Episode 111: Getting Ready for the Holidays

Are you ready for the holiday season?  Let’s talk about the stress the holidays can cause and how to simplify our holiday season with a bit of planning.


Show transcript:

Welcome to the SimpleMoney Podcast, where we make personal finance less intimidating. I’m Dawn Starks, a financial planner and lover of the simple life. I’m here to talk about money and simplicity. Let’s dive in. This is Episode 111: Getting Ready for the Holidays. So I maybe have told you this previously, that I actually make this podcast in my closet. So this is the best room in our house to not have echoes. So I’m sitting in the clothes closet always when I’m recording these podcasts. And I made a rather unfortunate error because we did some swapping of office furniture, from my home office to my work office, and vice versa.

And so the chair that I used to have at a desk that I had here at the house is what I would roll into the closet to sit and do the podcast. Well, that chair went to the office, and my stand-up desk from the office came to my house. So now I don’t have a small chair anymore, so I’m sitting in the closet on a beanbag chair, doing this podcast. So if you hear noises of me shifting around, I apologize I’m going to have to figure out a better solution for next time.

So it’s time to get ready for the holidays. And so how do we know that the holidays are coming? Well, it’s pretty obvious if you go to any public place. Sometimes starting around Halloween, you start to see notices, you see, you can notice different things that are clues that the holidays are coming. And most specifically, it’s the Christmas decorations that start creeping up everywhere, even before Halloween. That’s… really, it should be against the law, as far as I’m concerned, it’s really annoying. But we have thanks-

I mean, we have Halloween, and we have poor Thanksgiving, which is kind of crammed in between Halloween and Christmas, and poor Thanksgiving doesn’t even have its own line of candy. It’s just, you know, all about the turkey. And I think people either love the holidays or they hate the holidays. And so do you know which camp you’re in? Do you sometimes love the holidays? Do you sometimes hate the holidays? I mostly love the holiday season, but I probably love it because of different reasons than maybe other people.

I really like the autumn and I like it when the trees are changing and they’re losing their leaves, and we’re kind of wrapping up the year. And I just enjoy the weather change, the cooler weather, the blue sky, all of that. Those are the things that I really enjoy about this season. I also enjoy the fact that the year is wrapping up and we have an opportunity to sort of put a bow on it, to use a holiday expression I guess. We can sort of evaluate how the year has gone and then say “Okay,

well, here we are at the end of the year, let’s wrap it up and make it a good one, so that we can put it in the record books and move on to next year.” Because I don’t know about you, but to me, time moves really fast. And so I don’t like the fact that it seems to be moving faster and faster, the older that I get. So I really want to take some time throughout the year to stop and reflect and see how things have been going.

Now, when it comes to the holiday season, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s always been my favorite holiday. Because I really don’t like the commercialism of Christmas, and so the holidays that we celebrate in this house are the secular Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween

and New Year’s, at this time of year. So I don’t like the consumerism of the Christmas season,

but I do like the sentiment. And I like the, I think the coziness and the idea of being together with family in the wintertime and showing our appreciation for people through gifts, or not gifts,

it doesn’t really matter. And those are the things that I like about Thanksgiving. So to me,

Thanksgiving is all about showing our gratitude, spending some time – we devote a whole day to thinking about: What are we grateful for?

What are we thankful for? And it’s about being with your family and spending time together and just focusing on that gratitude.

So I think that’s a killer reason to have a holiday. I really like it. It’s my favorite. Halloween,

I could completely skip it, if it were up to me. I don’t really like it very much.

I don’t like the whole trick or treating idea, and having candy around the house forever. And so this year,

when – actually last year – when my daughter, we were coming up to Halloween and I said, “Rowan, you know,

you don’t have a Halloween costume yet, and we can’t produce one the day before. So what, you know, what are

you gonna do?” And she said, “Mom, I’m gonna make you a deal,” she said “I don’t, I think I’m over trick or treating,

but I’ll make you a deal. I’ll promise that we don’t have to go trick or treating anymore,

if you promise you’ll put an Easter egg hunt on in the spring.” Well, I took that deal in a red hot minute because doing an Easter egg hunt is easy and fun,

and it doesn’t involve going out walking in the, you know – our neighboring town has a nice neighborhood that we go usually to trick or treat, so it doesn’t require getting in the car, and going there, and having to park, and then walking around, and dealing with all the people in the crowds, and ending up with,

you know, this huge bag of candy that, of course I eat too much of! So I was happy to take that deal,

and so we moved right on past Halloween, and I was happy about that. So now Thanksgiving, on the other hand,

has also kind of gotten ruined in some ways because, you know, it’s really not – I mean,

