How Stressful is Christmas on YOUR Money?

Yesterday we had an awesome sermon at church about Christmas. Mostly about the same stuff we’re always reminded of every year (“Remember to keep in mind what Christmas is really about”, “Jesus over gifts!” ), and for the most part I was following along pretty well. I’m not gonna lie and say I listed to every word that came out of our good priest’s mouth (we all zone out at times, right?), but the second I heard the words “money” and “financially stressed” enter his vocab I immediately perked up!

“Money? Did someone just say money??” “In CHURCH??”

All of a sudden I was eager as hell to find out where he was going with this (can I say “hell” in a post like this?), and I just prayed it was something fun so I could bring it back to y’all on this fine Monday morning :) And it was! Well, fun for blogging anyways, not so much for the stats…

He started going on about a survey he had recently read about how 40%+ of Americans stress out pretty good about their finances during Christmas, and that almost another 20 or 25% of people are on the hardcore stressed end of the spectrum. Like to the point they can barely pay bills and/or go in large debt every year around the same time.

Now I tried to find this survey he was talking about when I sat down to do this post, but unfortunately the only ones I came up with were from some weird PayDay company – which obviously I wasn’t gonna touch ;) Regardless though, it DID make me wonder how many of YOU ALL out there reading this right now are currently stressing out (or not) about the upcoming gift giving madness? I know some of y’all already started the process from our last post we did about it on Halloween (haha…), but I’d like to do a quick poll here and see what we’re working with now. My gut said y’all will fall a lot lower on the stressing out side of things than the average person, but I could be totally wrong ;)

Anyways, if you could be so kind as to submit your answer to this stress-o-meter below, I’ll be sure to make it worth your while next week when I announce the results. We’ll be doing something pretty exciting so make sure you don’t miss it! :) Here’s the poll:

{poll now ended}

Be as honest as possible now, Santa Money is watching you! ;) Here’s how I think it’ll play out:

  • Percentage of people hardcore stressing out: 5%
  • Percentage ofΒ people medium stressing out: 35%
  • Percentage ofΒ people not even breaking a sweat!: 60%

All pretty much based on the fact y’all are here on a money blog and probably pay more attention to this stuff than the average person :) Let’s see if you prove me right!

Explain further in the comments too if you’d like. Maybe you have questions on how others work it? Or you just want to rant? Either way we got your back!

PS: I still haven’t started shopping yet myself btw… that’s always the hardest part :(

[Photo credit: hoyasmeg. Doodles by J$]

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  1. Eric December 3, 2012 at 6:19 AM

    My vote reflects how Christmas *usually* goes.

    This year is a bit of a different situation as my wife had to student teach this semester, which means we basically lost $20K worth of income this year! Ack! Add to that her student loans have to start being paid on this month and there is a little bit of stress. :)

    None of it really has to do with Christmas, though, it just happens to fall during this season. So my vote stands.

  2. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies December 3, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    Holiday spending is a total no-stress event for us. We cash in all of our credit card rewards dollars, and that’s what we can spend on gifts. Tops. For everyone. Makes it pretty straightfoward, and it doesn’t feel like money out of our pockets in the same way.

  3. Holly@ClubThrifty December 3, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    Im not stressed at all because I am completely done shopping! I got an early start this year which is near amazing. I just patted myself on the back.

  4. Lance @ Money Life and More December 3, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    I think you’re results will be more toward the no stress end simply because this is a personal finance blog. Hopefully people are following your advice and aren’t stressed.

  5. Sense December 3, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Heehee, your guesses underestimated your readers a bit! We are a no-sweat kind of crowd!

    Honestly, I’m not even paying attention to Christmas this year! Most days I forget it is so close. It’s hard to get in the mood when it is not cold and you watch all your TV online and don’t have a car to go to the malls! I actually just got done making plans for Xmas, though–everyone goes to the beach here in NZ, so I just booked a campsite and hire car after researching good, local beaches. :) The most I’ll do is wrap a gift for each friend coming with me on Xmas–the gifts are a few sample bottles of that yummy sweet tea vodka that is all the rage in the South now–I brought them back to NZ from home this year just for that purpose. As long as the weather is nice, it is going to be a very good Christmas, sipping sweet tea vodka on some gorgeous, warm beach! No sweat (except if it’s hot!), indeed!

