Christmas Shopping & The Battleground of The Brain

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter
  • DD1 = Dear first daughter
  • DD2 = Dear second daugher

Smart Christmas shopping through the year (& why I didn’t do it)

I know that it’s smart to start Christmas shopping about a year in advance. That way, you can take advantage of sales as they happen. But in the end, when I’ve tried that approach in shopping for our three daughters, my experience has been that by the time Christmas actually rolls around, I would rather give them something else. How can you know in March what your loved ones will want in December?

That’s my pride-saving reason for not doing my shopping early this year. The other reason – which I’m certainly not proud of – is that I bombed in managing my discretionary money this year (again), and I didn’t have the resources to go shopping for Christmas gifts. At this time of year, DH and I give ourselves a discretionary bonus for the season, and if I play it right, that will do the trick.

Generosity and debt

One of the things I started to do in the fall this year, as I realized that I was not winning in my resolution to get a grip on discretionary spending, was to track it – and to keep the tracking sheet on the fridge. DH and I have tracked our overall spending since we started our journey out of debt 4½ years ago, but for some reason, I resisted doing the same thing in this area where I’ve consistently struggled.

In looking at my tracking sheet, something becomes clear: I spend a lot on other people. Thank you gifts; treats; support for causes or friends’ businesses  . . . Last week, I wrote a post about the impact of being a giver, a taker, or a matcher upon personal finance, and I included this observation: “Debt isn’t always exclusively about selfish spending on the latest shiny toy; often, people struggle with debt at least in part because of their stubborn compulsion to give.” There’s a bit of relief in that realization. It at least gives me a noble excuse for my ongoing discretionary spending issue.

First purchase: my under-budget brain-torment

As DH and I went out together Tuesday evening to shop for our daughters, we had a budget – as we have since we started to bring our debts down. I’ve never been too adamant about sticking precisely to our Christmas budget. It’s safe to say that without exception, I’ve always gone slightly over it. Tuesday evening, when we found what we wanted to give DD3, the total came up . . . under budget.

We had bought exactly what we thought our youngest would love to receive, but there was a bit of torment going on in my brain. “You could have spent more. You’ve short-changed her.” On a rational level, I know that’s ridiculous! But if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize as we’ve made our way out of debt, it’s that my money habits have nothing to do with rationality. In some deep recess of my brain is the conviction that spending = love. Logically, I can know that’s not true – and not change a thing. Change requires something more – something that touches upon the psychology behind the irrational: I have to practice my way out of spending based on false convictions – in eyes-wide-open awareness.

So I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t say, “Let’s get more,” or “Let’s get something more expensive.” I faced down the mini-brain-torment that said “Show her how much you love her by going over-budget!” and fiercely held to the purchase we had made – which was entirely perfect in and of itself. We would have bought it even if it had brought us slightly over-budget. As it happened, it just didn’t. There. No more. Full stop. Sheesh!

Second purchase:  brain-torment stopped

DH and I divided and conquered at one point in our shopping, and I went off to buy DD1’s gifts as he went off to buy mine. The forces of pricing were in my favour as I bought more for our eldest more than I had expected to be able to. Again, we came in under budget. Not only had I bought exactly what I thought she would be happy to receive, I had bought more of it than she would ever expect her parents-on-a-budget to give. Yet we were under budget …

I stopped any brain torment in its tracks. Perfect gift – in fact more than perfect. In this case, I actually wouldn’t have gone over budget to get all of it. The fact that I was able to get it all and still be under budget was a bonus. No more. Full stop.

Your Christmas shopping: best wishes on the battleground

DH and I know what we’re going to get DD2, and we know that we’ll come right on budget for her. I already know what pressure my illogical $=♥ conviction will exert:“If you come in on budget for her, you’ll have to buy the other two a bit more so that they know you love them just as much.” But I’m not going to give it any power. With practice, I’ll work new synaptic connections in my brain so that such false convictions have no impact on either my finances or my relationships with loved ones.

If you have a history of bad money management and debt, there’s a good chance that Christmas is going to bring out the worst of your spending habits. This Christmas season, I wish you:

  • a budget
  • an awareness of your own sabotaging thought patterns as they arise
  • victory in your struggle against negative, deeply ingrained brain waves

Merry Christmas!


Is Christmas shopping a “battle” for you? Your comments are welcome.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

14 comments on “Christmas Shopping & The Battleground of The Brain

  1. Great job, my friend!!!! I think as you continue to work on the “spending money does not equal giving love” equation you’ll continue to succeed in this area. We had Christmas success, but in another way. We’ve never spent very much on the kids at Christmas – at least not compared to any of the people we know. But I realized that a lot of the reason for this has been that old “fear of not having enough” thing. This year I had a chance to buy a Christmas ornament for each of the kids (we buy them new matching ones each year) that I am certain they’ll absolutely love, but it put us over budget about $25 for each kid. I felt that old fear setting in, but then remembered that money doesn’t control us, we control it. I made a logical assessment of our financial year in review and decided it was okay for us to go over budget, knowing that it will “be okay” and we won’t end up in the poor house because of it. Fear gone + kids who will be SO excited when they open their ornament = success!!

    1. Those ornaments will have a wonderful symbolic value: not only connected to a good financial year but also to overcoming fear. You’ve gone over-budget by about the same amount we went under budget – so we balance out : )

  2. I totally agree with you on shopping during the year. We have never done that. In my mind it defeats the spirit of the season.

    We were wildly over spenders over the years, now we shop within a budget during Christmas. So I understand the battle, especially when it comes to children. I think the thing we overlook or don’t give them credit for it they are not thinking about the price tag when they receive the gift, only we are.

    Glad you’ve gotten over this hurdle. Hope all Dear’s have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. I never thought about it defeating the spirit of the season – but I get what you’re saying there. And great point about not giving kids credit for not thinking about the price tag! Our kids barely noticed when we tightened our Christmas budget. Thanks for your good wishes for my Dears : )

  3. Tee heeeeee, a house full of “dears”! Good one Brian! 😀

    We always had a budget for Christmas and only have one child, so you’d think that would work, but we consistently went over budget by about $300 each year. Like you, I couldn’t buy presents early. I tried a few times but ended up having to take everything back before Christmas because whatever I had was “old hat” and was replaced by the “latest and greatest”.

    Solutions? None. Christmas is Christmas and if there is a perfect time each year to go hog wild, Christmas is definitely the time! Plus, in our case, “Junior’s” birthday is only 2 weeks later, and so there went the next budget buster, usually by at least $100! I don’t regret a thing. 🙂

  4. I can’t buy Christmas presents all throughout the year either. For many reasons, but a big one is that I live in a 530 square foot space. There would not be any where to put presents and hide them, especially from a 6 year-old! 🙂

    1. A 530 square foot space – Wow! That’s impressive, Mackenzie. No way would you want to use any space as a gift-storage area. Do you ever write about how you organize your space? I was literally just talking about the tiny home movement (15 minutes ago!) and saying that it would be very hard to live in one with children. At 530 square feet – you’re pretty close to doing just that.

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