I guess for some people, it’s about the football, and it’s about the parade. And it’s about those kind of TV-oriented elements of that Thanksgiving weekend. And for a lot of people,

now it’s about shopping, because of the day after Thanksgiving. And now, of course, Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving,

has crept into Thanksgiving. It’s not enough that we had to deal with all the Black Friday sales, and people getting up at the crack of dawn, to go and get in line, to get in the stores, to find these deals,

but now they’ve actually backed up into the Thanksgiving Day time frame, and that really irritates me too, that

we just can’t get enough of our shopping, of our consumerism, so we have to actually invade Thanksgiving Day now and get out and get shopping.

And so that’s kind of a bummer. I used to always feel really smart and sneaky because one year I discovered, quite by accident, that if you go to the stores on Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving,

they usually have all their Black Friday specials and all the pricing. Maybe not like the door-buster deals,

but they have their pricing and their sales out on Wednesday evening because, you know – at least back then – the stores would be closed on Thanksgiving Day,

and then they would reopen on Friday morning for Black Friday. So I had to go out for something, I can’t remember,

probably I had to get a dress for an occasion or something. So I went to a department store and found these great bargains on Wednesday evening,

and the store was really deserted because everybody was busy getting all their groceries, and maybe traveling, and getting otherwise prepared for Thanksgiving Day. So that used to be kind of my secret,

easy thing to do, if I had to do holiday shopping. Now, of course, I just won’t even go near it.

I don’t want to go out on Black Friday. My husband thinks it’s a fun thing to do. He thinks it’s fun to go out and battle the crowds and find good deals,

and he just gets jazzed about it, and I do not. So I stay home on Black Friday,

for sure. But the holiday season, like it or not, you know, especially if you don’t like it,

I think you’re going to feel extra stress. But if you are a lover of the holiday season, you might still feel

stressed out from time to time, because we have so many additional obligations. So there’s just more things on our plate this time of year, because in addition to our normal day to day work

lives and family lives, and just the general tasks and errands we have to do as part of our regular life, we have layered on top of that,

all these additional holiday social engagements, shopping for gifts, if you do that, and all the you know, meals and extra expenses in our budget.

So there’s just a lot of things that kind of pile-on here at the end of the year that can cause a lot of stress.

So I think that, for me, it became really important to do something to curb that, to get rid of that stress,

to make it feel more simple and calm and joyful and really kind of getting down to what is the meaning of the season,

as opposed to getting swept up in all of the consumerism and just sort of the expectations, the outside or Madison Avenue-type expectations.

So for me, I decided years ago, because of my hatred for the consumerism of the holidays anyway,

to really start to rein that in, and to make concerted efforts to simplify things and not go over the top at the holidays in any way.

So that, as anything else, when it comes to simplifying our lives or becoming more minimalist in our lives,

it’s just a work in progress. You’re going to always have two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes two steps forward,

three steps back, and we just have to kind of deal with that. So I think that for me,

my biggest tip for curbing or streamlining the holidays is to pay really close attention to your calendar, because you want to make sure you’re protecting your downtime.

Because what happens is, is that because of the layering-on of all the activities and – and a lot of them are things you want to do,

they’re fun, dinners out or parties or just getting together with friends that you don’t see during the year regularly or whatever.

So they’re things you want to do, so you want to protect your downtime so that you don’t get to the end of the holiday season feeling like your head’s about to explode, or you just going to drop dead from fatigue.

So protecting your time by managing your calendar carefully. And I accomplish this by blocking out days, that I just refuse to schedule anything on those days.

So I try to find a handful of them during the holiday season from roughly Halloween to New Year’s Day.

So in that window of time trying to, maybe three to five at a minimum – I try to go for a least one a week,

so that would be roughly eight days that I would block out – and I just, I highlight them on my calendar so that I am visually reminded in an obvious,

obvious way that those are the untouchable days. Those are the days that I am not scheduling something on.