  6. Verne Halom December 3, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    Not even breaking a sweat I’m afraid. Preparedness is the key to this.

    My bank does a ‘regular saver’ account which pays 8% interest for a year, so I put a fixed amount away each month and the account ‘matures’ towards the end of October.

    End of October, there you have it: the money for presents, Christmas food, and of course beer :-D

    I understand that not everyone can do this, but even putting just a little away for Christmas helps.

  7. Travis @debtchronicles December 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I’m in the “medium” category….not because we don’t have the funds to buy presents for the kids and take our turn at hosting a family Christmas gathering. Anytime I see that much cash (over a “normal” month’s amount) flying out of my bank account it will register on the stress-o-meter!

  8. lindsay December 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I feel like I’d be not breaking a sweat except for one thing – my spouse’s contract at work is up in the middle of December, so he’s out of work after the 14th. So it’s not holiday spending that’s stressing me out, but holiday spending on top of a loss of income.

  9. Romeo December 3, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    It’s easy for me not to stress. I don’t usually buy gifts. If I do, I make sure the person for whom I am buying tells me exactly what it is they want. Barring this, I just give cash, if anything at all. For my 10-year-old son, I saved $30 monthly in his savings account the entire year just for this purpose. Now he get’s to go to town and shop till he drops with over $300. Christmas. Done.

  10. Stephanie December 3, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    It’s usually a pretty low-stress thing for us. We don’t go overboard on gift-giving. We buy gifts for our parents, a small handful of very close friends, we each buy for a Secret Santa from his (large) group of siblings and their significant others, and then we buy for the children of siblings and friends. We rarely spend more than $500 on gifts, tops, and we budget for it. Although a lot of it does go on the credit cards to reap the rewards points from the purchases. ;-) But we pay it off in January, so no big deal.

    We also host Christmas dinner for our families (I think the total guest count last year was 12?), so that’s a bit of an expense as well, but people bring some appetizers and booze, and a lot of times my parents insist on giving us a little bit of cash to help pay the grocery bill, so it’s not an over-the-top expenditure most of the time. For us it’s definitely more about spending time with family and celebrating the season than being all materialistic and crap. :-P

  11. Brian December 3, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Its usually low stress for us, and this year it will be even lower. All our parents want are some pictures of the new baby looking all cute (which is easy to do). His school (daycare) had a picture day and they got some great shots (and priced shockingly resonable) so we will frame those up and give them out with some marshmellows my wife gets from this artisan marshmellow place. On top of that, since it is our little guys first Christmas, everyone is coming into town so we don’t have to travel!

  12. Budget & the Beach December 3, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Well I feel like I repeat myself a lot in comments about this :) but I don’t really have anyone to buy for. I’ll buy cards for my parents, and I’m thinking of a small picture frame with recent pics of us, cards for my clients, and a couple items I will buy for a family my friend “adopts” who needs clothing and toys. So not much overall.

  13. Dawn December 3, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    J –
    Once again, you’re smart about finance… :) I uncovered a few studies from the past few years that show people who start shopping after November 20 spend less overall (only by about $30, if I recall… but still.) So don’t feel too bad about waiting! I know that’s true for me… because of my shopping addiction, I just continue to buy cute presents after I’ve met the limits I’ve set for a gift for each person. I wonder if people who start even later spend even less. (Like my husband, who used to shop on Christmas Eve and since we have kids, does it December 23 so we can spend Christmas Eve together as a family! LOL)
    Here are some of my tips for avoiding debt over the holidays. Probably these are WAY basic for your readers, but who knows. There might be something in there people can use.
    I’d like to know, J, what’s your saving strategy for Christmas? Do you set aside money every month in preparation for the holiday? Where and how much? (If you don’t mind sharing that information.)

