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Financial expert says less spending and planning can help mitigate holiday stress in a pandemic

Christmas LightsThe end of the year holidays often add another layer of stress to our complicated lives. With the COVID-19 pandemic spiking, thinking about holiday spending and planning piles on even more holiday anxiety. According to Julie Kalkowski, executive director of the Financial Hope Collaborative at Creighton University, 2020 is the year to take a deep breath and think about how to celebrate differently.

“Let 2020 be the year of doing more with less,” Kalkowski said. “This year, you don’t need an excuse to do things differently. In staying safe to stop the spread of the virus, many traditional holiday habits like traveling and fighting crowds at shopping malls aren’t good options. Let this be the year to celebrate how you want to, without worrying about what others think or how you have always done it in the past.”

Kalkowski offers the following advice for navigating the holidays and mitigating stress:

Create Your Own ‘New Normal’ – Using common sense and compassion when planning around the pandemic doesn’t mean you’re a scrooge this holiday season. You don’t have to radically change your typical plans, but since large gatherings are not recommended, you can save time and money by reducing expenses and travel. Think about where and with whom you’d like to celebrate, and focus on what would make you, your family and friends feel safe, appreciated and loved.

Create a Spending Plan – Regardless of your financial situation, determining a budget is the foundation of all financial planning. Take a hard look at your finances, determine who you plan to purchase gifts for and what you can afford to spend. If your finances are limited, communicate with those you would normally buy gifts for and discuss a spending limit. If you have a big family, suggest drawing names or initiating a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Make a List and Check it Twice – Before making your holiday purchases, create a list of gifts you intend to buy and check it twice to ensure the expense is planned. If it’s not and you still choose to make the purchase, then you should adjust your budget to stay within your plan. Look for bargains and compare prices to get the best deals possible on gifts from your list.

Think About Gifting Differently This Year – The holidays are about showing your gratitude for others. Look for meaningful ways or kind gestures to show your appreciation. This can be accomplished through making gifts, writing heartfelt cards or sharing your time and talents. Examples could include providing a monthly home cooked meal to a relative; making a donation in their name to a local food bank or pantry; and giving your neighbor with health problems a card offering to shovel their sidewalks this winter. Listening also can be an invaluable gift, as so many people are isolated at home and lonely. A monthly phone call to a relative or friend can make all the difference.

Gifts for Children that Keep on Giving – Gift giving for children can be more difficult since they think about the holidays differently. Nurturing a savings habit and generosity in the next generation is a good investment in the future. Consider sending them a small amount of cash each month. This will give them something to look forward to and think about as they dream of how to spend the money. You could match whatever they save and consider matching it 2-to-1 if they donate it to a nonprofit. Books also make great gifts. Think of a book that had an impact on your life and include a note on how the book affected you. This fosters deeper connections, and stories also make room for imagination, a welcome distraction to monotonous routines.

Evaluate and Plan Ahead – If you overspent during the holidays, cease excess spending by being frugal or implementing a spending diet. If you racked up credit card debt, pay off your high interest debt first. Once completed, roll those payments to other debt burdens. The start of a new year is a great time to set financial goals and determine what can be done differently in the year ahead. Utilize automation for future success with monthly transfers to a savings fund. Developing a savings plan can help you save for the holidays and other important financial goals.

The Financial Hope Collaborative at Creighton University provides innovative financial education and coaching to improve consumer behavior and move families and individuals toward financial stability. For more information, visit


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