The run-up to Christmas is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful’ time of year. Seasonal songs blast from every speaker, stuffing yourself with mince pies is actively encouraged and drinks are flowing. Everyone seems* a little bit merrier than they were in November.
But the pressure to party more than usual, and to be in a month-long good mood, can leave you feeling hard up and a bit deflated. The change of pace to our normal routines, and the short, dark days and gloomy weather, can be especially challenging, whether you suffer from mental health issues or not. It’s also one of the most expensive months of the year, which can bring out anxiety in the best of us.
We get it, and it’s okay not to be okay - even at Christmas. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to look after yourself (and your bank balance) this December.
*Seems, not always is.
Stick to your budget
Almost half of us overspend on finding the perfect gifts to give at Christmas. When friends and colleagues are discussing how much they’ve spent on their loved ones, the pressure to go big can hit hard. But those close to you would probably rather you didn’t blow your budget showering them with gifts. That said, the act of giving is scientifically proven to boost your mood, so watching someone unwrap a present they love is a foolproof way to put a smile on your face.
Experiences are a great way to show someone you care, and are often far cheaper than tangible presents. Instead of buying Mum perfume for Christmas, why not take her for lunch or a night away in the New Year? Lots of restaurants and hotels offer cheaper deals in January to entice us back in after an indulgent few months.
Similarly, the word ‘DIY’ might bring back memories of that box you made out of pasta and silver paint when you were six, but it can actually make for a very thoughtful gift. Homemade photo albums tend to go down well with older relatives, or you could make a friend a hamper full of their favourite foods. It’s the thought that counts, after all.
Borrowing money to fund shopping is never a good idea, but if you’re worried about how you’ll afford the essentials, a purchase card could help you spread the cost without racking up debt. If the thought of Christmas spending is already bringing you out in a cold sweat, you might find this Christmas Money Planner useful when budgeting for the season.
(It’s okay to) say no
When you’re faced with a whole month dedicated to festive parties and events, the need to socialise can be overwhelming. If you’d describe yourself as an introvert anyway, it can be even more difficult (you’re not alone though - Mind charity found that 19% of Brits have pretended to be ill to get out of work Christmas parties). This can be problematic from both a mental health and monetary perspective.
From work drinks to family lunches and parties with friends, the bills quickly add up if you’ve got multiple engagements each week. But it’s okay to say ‘no’ (nicely, of course). If you’re really not feeling it, or if your bank card can’t take another tapping, politely declining an invitation is perfectly acceptable. People generally understand that Christmas is a costly time of year, and most of us, if we’re being honest, will struggle to afford to accept every invite.
It might help to look at your budget in advance, and see how many events you can realistically afford to attend. Then prioritise the ones you’d most like to go to and say no to the others, or be less ruthless but stick to soft drinks (or these low or no-alcohol beers) to save yourself some cash. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing places you can suggest to friends and colleagues that are fun with or without booze (you might fancy a break from it by this point anyway).
One of the best ways to save money and beat stress this Christmas is to start the prep early. Leaving present and food shopping until the last minute can leave you with a depleted (often more expensive) selection to choose from, and a headache from the stress of panic buying. According to this study, Christmas-induced worries can literally give you a heart attack, so anything to avoid this is surely worth it. Plus, the earlier you think about planning, the earlier you can start saving.
If you’re hosting Christmas this year, why not order the food in advance? Most major supermarkets offer the option to order online (and many will give you a discount if it’s your first time shopping with them). This will save you the hassle of rushing to the shops on the 24th December when everyone else is stocking up last minute. You’ll also dodge the disappointment of turkey being out of stock! Or why not ask guests to bring nibbles or dessert and give yourself one less thing to think about? If you’re in need of some Christmas dinner inspiration, try these clever budgeting ideas.
The same goes for gift shopping. One in five of us finishes their shopping before the end of October, in a bid to take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales. There are plenty of ways to save if you start early enough - Black Friday and Cyber Monday both take place at the end of November and offer huge discounts. Hitting up these sales is a clever way to bag a bargain and avoid the mad rush come mid-December - just make sure you go with a list to prevent any unnecessary purchases. You’ll also avoid the next-day delivery charges that retailers bump up as Christmas approaches.
Know your limits
Christmas tends to go hand in hand with over-indulgence, particularly when it comes to alcohol - apparently, we drink 41% more booze during December than at any other time of year. But knowing your limits is really important this festive season.
It’s no secret that drinking heavily can bring you down, (alcohol is a depressant, after all), so if you suffer from mood-related disorders or anxiety, this could trigger your symptoms. And even if you don’t, you’ll still suffer the effects of a hangover the next day, which could leave you feeling tired, distracted and more anxious than normal.
One way to avoid these feelings is to stay away from rounds when you’re out - you’ll often end up drinking more than you’d like to just because several friends owe you one. It’s better to buy your own drinks, that way you can switch to a soft if you need to or skip a drink altogether (think of the money you’ll save). Drink slowly and never start on an empty stomach (that’s not a reason to eat a whole box of Quality Street and then head to the pub). You can see how much you’re drinking - and spending - using the Drinkaware App.
Be especially aware of online shopping whilst drunk. We know how tempting it can be to have a quick browse after a few glasses of wine, but this can be hugely damaging to your finances. At best, you might wake up with buyer’s remorse the next day; at worst, you could rack up debt that you can’t repay. If you find yourself spending uncontrollably after drinking, download the Icebox Chrome extension to put a stop to your impulse buying.
If you’re using alcohol to self-medicate, or if you ever think about harming yourself, please make an emergency appointment with your GP or get in touch with the Samaritans for urgent help.
This isn’t a money-related worry in itself, but staying fit over the Christmas period can be a real challenge. There’s a reason why you tend to feel better about life in general after breaking a sweat: working out releases endorphins, the ‘happy’ chemicals that improve your mood and reduce your stress levels. It also helps to boost self-esteem and reduce sleep problems, and it’s even been used as treatment for depression. Exercise is key to feeling good - both physically and mentally - but people often think it’s expensive to do.
If you’re trying to cut costs, there are plenty of free classes you could try. Check out these outdoors classes here, or the NHS’ free fitness ideas here. If making time for exercise is an issue, why not substitute a night out every week to fit it in, or organise a running club in your lunch hour with some friends at work? If you’re not into actually breaking a sweat, we love these fun, festive ideas for keeping in shape this Christmas.
Don't bottle it up
Financial worries can make Christmas a difficult time, but don’t suffer in silence. If you’re lucky enough to know someone who understands, talk to them about how you’re feeling - a problem shared is a problem halved, after all.
If not, there are plenty of places you can find support, wherever and whenever you need it. Money Advice Service and Mind can give you free, impartial advice, and the Samaritans will provide a listening ear 24/7.