Mania & Financial Stress During the Holidays

Last Updated: 4 Dec 2020

This time of year, I actively resist the urge to overspend. I love giving gifts, going to holiday parties, and dressing up to celebrate. In the past, mania “managed” my wallet and festivities for me. It just forgot about, well, everything else. Thankfully, I’ve learned some lessons to manage my money, my moods, and the stress of the season.

holiday shopping mania financial stress strategies

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to start shopping for gifts for others, buying food for parties—and don’t forget about new outfits for those holiday parties. Or, at least, that’s the way it usually goes. This year, there will be fewer holiday parties. And fewer fancy outfits. But that doesn’t mean the temptation to overindulge and overspend is gone.

The holiday season can be joyful, merry, and bright. However, it can also be an extremely stressful time for many reasons—for many, that main reason can be managing financial stress. For me, the struggle is that I want to make other people happy, and I want to see their faces light up when they open my well-thought-out gift. I want to show up at family dinners with delicious food, and I want to look my best.

In the past, this all ends up taking a major toll on me once I balance my checkbook and see what money I have, or, should I say, what money I don’t have. I can easily forget that not only am I buying gifts and all that jazz, but there are my regular bills and expenses on top of that.

Add in being manic, and it’s like a free-for-all. There is no control over my spending. Here are tips that have helped me to lessen the financial stress of the holiday season.

Gifts Equals Lists

Like I said, I love to buy gifts for other people. I want to show the other person that they are important to me and that I appreciate them. I want to bring joy to someone else. In the past, I have bought way too many gifts for people. I felt like each person should have the same number of gifts—no one should have more gifts than another person. Unless they were children—then all bets were off.

I knew that people enjoy my gifts, and they are grateful, but I would forget to ask, how does this make me feel in January when the credit card comes due?

You can probably figure that answer out without me saying it.

So, how do I combat this issue? I make a list. (Full disclosure, I love lists! I have lists for everything and about everything.) List-making does make me happy.

First, I make a list of all the people I want to give a gift to.

Second, I really put thought into what I want to get them. I take time to think about that person, what they have talked about wanting at some point, or what I think they would love.

Third, I really try to stick to the list. Once a gift is bought, I cross it off the list, and that person is considered “done.” This helps me to not spend money that doesn’t need to be spent, which makes my financials less of a question mark and allows for a more peaceful post-holiday experience.

Last, I also have been known to make gifts for people. Last year, everyone in my family got a homemade gift, and this year probably will not be any different.

Food for Thought

During this time of the year, there are gatherings to go to, and I always want to bring something to share. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family dinner, meeting up with friends, or bringing food to work, I want to bring cheer to others. And what is the best way to do that? Food!

Everyone loves food.

While our circumstances may have changed and we cannot gather as we might usually do, we can still carefully prepare special dishes or even full meals, drop them off at the doors of those we love but cannot yet see safely in-person, and then enjoy a meal “together” while apart—over a video chat or “meeting.”

Because food does still bring us together. As I said: Everyone loves food.

I used to work at a place where this was so true. There was a running joke that there could be a million dollars and a cake on a table … at the end of the day, the cake would be gone and the money moved to the side and all be accounted for. Food is just magical like that.

It’s easy to overspend on food, though. Especially if you are like I was, and you purchase everything already made.

The best way to avoid a stress stomachache is to commit to only want you can afford, prepare and cook/bake the food yourself, or limit what you deliver. For instance, when there was a potluck at work for our department’s holiday party, I would just ask about what everyone else was doing and then make my decision.

If I could get away with something easy, like a pie, that is what I would sign up for.

No, I have never baked a pie in my life. Honestly, I am not a baker. My sister was blessed with that gene.

But a simple pie is something I could afford, and people love desserts.

For family gatherings, there was always a list of dishes that we all want to have. So, we would split up the list and all take responsibility for things we bring. Obviously, I don’t do the pies, but I make anything else. Usually, the mashed potatoes and green-bean casserole. These are easy, and I can make them at home, which lessens the amount of money I spend.

By the way, for many years, I cooked whole holiday meals. To help with that cost, I shopped the weekly ads from the grocery stores. I also planned a head, so I knew what I needed. (That was also another list I enjoyed making!)

Mania and Shopping

When I am buying gifts for others, it gives me a great feeling; but when I become manic, shopping for others can be a disaster. In a state of mania, I am buying gifts for others and checking my list twice—but it’s as if I am on some kind of high.

Mania and spending money go hand in hand. When I am manic, I swear, it’s like I have an itch I can’t scratch until I buy something.

It can be literally anything. I have gotten out of control and bought way too many things all at one time.

When mania and shopping meet, shopping wins. I feel as if I must do it.

I want to say I have it under control.

My secret? First, I do buy something. But, it’s just one or two things—and that is it!

Second, if something new comes into my closet, something has to come out. For instance, if I buy a new shirt, I have to donate an old shirt. This goes the same for pants, dresses, and jackets. (This is a great rule when it’s not the holidays as well. Buying things for others just increases my euphoric feelings at the time.)

Last, the best way I have been able to control myself with the holiday shopping is that I start shopping early. I mean like in February! I start this early because it helps me financially by only buying one or two things here and there throughout the whole year. On top of that, I don’t experience the manic euphoria when it’s a random Tuesday in June and I see something I should get for someone. Being able to control myself when I am manic and holiday shopping is hard, but, in my experience, it can work when approached this way. Also, spreading the holiday gift shopping over the course of months also helps with my finances, lessening the strain and stress that used to kick off the new year.

Uncommon Stress in an Unprecedented Year

This year will look different to a lot of people. Traditions will change, and, this year, maybe less money will be spent. The stress of this year has been incredible, and the financial stress we’re facing before the holidays is tremendous.

I am feeling all of it.

I must admit that I didn’t start shopping early at all. However, I will be making a list, and I will make sure I stick with it.

I know that I don’t want people to go overboard on me and stress themselves out financially for my sake. And I know they don’t want the same for me.

Managing financial stress can be difficult when you are facing the urge to splurge, especially after so many months of sacrifice. But you can do it: Make a list, don’t take on more than you can, and give yourself grace. This has helped me to find relief from the additional stress of holiday shopping and the financial fallout.

Originally posted December 3, 2020.

About the author
Jessica Taylor lives in the Tampa Bay area. She has an MBA from Western Governors University and a BS in accounting from the University of South Florida. She was diagnosed with bipolar II in 2016, at age 35. She has been with the love of her life for almost two decades. A corporate accountant who found her passion for this career in 2004, Jessica is also an avid outdoorsman. She loves Jesus and spending time with her family. Her hope is to shine a light on living with bipolar from what she has learned.

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