  14. daydream kate December 3, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    I am not even a little stressed about cash. I made a really good budget, and I am sticking to it! But since I also have a strict handmade / thifted / edible code to stick to, my craft mind is majorly stressed. But I will survive. I always do.

  15. J. Money December 3, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Well lookey lookey at that! At this precise moment, the rusults are pretty dang close to what I predicted :) Even though I know it’ll move around throughout the day…

    — Hardcore stressing out: 6%
    — Medium stressing out: 31%
    — Not even breaking a sweat!: 63%

    Thanks for participating everyone, this is fun! I need to do more polls…

    @Eric – Haha… well maybe I’ll let you slide on that one today then ;) $20k is no joke indeed – I hope y’all can recover it beautifully in 2013!
    @Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies – SMART!! I’ve actually never heard of that strategy before. So you save them all up throughout the entire year? Just for Christmas shopping?? Damn I like that… takes no effort on your behalf to budget! Haha… and then you just have to get creative if the money is lower than usual for whatever reason – which still works… I may have to steal thi idea from you ;)
    @Holly@ClubThrifty – I still can’t believe you pulled that off… you’re amazing!
    @Lance @ Money Life and More – That’s what I’d like to believe :) And so far the numbers are pretty much showing that!
    @Sense – HAH! What a life :) Totally understandable too – if it was warm and un-Christmassy out here I’d be less festive as well… But I tend to blast Christmas music all day/night long and turn on all my lights so I can’t ever forget ;) It’s my favorite month of the year – woo!
    @Verne Halom – 8%?? Do you bank in the U.S.? Haha… If that was the case it would be Christmas EVERY month!! I’d be ALL IN in no time, wow… you’ve got a killer deal man.
    @Travis @debtchronicles – Haha, ain’t no shame with that, son! And speaking of which – your daughter’s post today over on Amazing. You’ve raised a most wonderful little girl, my friend :) And so cool she shares your passion for writing!
    @lindsay – That’s a lot to be stressed about indeed, I’m so sorry! What crap timing too :( Oddly enough it’s almost the exact day I was let go 2 years ago from my company! But just remember that these areas in life are just phases :) It’s never permanent!
    @Romeo – That’s like a dream for a little kid! $hit, even for a big kid! :) And while I have you here, I’d like to tell you exactly what I want this year: This. Thanks bud.
    @Stephanie – SO FUN!!! One of the best parts about the holidays – being around friends and family like that :) Especially when people live so far away from each other… I wish I lived closer so I could pop in and drink a glass or two with y’all too!
    @Brian – GOOD IDEA!!! Man… we’ve taken tons of pictures on our iPhones and camera, but haven’t printed jack… that’s what sucks about everything being digital these days – you never see the prints! Haha… but we DEF need to do this too, we’re slacking :( Thanks for the reminder bud! Hope being a daddy is getting easier by the day :)
    @Budget & the Beach – So are you saying you need more people to shop for? Great! I’d like a new laptop please – thanks! ;)

    @Dawn – Thanks for the tips, Dawn! I’m sure people could use them for sure :) And I never knew about saving more when you wait later!! YES! Finally a legit excuse! Haha…

    To answer your questions:

    What’s your saving strategy for Christmas? Honestly? I don’t really have one. I used to just start saving more towards the end of the year when I was on a much stricter income, but now that things are flowing a lot better recently, I just pull it from extra stash saved up which is used for whatever “extra” I need every month. And since most months I don’t touch it, there’s always enough for bigger events like Christmas :)

    Do you set aside money every month in preparation for the holiday? Nah, I never had the patience for it, even though I SHOULD HAVE done this after the college years and I was making squat (and mismanaging all that money too). I was never a long-term planner, and even today I’m still a bit that way. It’s easier for me to just have a pot of cash saved up to be used for “whatever,” but I know that’s not possible for some people :(

    Where and how much? N/A. But our random stash I talk about above usually always has around $1,000 in it as a nice padding. Which is outside our other cash accounts dedicated to other stuff.

    Hope this helps!

