Spending Choices and Deeper Psychology

Christmas has always been a challenging time of the year for me.

During various years, within a week or two on either side of Christmas, my grandfather (who I cherished) died of cancer, a great uncle that I was very close to also died of cancer, and one of my cousins who was exactly the same age as me committed suicide.

The Christmas season is thus bittersweet for me. There are so many positive feelings and memories I have about this season, but the memories of the final days of loved ones and of funerals and of people I dearly miss also fill the season. There are a few Christmas carols that, when I first hear them during the Christmas season, whack me in the stomach like a two by four.

Because of all of this, I often get really obsessive about trying to ensure that the Christmas season is really great for all of those around me – my parents, my children, my wife. The emotional mix of the Christmas season, for me, often results in me making spending choices that I wouldn’t otherwise make. I’ll choose wonderfully frugal gifts for some people, then I’ll spend far too much on a gift for someone else.

By the time Christmas finally rolls around, I almost feel relieved that it’s all over for another year. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame because I feel as though I spent far too much on gifts for others during the season. By February, I’ve resolved to not do it again this year.

Then November rolls around and the first snow of the year, for some reason, always makes me think of my grandfather. Then I’ll hear Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and the same cycle of feelings always returns.

I think many of us share a lot of conflicting feelings about the holiday season. It’s often an emotionally charged time of the year, with relatives coming together and sometimes exposing very raw nerves. It’s often also connected with a lot of memories of childhood and of people long since past. Add on top of that the fact that December contains the shortest amount of daylight of any month of the year (contributing to a bit of the winter blues in everyone) and it can be a very challenging mix.

For all of us, there are lots of emotional triggers in life (mine just happens to be Christmas). Emotions can flood out from an innocent phrase, the thought of a long lost friend, or any number of other things.

The trick is to remember that when your emotions are running rampant, it is very easy to make very poor choices with your money.

Over the last few years, I’ve really come to recognize how challenging the Christmas season can be for me. The biggest step I’ve taken to keep my finances under control this month is to simply do as much Christmas shopping as I can before the month even begins.

In other words, I do everything I can to separate my wallet from what I know will be an emotional surge for me. I minimize the reasons I might possibly have to go shopping for gifts – and for other things – as the Christmas season approaches, lest I wind up with a pile of poor spending choices brought about by a psychological crest.

What things are hidden in your psychology that cause you to make poor choices? Is it certain people? Is it a certain time of the year? Is it a certain thing? Whatever it is, there are many rewards – financial and otherwise – from stepping back, recognizing that you’re affected strongly by this thing, and doing everything you can to keep your money as far away from the situation as you possibly can.

Yes, it will still be a merry Christmas for me. The light in my children’s eyes helps quite a lot, and it’s a light that I’ve come to learn has little to do with presents or things. It has to do with a dad that lets them pile on in the living room.

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