From Overwhelmed to Overjoyed
I love the change of seasons as summer fades. While I know I will miss the sunshine and warmth of summer, I also love change. I enjoy anticipating days growing shorter, the start of football games, and my yard as leaves begin to fall in the breeze and cool air. Most, I look forward to the mosquitoes moving on.
Despite how much joyful anticipation the winter season promises, it can also feel more than a little stressful in so many ways. Holidays mean spending. As more is demanded from our income to meet the surprises and celebrations the seasons bring, many will feel additional stress created as we buy gifts, decorations, holiday clothes, portraits, and pay for the travel everybody wants to give. Even holiday cards are more expensive this year. Holiday stress is real.
There is a way around it – all that anxiety and dread that January brings as the bills come in.
This season try something different – try leaving the stress with Him and remember that money is not the point of the season. It’s a tool. Winter Gifts that will be remembered are already in the relationships and behaviors you choose. Few people will remember what was worn, whether or not hands are manicured, and maybe not even the gifts or the expensive wrappings. They will remember you. They WANT to remember you and for you to remember them. Concentrate on what you can control – the quality of time and your ability to be present as you spend time within friendships and family. You are the true value of the Holiday season.
Does thinking about discussing personal money matters with your spouse cause you to feelapprehensive or leave you feeling exhausted and defensive when you do? Do you feel overwhelmed by your budget? Do you and your spouse or partner have different spending habits and ideals? When couples disagree on how to handle their finances, each partner usually tries to convince the other to change his or her mind, said Rick Kahler, a co-founder of the Financial Therapy Association (2020, ). It’s no secret that emotions run high when people feel overwhelmed, inadequate, stretched, or as though they have no control of over their money. If this sounds familiar, know that you are NOT alone. A few simple reminders can help you navigate all the demands of the Winter Season with confidence, grace, and less stress.
Research on managing personal finances is abundant and the findings are clear and consistent. Nobody LOVES to pay bills or stay within a tight budget. In today’s financial climate, budgets feel as though they are shrinking – because they are. Dealing with money when there is less of it causes stress – regardless of who you are. Surveys indicate that the majority of people worry about money at least once a day. Long-term stress around personal finance can cause anxiety, insomnia, emotional disconnection, and social. Left unattended, constant untreated stress can result in physical illness.
Let’s get our priorities straight. We know we are more important than money. We know that God tells us not to take on debt. We know that He values us and loves us regardless how wealthy we are. We know that our friends and family accept us as we are, so is it really worth it to jeopardizing our well-being because retailers are good at marketing? With the holidays right around the corner feelings related to stress and anxiety around money or cash flow can become magnified when expectations around gifts, entertaining, celebrations, and even holiday decorations builds.
This year, wouldn’t it be nice if we could ditch those feelings of defeat and take control? Well, we can. Oddly enough, when it comes to your money, the best way to take control and make space for more joy is by letting go as opposed to holding tight. With some practice and a little expert help, you can have a more joyful holiday season that is less stressful, more meaningful, and filled with the joy you deserve. Here’s how.
First, let go of what is beyond your control
In financial speak, this means that all sorts of environmental conditions effect the purchasing power of money either increasing or decreasing its value. Inflation is a big one right now. Today’s dollars don’t stretch as far as they used to. For example, my first memory of a gas station was formed when I was about six years old. We stopped for gas at a Gulf 76 station on the way to church. Gas was $0.23 cents per gallon! My Dad could fill the tank for under $5. That! Is inflation. All it needs to grow is time. Over the last year, we have witnessed record levels of inflation and most economists believe that we should not expect much to change soon, or quicky.
Now is the time to think about how to free yourself from promising big purchases or feeling guilty about not making them. Remember, the holidays are about spending time with family and friends around Christ. Together we celebrate Our Savior, not our pocketbooks. Inflation is going to make spending particularly painful, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. Prepare for smaller get togethers, arrange pot-luck meals, plan progressive dinners, and give smaller, more meaningful gifts. Give home-made gifts, used books full of stories that mean something to you, there are endless possibilities.
