“All I want for Christmas… is a free refill of my wallet when I’m done shopping” Anon
Despite being the time of good cheer, Christmas can also be a trigger to those more difficult emotions; loneliness, guilt, stress, pride and envy.
And many of these are linked to our comfort escape routes; eating, alcohol, drugs, gambling and the big Xmas one, retail therapy and the many flavours it comes in.
Shopping for comfort
Stress shopping is an impulsive, emotion driven behaviour to avoid all those overwhelming feelings which the Christmas season seems too trigger.
Although it provides a degree of temporary relief and a sense of control when everything seems so chaotic, the post indulgence crash is brutal and plunges us straight back into the guilt, fear, shame and anxiety we were desperately trying to escape.
Shopping for Status
The Christmas spirit has morphed into competitive one-up man ship. Many of us agonise over the gifts we are giving and the scale of the celebration we are hosting or attending, and not for the spiritual reasons behind it but rather what it says about us.
Is my gift going to be expensive or unique enough, will the décor be luxurious and extravagant enough, will the meal be gourmet enough and will it make me enough. Generous enough, wealthy enough, likeable enough, acceptable enough, successful enough or whatever other enough we think we need to be.
Shopping out of guilt
Guilt shopping is all about the emotional pressure we put on ourselves to be better or to do better and it seems so easy to assuage it by being overly generous and taking gifting to the extreme, often resulting in our own financial stress.
Shopping for the thrill
Even the most anti-shopper experiences the dopamine rush of grabbing a bargain or finding that perfect gift. Ironically the thrill has nothing to do with the item but everything to do with the chase and feeling like we’ve won the game.
All the marketing around the festive season is designed to exploit this basic part of our nature. The black Friday sales, the lights, the luxury, the sentimental feelings from the smells, the songs and the messages, all invite indulgence, excess and immersion in all the material offerings of the season.
Behind all the festivities lurks the dangers of retail therapy
“Whoever said money won’t make you happy didn’t know where to shop” Bo Derek
Contrary to this statement, although shopping may give that temporary boost, the long term crash will feel way less fun.
The thrill quickly fades as we sacrifice our financial security, our ability to achieve our long-term goals, like getting out of debt, buying a house or paying for college. It negatively impacts our closest relationships, is one of the biggest causes of marital strife and ultimately can be extremely detrimental to our mental and physical health.
With all these anti-christmas spirit bad feelings lingering way past the end of the season how can we win the war?
Know yourself, your triggers and how to help yourself navigate the temptations
“To know thou-self is the beginning of wisdom” Socrates
As much as some of us will deny it, there is no getting away from the fact that we are creatures of habit and generally our indulgences follow a well-used script.
The trick is to become conscious of what that script is.
The management guru, Peter Drucker apparently said “Tell me what you value and I might believe you, but show me your calendar and your bank statement, and I’ll show you what you really value.”
Our sub-conscious leaves clues for us to unpick why we do what we do. By tracking our spending we can start to uncover the triggers that drive us to behave a certain way.
And being aware of the triggers we can consciously start to avoid them.
Knowing the triggers that push your unconscious retail indulgence button means you can plan the experience in advance to avoid the triggers.
- Create a shopping list of the items you want to target
- Price the list up a week or so before shopping and have a general idea of what the items regularly cost and what your overall spending is likely to be.
- Check the planned spending is within the boundaries of what you want to spend in terms of the other goals you are working on.
- Arm yourself with a supportive shopping partner who knows your bigger life plan and will keep you on track for achieving this diversionary challenge.
- Indulge in some guilt free shopping chasing those planned for bargains and having fun!
Change the language
Humans are gifted when it comes to rationalising something we know we shouldn’t be doing.
And subconsciously we know the power of the language we use to do so.
A big part of changing our thinking around overindulging especially when it comes to Christmas shopping is changing the narrative we have around it.
I deserve it
Fighting the crowd to get to that “must have” pair of socks for grandpa you spot the most beautiful sweater. It’s luxurious cashmere, soft and silky and screams comfort and a big ding on your wallet.
“It’s been a tough year and this Christmas shopping is a killer”, you think, “I deserve something nice”.
Stop right there. Reframe your thinking.
You DO deserve a lot.
You deserve financial security, you deserve achieving your bigger goals, you deserve that vision you have for your life. Is this purchase going to give that to you ?
I have been working hard to stick to my financial plan
We all go through the messy middle or the valley of darkness when it comes to achieving big goals that seem so far away.
At these times temptation feels 100x more intense. Christmas is a time when the enticements that seduce our senses are particularly powerful and seeing everyone else indulging we can question our path of frugality.
We justify the desire to fall off the wagon based on all we have “sacrificed” to get this far in our journey.
There’s the mistake. Our financial journey and the work we are doing to make it stable and strong for the future should not be about deprivation and sacrifice. It’s all about making conscious well thought out plans to build the life we want. This is not deprivation, it’s the creation of our vision.
It only happens once per year
We thrive on giving to others and it feels good to spoil our family and friends and celebrate all the togetherness the festive season brings. All these feelings of selflessness and generosity cloud our bigger picture vision and we justify our divergence from it on the basis that this is only a one time a year event.
However the consequences of this one-time event outlast the happy spirit and joyful giving as the reality of overspending and the resultant financial consequences emerge.
Being aware of the future consequences as well as understanding the emotional values we get out of the season we can invoke our creativity to come up with ways to give and celebrate that are not all about the spending and extravagance.