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Holiday spending: How to budget and stay positive during the pandemic

Holiday spending: How to budget and stay positive during the pandemic
Posted at 12:49 PM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 14:49:36-05

Money might be tight this holiday with many working less hours or losing their jobs due to the pandemic, but it's not too late to budget and feel good about the season.

November through December is a time when more cash is flowing and cards are swiping at stores.

“The average that people spend across the country is about $1,000 per holiday season,” said Ryan Freitag, a financial adviser with Edward Jones.

Freitag said budgeting is key to preparing for the expected, such as gift buying around the holidays, and unexpected, like financial losses during a pandemic.

He said people should simplify expenses and look at spending on a monthly basis to understand how much is needed for necessities, savings and the extras.

The same rule of thumb applies to holiday spending. Freitag said people should plan how much can be allotted for gifts and set spending limits before hitting the holiday deals.

“Whether it's $200 or $1,000, take that money out of a checking or a savings account and even use a prepaid debit card," Freitag said. "That will allow them to keep their spending in check.”

Experts typically recommend putting 10% of monthly income toward "fun spending." That number might change during the holidays.

To manage the increase, Freitag recommends starting a holiday club savings account as soon as January to start budgeting for this time of year early. He said even putting in $10 a month can be beneficial.

“That way by the time holiday season comes you have a block of money that you’ve already designated toward your goal," Freitag said. "I feel like that takes the emotion, and overwhelming part of holiday spending out of it and the money is available.”

Caitlin Carmody, an outpatient psycotherapist with Spectrum Behavioral Health LLC, said they see more people struggle with anxiety and depression around this time of year. She said some might feel an extra emotional burden from not being able to buy as many gifts for loved ones.

But there are other options for showing loved ones they care.

“There’s so many different ways we can show people love and affection. It doesn’t have to cost money," Carmody said.

Instead of buying presents, Carmody suggested making gifts with family. She said the act of creating can help combat anxiety and depression, and even build self esteem in kids.

Carmody said quality time is important. The gift of time can be just as meaningful, even if it's done virtually.

“You’re growing new memories. You’re making new traditions," Carmody said. "So if we can re-frame it as not something that we’re losing, but maybe as a time of growth, or an opportunity to make new traditions and new memories.”

For some, it's the gifts that can't be bought that mean the most.

“We don’t need to put a dollar figure to a phone call," Freitag said. "There are a lot of people right now that are alone and isolated. I truly see that as more important than the money that somebody spends right now.”

If people are feeling anxious or depressed, Carmody suggests practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises and keeping a routine. She said it's also important to stay present in the moment and not worry about things that are out of one's control.

For those struggling with mental health, Carmody said they should reach out to a mental health professional for help.

This story was originally published by Kelsey Dickeson at WGBA.