbor for coming home with a few bags from the mall isn’t having the impact you intend. Especially if they don’t follow you on Facebook.
And I say that as someone who grew up with multiple closets and amassed hundreds of pairs of shoes and ditched it all. It wasn’t the insults that got me to change.
So when I see someone ask for advice on what to give their kids for Christmas, and comment after comment talks about how they’ve stopped giving gifts entirely (presence, not presents!), know that those trite sayings likely aren’t having the impact you think.
For a lot of families, the next season’s needs are rolled into holiday gifts — clothes, socks, snow boots, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.
We’ve created this opting out Olympics while overlooking that for many people, the deep discounts before (and after!) the holidays is when they can meet a lot of their needs at prices they can afford.
And quite frankly, not everyone needs to be a minimalist. There. I said it.
RELATED POST: Guilt is Not the Antidote to Consumerism
5. Shop with yourself in mind.
No, this is not license to load up on Christmas presents for yourself. (RIGHT, PENNY? PAY ATTENTION.) While it may seem counterintuitive to the season of giving, it’s important to think about yourself with each purchase that you make.
How does this fit your goals? How will this impact you now and next year?
Oftentimes, we get so lost in the hustle and bustle of the season, that we forget the financial impact is something that can outlast even the most evergreen Christmas trees. While it may truly be better to give than receive, it’s also important to consider the impact that your shopping and giving are going to have on you.
If money is tight this year, it’s OK to say so. If you’ve been saving in a sinking fund all year, it’s OK to spend it all. And if you’re somewhere in between, that’s OK too. Just make sure that you spend some time thinking about your own situation before and after checking your list with other people’s names on it.
Final Thoughts on Seasonal Spending Advice
You can’t escape spending advice any more than you can escape Mariah Carey. It’s just part of the holiday season. The most important thing you can do with that advice is to decide if that advice is really meant for you.
Don’t allow other people’s perspectives or hot takes for Facebook likes stand in the way of making money decisions you want or need to make. After all, personal finance is personal all year long.
So Tell Me…What does personal finance mean to you during the holiday season?
Yes! This is a great post about the holiday shopping season. I really do not like it when the Personal Finance community act as personal finance police. There are lots of great reasons to spend money (and save money) on holiday presents. I hate the one-size-fits-all approach. You wouldn’t tell an alcoholic that if they don’t drink eggnog they’re Christmasing wrong. So why the eff do we preach about Black Friday deals and the correct number of presents to give.
Great points Penny!
Holidays and holiday spending are sources of stress for many. Much of the PF world adds to it with undue pressure to be perfect, as you say. Great article and well timed reminders!
Happy holidays to you and yours!
Thanks so much, Lance! Same to you and your family!
revanche @ a gai shan life
I find people mistake “do your best with what you have” as “always do the right thing no matter what” and then it’s just too hard to bother at all. That applies to shopping or for environmentally sound habits, or healthy habits or financial habits. I’m prone to that occasionally when I see others practicing much more hardcore eco and financially friendly habits. I have to remind myself they’ve got a very different life and lifestyle for so many reasons and carry on doing *our* best for our family.
The judging we see in our sphere is why I only bother reading bloggers who tell stories and don’t aim to dole out advice. Except BGR.