    @daydream kate – Thrifted AND edible? That’s a sexy concoction my friend! :)

  16. Laura Brown December 3, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    The only reason we ever stress about money during Christmas is food. We feed everyone, and even though we have more of a “pot luck” meal, it’s still an extra expense. Fortunately, hubby and I save up (he does most of the saving since I made him keep track of all finances) and we get our shopping done early, especially for the kids. We take advantage of clearance sales throughout the year, and stock pile gifts. Currently, I’m making everyone something for Christmas (handmade ROCKS) and a few people are getting bought gifts. Don’t be fooled – not everything handmade is cheap! But I like the idea of spending time on a gift, rather than just something mass produced.

  17. Erik December 3, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Already finished shopping this year!

    It’s going to be a bit of a windfall this year due to prop 30 passing in CA which gave me a refund on tuition. Stashed half of it in savings, and spent the rest on presents to go a little better than I usually do.

    My family doesn’t generally exchange high dollar gifts, probably $30-$40 at the max so it’s never really been that stressful *shrug*.

  18. Cassie December 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Holy crow, your estimates were almost bang on the mark! Honestly, I’ve made Christmas less stressful on my money by starting the planning process months in advance. In Canada we have two government taxes that fund social programs (CPP and EI), which have a maximum annual contribution cap. Once you hit that cap they stop taking the money off your cheque, so my pay cheque comes back about $200 larger. I budget that money towards either savings or Christmas so that by the end of December I’m not in debt, and I don’t feel the pinch when the taxes start coming off again in January :)

  19. Liz December 3, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    For the first time, ever, I’m not breaking a sweat. We always draw names within my family so I only have 1 gift (roughly $35) to buy there, which leaves only my kids and a few close friends on the buy-for list. My kids are 15, so their wish list is a little pricier than it used to be, but I actually planned ahead and that seems to have worked! My children receive an allowance (that they work for) so they are purchasing, or making, their own gifts for each other.

  20. Yana December 3, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    No stress. I gave up Christmas many years ago, but am glad to exchange greeting cards with the few who still do that to keep in touch. We have an anniversary on Dec. 27th, and that is the only thing we think about – though my husband’s work has a holiday party where bonuses are distributed, so of course we go to that and enjoy ourselves. In general, this time of year is a time of saving and enhancing our finances due to our “opting out”. I absolutely love avoiding the crazed masses at this time, and enjoying the peace and comfort of home.

  21. Samantha December 3, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    The only thing that I am stressed out about is the shopping! Ugh I hate that. Parking, lines, what to buy for whom. Sucks.

    But the money? Automated that each month, easy peasy.

  22. Kim Satterwhite December 3, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Not stressed about Christmas spending. Kids were told that it would be a no electronics deal this year! We need a dog…we have been too long without one since we moved. It’s to be a surprise for them.
    I stress more this time of year due to rising heating costs…budgets are only so good ’til the actual heating oil bill arrives…and a drafty uninsulated farmhouse is hard to heat. I did get a woodstove and free wood so I hope to hold my own on the budget front this year. And the other stress causers are the looking back on where the $$$ went or how far the goal still seems.

  23. Janine @ My Pennies My Thoughts December 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    I start saving in January of every year for Christmas $25-$50 a month for the whole year and I’m not stressed even the slightest in December

  24. Angella December 3, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I put myself in the 5%…unfortunately I have a materialistic family. I couldn’t afford a gift for mother’s day, but got her a card and had lunch with her, but because I didn’t get a gift…I got the silent treatment for about a month. True story. :( I hate the gift obligations during the holiday season…but for my close friends, husband and son – zero stress!

  25. Financial Black Sheep December 3, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Low stress. I start buying in summer if I have to and put stuff away as Christmas early on. I love the idea of buying stuff we want on sale and marking it as a Christmas gift, then forgetting we even bought it. Makes for a fun time when we open gifts or in this case, try to find them all HA!

    I had to buy a computer, because all of our Frankenstein computers are crapping out and I just don’t have the time to fix them all. I purchased a new computer, changed to Mac, and spent a little more than planned, but my finances can handle it, because I don’t spend money on guilty pleasures or anything regularly for that matter.

