Dealing With The Holiday Guilt

It’s smack dab in the middle of the holidays. You’re dreading it, because you know who’s coming to visit:

 Holiday Guilt. 

This monster trots out its wares every year, under the guise of ‘caring.’ One of its favorite phrases is “If I were a good daughter/son/mom/grandma, I’d…” Unfortunately, that phrase also ends with something you may not be willing or able to do: time with people you don’t care for, travel or other commitments you shouldn’t make, or money spent on lavish presents you can’t afford.

  Do you really have to do it again, just like other years?

     the answer is NO.

Let’s start with the easiest problem: guilt about presents. It’s easy, only because you can ostensibly do something — throw money at it. Money you can’t afford, by the way.

Holiday guilt     You’d love to get the best for people you care about. (Or at least want to impress.) Your budget disagrees. Part of the problem can be solved by using coupons, discounts and taking advantage of special sales. (Brads Deals is a good place to start.) But you still won’t be able to buy everything for everyone. No one can — not even Donald Trump. (Warren Buffett, given his penchant for frugality, wouldn’t even try!)

Be honest with yourself. (This is the starting point for any dealings with the Monster of Guilt.) How much can you actually afford to spend? Concentrating on just one or two presents for each of your recipients may be the answer, rather than a treeful of tchochtkes. (Think quality, not quantity.) For kids, check community advice boards that real parents contribute to, like this one at the Baby Center. You’ll often find helpful ideas and practical gift suggestions.

 Do the best you can… and forgive yourself for not being perfect. (Another key point.) None of us are; we just expect to be. You don’t have to carry that burden anymore; sooner or later, you’re going to mess up. Acknowledging that is incredibly freeing, and actually makes you better in the long run. Strange, but true.

    Then there’s guilt about family — and the expectations those family ties entail. You’re flying (again) to Milwaukee because Grandma Alice expects it…right? No matter that your credit cards are at breaking point, or you’d have to take unpaid time off from work.

Look at the key statements above. Think about it. Do you really want to do this? Can you afford it? If not, practice saying:

 “Gee, I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

  “I’d love to, but I have other commitments that week.” (No matter whether it’s an important meeting…or your dog needs to be walked. You don’t have to be specific.)

“My boss is requiring my attendance at the office that week; we’ve got an important deadline.” (Let someone else wear the Bad Boy/Girl hat, for a change!)

 “We’re sorry to miss it, but we’ll be thinking of you.” (Emphasize it by sending a small present, or calling that day to wish them love.)

Still feel you should go? Do it when you can afford to. Bargain flights are much more common in January and February, when most people are hunkered down. Choose a time when you’ll be needing a break, anyways; you’ll enjoy it more, and your family will be more apt to consider your visit an unexpected pleasure.

And finally, you may have to spend time with people who enjoy picking fights, going into long, boring spiels on politics, or make inappropriate comments. (“Boy, you’ve gotten fat! Are you pregnant?”). Worse yet, they overindulge, and get drunk. Usually these gems are family or friends, but sometimes they’re connected with the places you normally love: church, work, school groups and so on.

 Is it a party or open house? Did you go? Fine — you can leave. Thirty minutes or an hour will do it. Look at your cellphone. (Set the alarm ahead of time, if you need reinforcement.) Say, “Gee, I didn’t realize it was so late — I’ve got another commitment!” (No matter that commitment is a tv program, and peanut butter on toast.) Make your apologies…and escape. Do what you really want to.

Whatever’s said — you don’t have to agree or disagree. Saying nothing is perfectly valid. So is talking about something else. (Or interrupting a bore, if you absolutely have to.) Mention the weather, or your family. A book or movie you’ve recently seen or read. There will be others in the group who welcome a change of subject.

  If drinking’s the issue, and it’s your house — don’t serve alcohol. No matter what. Not only will the party be more interesting, but you won’t have to explain to police why your friend just hit a tree. Or worse.

 Don’t take it personally. Some people are idiots. They can’t help it. Forgive them, and move on.


Someone on a community forum posted this about holiday guilt:

Maybe you feel guilty because you’re thinking of you. Most of us are. Best way to forget about yourself is to help others.

And it isn’t just volunteering at a soup kitchen or library, either. (Although those are wonderful opportunities to help others.) Someone could use their walk shoveled, or a cup of coffeeWrite a note, text or make a phone call. Read a holiday book out loud to a person you care for. (Kids of all ages enjoy it!) Even a few moments concentrating on someone else will help keep Guilt in its place…and out of your life.

9 Responses to Dealing With The Holiday Guilt

  1. Thank you for this post. It may be hard to say no to a visit or to not buy the number of gifts you are “expected” to buy, but next year, you might be in a better financial place and able to say yes.

  2. We used to spend hours opening up gifts for 7 people it was insane. We would spend, spend, spend no budget. Honestly I don’t think any of us had a budget and really we weren’t guilty we just did what we always did. It wasn’t until we made a budget and decided to stick to it that we encouraged everyone to pick names and spend a fixed amount. It has worked out great for everyone, less stress, less guilt and less damage to the budget. Cheers Mr.CBB

  3. You are very welcome, Melissa. We all experience it — we just have to learn to deal with it.

    We solved part of the “present” issue this year by agreeing to only buy 2 presents for each person in our family — Daughters are in their twenties, working and going to school, and finances are low this year. This way, they don’t have to feel guilty, either!

    Thanks so much for writing.

  4. The older I get the easier it is to say no. I remember years of feeling guilty because no matter how much I did it was never enough. The person really putting pressure on me was just me.

    People are generally fine with no and understand. So, it doesn’t matter if the house is perfectly decorated or if I bought the holiday cookies instead of baking them myself. What matters is that we have a happy, enjoyable holiday.

  5. I think you just have to be open with your loved ones about your financial situation.. If they wont support you through that, then don’t let it bother you. Taking care of yourself and your family has to be the top priority.

  6. This is such a great post. I had to decline a couple events recently because we just couldn’t go. I felt so bad but you do have to draw a line somewhere like you said. Guilt is such a powerful emotion. It is really hard to get under control.

  7. I’ve always felt that overdoing it with gifts for the holidays can overshadow the real meaning of Christmas. To me it is more about spending time with the people that I love and care about. It is entirely possible to have a wonderful holiday without spending a lot of money but if your family has different expectations than you do it can be a let down. The best thing to do would be to talk with family members about their expectations and be honest in return.

  8. […]  19.  Or don’t give a gift at all. Most of us have far more than what we need. Make a donation in your recipient’s honor — or write them a letter, letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Whatever you decide, don’t do it out of guilt or obligation. […]

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