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Keeping your money and mental health in check this Christmas

Christmas can be a time of stress - in particular, financially. We've pulled together some tricks for keeping anxious feelings at bay, and your mental health in tip top shape.

23 October 2019Frankie Jones 5 min read

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This article was originally published in November 2019. Updated November 2020.

The run-up to Christmas is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful’ time of year - even in 2020 with all its challenges. 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 make this year more special than ever has the potential to 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 at the best of times, 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 all 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 - especially if 2020 has been a tough year financially. 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.

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.

If you’re worried about how you’ll afford everything, 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 lot of festive parties over Zoom or video call, 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 Christmas events).

But we're here to say that it’s okay to say ‘no’. If you’re really not feeling yet another online Christmas Quiz, politely declining an invitation is perfectly acceptable. People generally understand that this Christmas is going to be unlike any other. It might help to prioritise the people and online events that you’d most like to join and say no to the others, or be less ruthless but stick to a time limit for each call to preserve your energy.

Start early

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 have a severe impact on your health, 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 have scaled up the ability to order online in light of the pandemic, 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 those within your Christmas Bubble 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 online discounts. Hitting up these sales is a good way to bag a bargain and avoid the mad rush come mid-December - just make sure you set out a clear 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.

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.

Keep fit

This isn’t a money-related worry in itself, but staying active 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.

In light of the pandemic, many classes have now moved online, and 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.

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Written by Frankie Jones


Frankie takes the often confusing world of finance and makes it clear and simple, to help you get your money sorted.