    Christmas time should be fun, relaxing and enjoyable. That’s what it’s all about for me.

  26. Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget December 3, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    I’d be classified as a medium stresser. There are just too many questions swirling around my head during the holidays.

    “Am I getting the best deal on this Chia Pet? Does Walgreens sell it cheaper?”
    “I know my wife said to spend $150 on her this year, but does that mean $300 in wifespeak?”
    “What’s my wife’s waist measurement? What does a ‘zero’ mean? Zero inches? That’s really skinny.”

    My brain has an automatic stress sensor on any purchases over $100, so even though the money is in the bank, the stress juices are still a’flowing. I should probably talk to a doctor about that.

  27. MrsGreen December 3, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    Does it count that I get stressed about people giving to me? The inlaws are living on one not so fabulous salary and approaching 99 weeker expiring unemployment check. They feel the need to go way overboard on gifts as that’s the only way they think we’ll know they love us. Since I don’t really want them moving in with us, all I really want for Christmas is her eggplant parm recipie… It stresses me out to think of anything else, but they won’t listen to me and the pleading to the husband doesn’t seem to get through to them either… guess I better start cleaning out the extra room I don’t have…

  28. Mysti December 3, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    I have an ING account where we save for Christmas all year. It is fulled funded by mid-November. And I have a budget for everything! People, decorations, shipping….No bills to deal with at the end. I know how much I have going into it and that is all I spend.

    Love it!

  29. Karie December 3, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    I am medium stressed. We will probably take an extra month to pay off Christmas debt. I think the hardest thing for me is the community we live in. When the Millionaire Next Door author wrote to be careful of the neighbourhood you’re in it affects your lifestyle – SO true. Lots of my kids’ friends getting i-phones, laptops, etc. Kids/teens and Christmas are the most difficult part for me!

  30. Ryan December 3, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Not breaking a sweat as it’s all budgeted!

  31. Chris Bennor December 3, 2012 at 6:17 PM

    No stress. We all exchange presents (16 adults) but there’s a $5 cap, so it’s homemade, yard sale finds, regifting, passing on family treasures, etc. It’s a blast! I buy the primerib early so I’m over the sticker shock ($150) by the time Christmas rolls around. I do Christmas dinner and delegate Christmas Eve, breakfast, desserts, alcohol, etc. I have two boys and will splurge a little but I’ll still be well within my comfort zone.

  32. Amanda December 3, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    No stress here! My husband is a car salesman, so his employer places $20 in a christmas club fund for each car he sells. We always have plenty a the end of the year for family and are able to help a needy family. I think if we didn’t have it, it might be a little stressful but you would just have to budget for it!

  33. The Happy Homeowner December 3, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    I’m with you on the not shopped yet bit….not really thinking about it yet = non-existent holiday stress level :D

  34. Your Boss December 3, 2012 at 10:35 PM

    Christmas used to be a very stressful time for me. I would calculate and use budgets and calculate some more, and try to save and so on. A month after Christmas I would be horrified by my credit card statement because I would always go over my budgets. All of this changed a few years ago when my family and friends decided to stop giving gifts to each other and instead decided to do something fun together. The Holiday season became all about experience and not about budgets, savings and spending. Much more fun and much less stress.

  35. Carol December 4, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    I love Holly@ClubThrifty’s comment – we should do that too. We usually don’t buy anything during the holidays unless we’re really moved to, it just seems like a waste to buy something for the sake of doing that. I’d much rather everyone get together for a great dinner and spend time, doing a Secret Santa, baking cookies as gifts, etc.

  36. Verne Halom December 4, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    @J.Money No, I’m based in the UK. First Direct is the bank (if you’re interested); but you must be a current (checking) account holder for the 8% deal, and it is restricted to a certain amount each month.

    Christmas everyday, but with strings attached I’m afraid.

  37. Kris December 4, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    I absolutely wasn’t stressed at all…until our car broke and now we’re being hit with almost $3k of car repair expenses. Now I’m not so much stressed as sad that everything we saved in the last few months is being wiped out…c’est la vie I suppose!