And I will tell you that this works because just today I had to schedule something, and

I was invited to help with something at my daughter’s school, and I had to look at my calendar and say when I was available, and I looked at a day in that first week of December that was empty,

but it was circled in my green highlighter, which meant that it’s a reserved day. And I started to put down that day as me being available to help on this project for her school.

And then I was like, “No, Dawn, you circled it for a reason. So don’t go there.

Don’t… you need to practice what you preach! Don’t do it. Don’t succumb to the temptation just because you’re trying to be helpful and offer those extra times up.”

So I didn’t. So I stopped myself and went on. And then I felt proud of myself that I didn’t blow up my own system there,

just in my effort to try to be helpful and cooperative. So, you know, I think that,

our holidays were a lot simpler before we had Rowan. So I think kids introduce a complication to the holidays because of their enthusiasm over the holidays, and just the whole gift-

giving aspects of the holidays just get compounded when you have children. I think the other thing that gets compounded when you have children is visiting with family because the,

you know, your extended families want to see your kids, and everybody wants to get together with the kids.

And so it just causes, I think, an exponential increase in the amount of complication that can happen at the holiday season.

Plus, your kids might be involved in gift exchanges at school or, you know, just other things that layer-on again activities or expenses that you’re not used to having in your budget.

So I do remember feeling like that consumerism bomb went off in our lifestyle because we had really pared things down, and things were very easy and simple and streamlined, and quite calm and easy at the holidays, just the way I liked it.

And then we had Rowan, and then it just kind of went KA-FLOO and just blew up, and now there are just so many things to do, and things to buy,

and we wanted her to have a good Christmas. And we wanted her to enjoy the, you know,

the more childhood-oriented aspects of the holidays, because it’s fun. And it’s just one of those things that children like to do.

So with kids, it’s extra, we have to be extra careful, I think, to

put a box around expectations, and making sure that the kids realize that okay, it’s not going to be crazy-busy this holiday season, or we’re not going to get

all the things that you want for the holidays. We’re going to put some parameters. We’re going to put some boundaries,

some restrictions on how crazy things are going to be, or how many gifts we’re going to be given, and so on and so forth.

And I’m not suggesting that you’re to approach your children like the Gestapo and tell them that you know “We’re gonna do this!

We’re gonna do this! And we’re not gonna do that! We’re not gonna do that!” I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is give it some thought ahead of time and then start laying the groundwork to put those expectations down so that your kids, and your other family members, understand

you know, where you’re going with this. And why, you know, why you’re doing what you’re doing. Because you’re trying to not have your kids grow up and be spoilt brats.

You’re trying to have some calm, serene times at the holidays for reflection and joy and Thanksgiving, and not

feel like you’re going to tear your hair out because you’re so busy and you can’t see straight, because you have all these errands and gifts to buy,

and you just don’t know when you’re going to have a break. So it’s finding that balance between having the joy and enjoying the various aspects of the season

that mean something to you and your family, and having that downtime, that white space, that, just sort of that buffer around it so that it’s not so crazy.

My goal for you – because it’s the goal that I have for myself – would be to do a little planning.

And even though this, you know, as this airs, it’s the middle part of November. And so even though,

you know, we’re kind of right on top of Thanksgiving and then right on top of Christmas,

you still have time, you still have time to step back and make a little bit of a plan so that you can put those boundaries into place and build in some white space for yourself.

So I hope this has been helpful in terms of getting ready for the holidays. Just kind of a new way maybe, to think about the holidays and instead of saying,

“Oh, no! You know, it’s the holiday season and we have these 85 million things that have to be accomplished!”

Maybe taking a step back and saying, “Well, do we really have to do all of those things?

Or could we potentially do it differently? Could we do it more simply? Could we do it in a more calm and joyful way, and not feel like

we’re running around like crazy people?” So with that, hope you have happy holidays.

I think I’m going to return to non-holiday related topics next week. And so, we’ll come back together again next week for the SimpleMoney Podcast.

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the SimpleMoney Podcast, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast player.

We’d love it if you would leave us feedback and a review. And don’t forget to check out my blog at simplemoneypro.com.

There you’ll find dozens of posts about financial issues that matter to you, as well as thought-provoking pieces about simplifying your life.

Bye for now.


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