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Cleaning Up from the Holiday Season

Maybe you spent months in a race against the clock to produce the most memorable Christmas gift your spouse has ever received.  Maybe you scrimped and saved every spare dime to reward your children with the latest and greatest gizmos, gadgets or items of clothing.  Maybe you simply procrastinated and completed your holiday shopping in a matter of hours before the “big” night with the family!  Regardless of your preparation, or lack thereof…it’s over.  Now that we have embraced and celebrated the holiday season, for many of us our thoughts turn to the “clean up” of the holiday fury.  By clean up, I don’t mean the laborious task of taking down the tree, or uncovering the mantle from the holiday stockings that were hung quite meticulously only hours after carving the Thanksgiving turkey and ham.  By clean up, I mean the often inevitable crash that comes after the anticipation and the climax of the holiday season. 

Still not following me?  We are told that holidays are a time of frolicking, friends and family.  Despite the joy that surrounds the season, shortly after the holidays officially end, many will begin the downward spiral that encompasses the 4th and 5th holiday Fs: Fear of Finances.  Fear of finances begins when the realization sets in that you have spent more than you intended in your quest for holiday generosity.

So why is this generous spending problematic?  Those gifts and the resulting holiday debt, although generous, can have a lasting negative impact. With more than 90% of Americans celebrating Christmas, Kwanza or Hanukah, seasonal holiday spending accounts for about 33% of annual retail turnover in many Western economies.3 According to the National Retail Federation, in 2013 gift givers spent $602 billion dollars.6  A national survey (commissioned by CreditCards.com) reported 38% of those responding had used credit cards to pay for holiday purchases.4  With a significant amount of credit being extended this holiday season is there a plan for debt reduction?  55% of respondents expected to eliminate their debt within 30 days, 74% anticipated a debt elimination plan of 90 days, and some believed they would not be debt free from the 2014 holiday season until sometime closer to the holiday season of 2015.4

But does holiday stress really stem from money (or the resulting lack thereof)?  Consumers and researchers think so.  As a matter of fact, 7 out of 10 adults identify themselves as being “very stressed out” about money.5  In addition, a recent study reveals a correlation between familial/relationship stressors and debt as well as an association between being depressed and problems related to the stress of financial debt.2   Stress can have deleterious effects on both physical and psychological health, resulting in a wide range of inappropriate coping mechanisms including excessive drinking and spending.  This is especially alarming when we consider data that suggests that suicides peak during the first two days after weekends and holidays for participants with alcoholic dependency.1

The holidays are supposed to be a time of cheer.  As American’s fuel their desire for materialistic possessions, a significant amount of pressure is placed on proffering the perfect gift, at any cost.  Unfortunately, this cost doesn’t just impact the pocketbook, it can bring about stressors that last for months and even years to come.  Those stressors can lead to anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties and even divorce.  While the season is over for this year, make it your New Years resolution to reconsider the “gift” next year.  Rather than spend with reckless abandon consider alternatives that do not guarantee you a seat at the table of debt.  The holiday season is finite.  The stress of debt might bring about many things, but it will not bring about the very thing that every gift giver is seeking at this time of the year…to make everlasting memories.

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1Brådvik, L., & Berglund, M. (2003). A suicide peak after weekends and holidays in patients with alcohol dependence. Suicide And Life-Threatening Behavior33(2), 186-191. doi:10.1521/suli.

2Bridges, S., & Disney, R. (2010). Debt and depression. Journal of Health Economics29388-403. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2010.02.003

3Hancock, P., & Rehn, A. (2011, November). Organizing Christmas. Organization. p. 737. doi:10.1177/1350508411428214.

4Merzer, M. (2014).  Poll: More Americans expect to be in debt forever.  Retrieved at http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/debt-forever.php

5Scott, E. (2014).  Financial stress - How it affects you and what you can do. http://stress.about.com/od/financialstress/a/financialstress.htm

6The National Retail Foundation (2014).  The long and the short of America’s consumer holidays.  https://nrf.com/news/the-long-and-short-of-americas-consumer-holidays


Karla Ivankovich, PhD, LCPC, DCC - FacebookWebsite
Karla has earned degrees in a range of disciplines including: Business Administration, Psychology, Human Development Counseling, and INO-Disability Studies. Karla is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who is board certified by the American Psychotherapy Association. Karla teaches Psychology for the University of Illinois at Springfield. In addition, Karla is the co-founder and President of OnePatient Global Health Initiative. Karla also hosts a radio show called Life and Love, with her partner, Dr. Daniel Ivankovich. The show airs on the iHeart radio network. 

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