  38. J. Money December 5, 2012 at 5:42 PM

    It seems I’m even closer to my guesses now ;) How funny is that?

    @K.K. @ Living Debt Free Rocks! – Woohoo! Already gave him the winning name: Wigglesworth! :)
    @Laura Brown – Are you giving people handmade *rocks* or are you saying handmaking things ROCK? Haha… Or are they one in the same? ;)
    @Erik – Way to go though, being finished this early on is impressive!
    @Cassie – That’s brilliant!! And it feels good knowing you’re all maxed out too, I bet :) A merry Christmas in many ways!
    @Liz – Nice! I can’t wait to do allowances in our household too – changes the whole mentality with money for kids :) All of a sudden they turn into much more conscious spenders!
    @Yana – That sounds wonderful actually :) Enjoying the holidays as it was meant to be!
    @Samantha – Better to be stressed about the long lines than not having enough money, eh?
    @Kim Satterwhite – Oooooh how cool!!! Dogs for Christmas, I love it!!! And hope they don’t read this blog ;)
    @Janine @ My Pennies My Thoughts – You’re a smart cookie.
    @Angella – What???? Messed up! I’m so sorry to hear :( That would upset me time and time again, ugh.
    @Financial Black Sheep – I love that too! Buying gifts and then forgetting about them! Turns into double gifts of excitement :)
    @Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget – “I know my wife said to spend $150 on her this year, but does that mean $300 in wifespeak?” – HAH!! I think about that all the time too, even thougy my wife *swears* she means the amount she states :)
    @MrsGreen – Oh jeez, that’s sad :( I wonder if you can somehow turn it around later without them knowing? Like returning everything and then using the money to be given anonymously or something? Or will they then be pissed when they don’t see their chachkies they got you in your house?
    @Mysti – Very very smart!
    @Karie – Oh man, I bet… And it’s had to please kids at that age too when everyone’s flaunting their goodies! Good luck over there :)
    @Ryan – Good job!
    @Chris Bennor – Cool!! I SO love the $5 idea of yours. I bet we slowly turn to something similar over time too. It’s getting harder/more complicated the more our families extend :)
    @Amanda – Wow, really?? That’s an awesome idea!!! And you get killer discounts on cars too, huh? I’d be all over that :)
    @The Happy Homeowner – Haha… me too usually, but this season I feel like if I don’t start sooner I’m gonna end up in trouble ;) But will still wait ’till the last minute anyways, haha…
    @Your Boss – Love it! What kinds of things do y’all do? Would love to bring it up to my family too :) We go to the movies every Christmas Eve, but it doesn’t count for gifts, haha… yet.
    @Carol – I enjoy that a lot too :) Though I still want gifts for the kiddos to open and play with I guess if I think about it… but doesn’t mean the adults couldn’t hang out and kids only open them? Have fun this holiday season!
    @Verne Halom – Still something to take advantage of though! Way to go :)
    @Kris – Oh noes!!!! I hope everything works out okay for you guys, that’s terrible :( At least everyone’s safe and secure, yeah?

  39. Jessy December 6, 2012 at 12:53 AM

    Normally I would get some Christmas presents for immediate family members, close friends and everyone else a christmas card. Time flew by too quickly on a limited budget that I decided to not buy everybody presents or cards. I would treat immediate family members and close friends to events or experiences that will create a memory for them. I’m treating my friend and her boyfriend to a teahouse between Christmas and 2 weeks after that. I will write honest handwritten letters to my loved ones and friends. In each letter will be kinda of an IOU to an activity or hobby that I’ll treat them to with a due date on mind (whether it’s 2 weeks or 2 months). Few gifts I have are 100% handmade food gifts.

  40. J. Money December 7, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    Beautiful! I don’t think I’ve gotten a handwritten letter since like High School… Where it asked me to circle an answer to a Prom question, haha… All this internet stuff has crippled the letter-writing industry ;) Good for you on pouring your heart and time into them!