Inflation hits particularly hard for people in retirement or on fixed incomes. We have no control over how the stock market effects retirement account balances. However, telling those folks to simply “let go” of the worry around running out of money feels unsympathetic and harsh. Therefore, if you know someone in this situation, they might appreciate a bit of compassion and a very practical gift. A casserole made by grandkids (with a little help) or a batch of their favorite cookies is a cheery way to gift a gift that is both meaningful and practical for them and budget-friendly for you.
Second, mind other people’s perceptions.
You heard me. Let go of the comparisons and expectations you feel others have about your choices, your behavior, and how you spend, save, or give. Instead, plan your spending as it works best for you and within your means and be proud of that achievement. A spouse or partner is the only one you are responsible to for your financial choices apart from the Almighty. That’s it! Nowhere is finance more unique than when it has to do with your family, your incomes, your needs, your ideals, and your priorities. Yes, your circumstances will change throughout your life and so should your financial strategy. But to try and respond to social expectations by positioning your hard-earned money in a way that you believe others will view favorably or in a way you do not control? – it’s madness and will quickly become detrimental. The more you allow others to set your priorities, the more expensive life will become, the further out-of-control you will become, and the higher your stress level will be. Re-claim your authorityand relax in the knowledge that only you (and God) you know what’s best for you.
Third, break the pattern of silence.
Talk about your money. Talk with your spouse or partner. You are responsible to one another so why not share the burden. If these conversations have typically been difficult, then as you begin talkingabout your hard-earned money, think about how you react as you discuss finances. Consider what might be being triggered from your past? Are there stories or scripts that you live by when it comes to your finances — for example the idea that working hard will always lead to rewards? If you expect empathy from your partner, approach your partner with same empathy and ask: “What is your hope for spending this money?” Or “What is your fear around cutting this item?”
Another good method is to check in and create and an empathy list. Each person should make a list of priorities and fears, then trade and discuss the similarities. When talking with your spouse or partner about your priorities and your fears let them help you find empathy instead of shame. You may find that items which you believed were priorities really aren’t.
If you have grievances around past purchases, or very different spending habits, it won’t help to bring them up again. Simply accept that neither is perfect and that you love one another even when you don’t agree and move on. Forgive and forget. Re-state and try again or agree to a compromise. Sometimes, just discussing what you can live with as opposed to what you want encourages both self-reflection and teamwork. With clear priorities you can begin to create some dual accountability through communication and finally work toward mutual goals together.
Talk with you kids. They need to know money is something people work for not something in infinite supply. It’s good for them to understand that people always make choices about money and that those choices should align with priorities. Kids need to see parents saving and behaving responsibly with money in order to learn how to do it when they become able. You may have to remind them about long-term priorities like summer camp, college costs, and vacation expenses when faced with immediate temptations, but they’ll be better adults later if you can put in the work now.
Last but never least, talk with your advisor if you haven’t this year. A lot has changed and an update before the year ends will be a benefit to both of you. If you don’t have one, ask someone you know and trust for a referral. You may discover that your situation is not as singular or as bad as it feels. This year, everyone is suffering. My guess is that your situation is not as upside-down as you believe it is when viewed against the financial environment we’re in. A good advisor can also help you wade through all the bad advice that so many of those financial entertainers offer. Remember, what’s good for them may not be good for you just because they’re well-known. Once you’ve laid out your priorities and concerns, rest easy in the knowledge that you’re doing all you can in a very difficult financial environment. Before you leave, make your next appointment. You’ll be less prone to worry knowing you’ve planned to stay on track.
As you begin to let go of the places in your financial life that you cannot control and open uproom in your life for more joy in the places that fear and anxiety used to live, hear this: You may not believe you are perfect, but you are. God never creates imperfection. You have ONE judge, and He loves you as is. Nowhere in the Bible does it say anything like about there being a minimum net worth to achieve salvation. If your wallet seems empty thank God that you have so much space for more money.