With apologies to Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” membership in the Jelly of the Month Club is decidedly not “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”
As Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold illustrated in an epic 45-second rant which punctuated that memorable scene with Randy Quaid, money problems – in this case, not receiving an expected holiday bonus – can send a person right over the edge.
Humorous ‘80s flicks aside, financial stress and its effect on mental health is a very real issue – particularly during the holiday season, when cultural and family demands and expectations are all the more pronounced. Add the stress of a global pandemic that still hasn’t disappeared after nearly two years, and all the components are in place for a full-fledged mental breakdown.
“I think we’re seeing a lot more [financial stress] today, outside of 2007 and ’08, because of inflation and how the prices of goods and services have increased over the last 18 months,” says Van Pitts, a financial advisor with Thomasville’s Allen, Mooney & Barnes Investment Advisors.
“I think that’s put a big burden on families, especially with gift buying. Will they be able to provide the Christmas that they want, or whatever holiday that they celebrate? Will they provide what they want for their kids and their families? And that includes meals as well. You have to think about the prices of food, and how that’s increased. I know some families are on a tighter budget than others, and I’m sure it is affecting them more.”
Even with half of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated, Covid-related concerns remain a source of stress to varying degrees.
“The question at hand is, ‘What’s safest for my family?’” Pitts says. “Some people have different outlooks on this virus than others. Whether it’s going out to eat or letting others bring food into their home and they don’t know who those people have been around, you’re seeing a lot of factors go into these holidays that we haven’t quite seen before.”
“Another stress is with the supply chain. Some people may worry that they order something and not get it on time. Some people will want to order online because they don’t want to go into Walmart and be exposed to a potentially deadly virus. I think just knowing yourself and knowing the risks that you’re willing to take or not take is a big part of it.”
As he does with any client in general, Pitts recommends setting a budget for the holiday season, sticking to it, and strategically taking advantage of sales.
“As far as spending goes, set a good solid budget and know where you’re able to spend and not spend. A lot of good online sales will be going on and I think the consumer needs to take advantage of that.”
With technology as advanced as it is these days, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer can find a user-friendly budgeting app or software program that works for them.
“Even if you’re just out of college and Mom and Dad are giving you $500 a month, I really think you need to create a budget and start learning how to handle that money,” says Pitts. “I recommend finding an app or going online and finding a template that will allow you to insert your monthly income and expenses, and establishing a budget. That’s really important for anyone.”
Pitts offers one final word of advice to reduce the potential for financial-related holiday stress: Remember that material gifts aren’t the most important aspect of the holiday season. Prioritize relationships over gift buying (assuming those relationships aren’t full of the dysfunction that characterized the Griswolds, of course).
A budget-friendly meal at home with loved ones, for example, is not only economical, it offers far more lasting impact than unwrapping a living room full of presents, many of which will be forgotten within weeks.
“The gifts are great, but sitting around the table and making memories with family is by far the most important part of the holidays to me,” Pitts says. “In my opinion, that’s really what the holidays are about.”
A wealth of mobile apps, software tools and other online digital resources are available to help people maintain financial and mental wellbeing. Here are a few we like:
- Quicken (quicken.com): One of the premier personal finance and budgeting tools on the market, Quicken is offering introductory discounts to help new subscribers “get ahead of holiday spending” and “enjoy the season with total financial control.”
- Mint (mint.intuit.com): Another heavy hitter among personal finance software, Mint brings together spending, balances, budgets, credit scores and more, both online and in a powerful mobile app.
- Nerd Wallet (nerdwallet.com): This set of completely free resources is designed for people seeking “objective advice, expert info and helpful tools to answer your money questions.” Includes a mobile app that lets users track their cash, net worth and debt, and credit scores.
- Able To (ableto.com) Provides virtual and online mental health services; Resources section includes a helpful article on “Managing Financial Stress During the Holidays” (ableto.com/resources/managing-financial-stress-during-the-holidays).
- Mental Health America (mhanational.org): Promotes mental health as a critical part of overall wellness and offers an abundance of resources to “Live Mentally Healthy.”
- Healthline (healthline.com): Covers all facets of physical and mental health, including a practical guide that offers “6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress”. (healthline.com/health/holiday-stress)
- Bloom CBT Therapy & Self-Care: Free mobile app uses cognitive-behavioral-therapy (CBT) for personalized daily mental health coaching sessions to manage stress and anxiety, build better habits and improve overall quality of life.
- Hästens Restore: Another free mobile app, Restore is dedicated to reducing anxiety and helping users manage all parts of their day and night through scientifically designed audio clips featuring soothing music and other sounds.
Written by Allen Allnoch