By Ann Ludlum, Southwind Extension Agent
Oh, the holidays. They can be joyous and warm … or stressful and budget-breaking … or all of the above. Plus they can leave families, particularly children, with unrealistic expectations. But, having some plans in mind ahead of time can help individuals and families navigate the holidays more easily.
“If you’ve budgeted for holiday spending, stick to it,” said K-State Research and Extension family resource specialist Elizabeth Kiss. “If you don’t have a budget, make a plan. Decide how much you want to spend and what you want to spend it on.”
Gifts, cards, food, and decorations are the four things people typically spend money on around the holidays. Think about holiday traditions at home, at work, with friends, and at children’s schools. Having a plan may mean having a conversation with family and friends about spending and expectations.
“Making a list is important,” Kiss said. “It doesn’t have to hem you in. It doesn’t have to take away any spontaneity if you find really fun and exciting things. It’s a plan. It’s not meant to be a straitjacket.”
Using credit cards for holiday shopping has advantages, in that there’s no need to carry cash. There may also be warranty benefits, depending on the item. The drawbacks with credit cards, however, are that people sometimes lose track and overspend. Research has shown that when buying things on credit, people tend to pay more than they would have if paying in cash.
Using a debit card has some of the conveniences of using a credit card but carries with it the risk of overdrawing the bank account.
Another cash method is the envelope method. Put the cash in an envelope. When buying items, take the cash out and put receipts in. Once all of the cash is out, shopping is done.
Children are often showered with gifts from family and friends during the holidays, but K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles said some of that generosity is likely lost on the child. “The reality of the research is that most children tend to have three to five favorite toys and beyond that, even if they play with other items, they’re not attached to those items,” he said.
If a young child is given an abundance of gifts routinely at holidays, parents are encouraging an expectation that could be difficult to alter later. When children receive gifts from many people, they may start to believe they’re entitled to gifts, as opposed to being happy at the surprise.
When children are involved in the giving of gifts they gain insight of what the holidays are about – the enjoyment of giving a gift as well as receiving a gift.
Adults may want to encourage older children to develop a holiday wish list. That involvement offers children guidance in terms of what is realistic and the interaction helps adult and child learn together about gift giving expectations.
Include children in carrying out holiday plans. If you’re buying a fresh Christmas tree, make it educational by talking about the different options and costs. Or if you do holiday baking, that’s a time to teach about numbers and measuring and it’s an activity that different generations can do together. The message that is conveyed to children is that holidays are not only about spending money, but also about doing things together.