Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, but for many of us it will mean additional strain on our finances, our relationship, or both.

What do you think about Christmas? Do you turn into an excitable child and gaze in wonder at everything from the lights in your local high street to the decorations on your tree? Or do you resent the fact that you have to spend money you don’t have on presents for relatives you barely speak to from one year to the next and make small talk at your office party? Christmas is meant to be the season of goodwill (and not just to retailers and credit card companies). So why can it feel so difficult?

All I want for Christmas is...

In the run up to Christmas, it’s easy to feel that you have to go to every party you’re invited to and to make sure that this year everything is bigger and better than last year, especially as lockdown measures prevented us from arranging get-togethers. It can be an explosive mix. Here are some tips to help you prevent things spiralling out of control and stop any potential arguments. 

  • Know what you can afford to spend. One thing that’s sure to raise the stress levels during the festive season is spending money you don’t have. Work out your Christmas budget and be strict with yourself about sticking to it.

  • Accept that your friends/family or partner may have different money priorities. Christmas is a time when our values come to the fore. If you think money is for sharing, you’ll want to spend it, but if you think it’s for security, you may not – especially in the current climate. You and your partner (or friends and relatives) may never have the same ideas about money, but arguments may be averted if you understand what lies behind their decision to make a Christmas card (thoughtful or mean?) or to blow the budget on fancy ribbons and wrapping (a sign they care or a waste of money?).

  • Concentrate on your common ground. It’s easy to get into an argument about relatively minor things, especially when it comes to money. Relationship counsellors recommend focusing on what you have in common, rather than the fact that you want to spend £50 on a present when your partner wants to spend £500. Once you’ve identified your common ground, the next step is to work out a compromise between you.

  • Limit how much you spend on your children or grandchildren. It can be hard to say no to your kids or grandchildren, especially if you feel they’ve missed out in other ways, but children normally understand if you explain. Tell your children that you don’t have the money to treat them to expensive presents. As long as you tell them why, they’ll normally be okay about this.

  • Don’t play competitive shopping. If cash is tight, don’t shop like money is no object. Credit card and loan companies are much tougher than they were a few years ago and interest rates can be expensive (despite Bank of England rates being very low). You’ll know when you tend to spend money you don’t have. If it’s when you’re shopping with your friends, don’t go shopping in a group or leave your credit cards at home. If it’s when you feel down, try and stay away from the shops or impose a 24-hour cooling off period before you buy.

  • Keep an eye on last minute spending. It’s often the food shopping, partying and gift-buying that you do in the last few days before Christmas that can blow the budget. Don’t feel you have to join the mad pre-Christmas trolley dash and clear the shelves. Most shops only close down for a few days over Christmas and you’ll probably end up throwing lots of it away.

  • Take a step back. If you find your spending is running away with you, take time to work out how much you really need to spend and what falls in the ‘nice to have’ category. At Christmas many things can feel like they’re far more important than they really are. Ask yourself ‘will this matter in 10 days time?’ What about in 10 weeks? Often the things that we get stressed about (and may throw money at as a way of dealing with the problem) usually aren’t that important.

Have you had rows with your partner or family over money at Christmas? How do you keep financial stress to a minimum over this period? Join the money conversation on the Rest Less Community or leave a comment below.

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