Holiday Gifting

Holiday gifting. Does it bring you delight to see all the gifts under the tree or dread? Or would you love to see all the gifts if there wasn’t all the work and expense that had to be done to produce such a scene?

I was at a comedy show recently and the comedian was talking about her Mother announcing that they were cutting back on gifts and that everyone should do the same. How would you feel if someone said this in your family? Gifting is over! Of course, the comedian went on to say her Mother had ordered her a bunch of stuff and so actually the gifting was on — it just sounded good to say at the start of the season.

I get it — holiday gifting is a fundamental part of most Christmas traditions. People grew up with gifts and want to give and receive gifts as adults. To not have a pile feels — well — just wrong. However, I had the opportunity this particular holiday season to doe exactly that and not buy any gifts.

Well, I bought a few presents for people who I knew could use some holiday cheer. However, my annual list of “have to buy for these people no matter what” stopped. As I have been walking through the season it feels tremendously freeing to not have any gifts to have to buy as well as strange. How can I possibly walk through a department store and not buy bunches of stuff to give to people? It’s so much a part and parcel of who I am and how I celebrate the holidays. Well, it all feels odd.

Such an experiment is not for the faint of heart. I almost feel like I will be dreading Christmas morning with nothing to give or receive — and yet there are different things that I want this year that really can’t come wrapped in a box with a bow. Gifts of love, presence, kindness, opportunity, persistence, striving, and more that I want in my life more than any goods.

And that is what I am giving myself this year — as well as to my family and friends. It’s less expensive in some ways and more expensive in others. It’s me and my life that I am crafting that I seek to shape not in the direction of commercial goods, but into a direction of crafting a life I am happy to lead.

Maybe it’s too radical to ask you to join me this year, but perhaps something to hold in mind for next season. If the thought of not buying gifts for your loved ones gets you upset, defensive or afraid, it’s probably right where you need to be.

Here’s to gifting — gifts that can be seen and unseen. I’m in the latter category this year.

Money and Spreadsheets

Money and Spreadsheets

Times are tough – as they always are when it’s the topic of money.  As such, financial experts and advisors tell people to create a budget and stick to it. Indeed, I hear a lot of people are tracking their money these days.  One of the best ways people do this is by creating a spreadsheet. If you set it up right, the spreadsheet will show you all the money you have going in, going out, seeking to save, and more. 

All there, in one neat place, your whole financial life can be seen and tracked. Sounds like a great idea on one hand, and, like most everything, it can also have a downside too.

Whenever I hear someone saying they are setting this up, it always sounds like a New Year’s Resolution – something to help break a bad pattern or to gain more control or to start a new leaf with money. It always seems to begin from the premise of improving one’s money circumstances. Something has gotten the person to feel that a spreadsheet will provide the solution needed to money ails.

On the surface, a spreadsheet tracking money can absolutely be something that is good and helpful in a person’s life. However, it is rarely the answer to stopping negative ways of interacting with money that reflects how we feel about ourselves. Instead, a spreadsheet can often act like a highlighter as to all that we do wrong, which can then lead into feeling bad about ourselves.

I would suggest asking yourself what is motivating you to track your money in such a concrete way? Is it to actually track your money or is it to highlight a part of yourself that you feel bad about already and this spreadsheet will serve as a tangible reminder of this “bad” part of you?

By asking yourself this question you can get a sense if tracking your money via spreadsheet is a healthy thing for you to undertake or is it just another tool to keep you tied to bad thoughts about yourself and others.

Be honest – as this may be the costliest decision of them all.

Money Anxiety

Money Anxiety with Girl and her Bills

Money anxiety! Is it ever real these days. Not only are we in a pandemic dealing with a huge health crisis, but also one that has lead to economic insecurity for a majority of Americans. I don’t think I can ever remember a time in US history since I have been alive where people en mass lose their jobs in an instant. That’s right — one minute people are working for business serving the needs of people in society, the next an order has come down that closes all business for no set time frame.

The message — Go home until the virus recedes. Now, not only do we have to worry about our health and that of our family and friends, but also how we will survive and pay our bills. Some relief is on the way after weeks of negotiation at the federal level, but it’s one-time check without a lot of certainty of when this will end. It will no doubt help, but it’s not the complete answer to our money anxiety.

Most people have a pile of bills to pay – not only rent, utilities, and food, but also many other expenses that may include school and child care, insurance, and many other everyday expenses to keep life moving along on time and paid in full. For most Americans, all of these expenses are paid out of what we earn. If we aren’t earning there is no money to be able to pay our obligations. Further, most Americans have no extra money to save for times like these. We are a nation of people who live paycheck to paycheck. Many are living close to the edge of their money budget even when things hum along.

Bring along a pandemic that closes all business for weeks with no end in sight and people’s money anxiety takes hold in a way that almost feels like strangulation. Now what?

Well, the first thing to remember is you are not alone. Almost everyone is in the same boat. Often when we don’t have enough money to meet our bills and obligations, we feel shame with the thought that everyone else can manage well, but us. Such thoughts can be dropped when we feel we are in good company with the majority of society. We are not alone.

Next, in order to calm anxiety, particularly around money, it is important to sit down and look at one’s budget. That’s right. Many people don’t even know how much money they have and where it is going. Now is the time time get out pencil and paper and track one’s spending to see where it is all going. During this time, much of the way you spend money may no longer be relevant. Eating out, movies and other entertainment is closed off to all of us. That is money that you will no longer spend.

Track what you will still need to spend to live – rent, utilities, and food. Those are the basics for now. How much money do you have to cover these categories? How much do you need? Once you have these questions answered, it is time to get on the phone to your creditors to see what you can work out as far as payments during this time without interest and penalties. This is the time to advocate for yourself.

Once you drop any shame over your money situation and have done all you can to cut expenses and negotiate with your creditors, it is time to bring a mindful approach to the situation. This will not last. A new day may dawn where things do not look exactly the same as before, but that time is not here yet. Grounding one’s self in the present moment and shoring up a sense of security in the now is what is required. Do you have all you need for today? It is important to not get too ahead of one’s self here. Be in the now and think about your money security in the present.

It is an acute time for money anxiety, Sharing your stories, recognizing you are not alone, taking stock of your budget, and taking action to reduce expenses and payments are all concrete steps you can take to ease your money anxiety. Further, practicing being in the moment will also help ease the concerns you have for tomorrow.