How To Financially Cope When You’re Broke During the Holidays

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Being financially broke during the holidays is a physically and emotionally challenging issue many face, but it tends to go largely unspoken during this time of year. It’s important, first and foremost, for those who are financially struggling to know they are not alone. Here’s what makes it challenging to struggle with money during the holidays — and some no-cost ways you can celebrate the season.

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Why Is Struggling With Money So Challenging During the Holidays?

During her first Christmas after graduating from college, Chloe Elise had her first “big girl job” but was still feeling broke. Despite this, Elise, the CEO and founder of Deeper Than Money, felt she also no longer had the excuse of gift-giving like a “broke college girl.”

In what was supposed to be the happiest time of year, Elise said she was scared of spending money.

“It felt like every day there was a new financial demand: a gift exchange at work, a secret Santa friend exchange, traveling to see my family… all I saw were dollar signs,” Elise said.

Make Your Money Work for You

Money struggles, whether you just graduated from college and have no money or are in even more dire circumstances like living from paycheck to paycheck, can suck the holiday spirit out of those experiencing financial hardship. Elise said the reason why it’s emotionally challenging to struggle with money during the holidays is because it feels contradictory.

“Everything is telling you that you should be holly jolly, but the pennies at the bottom of your purse are the only thing jingling all the way,” Elise said. “You want to be generous and happy but it just feels like you’re so alone.”

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What Should I Do If I’m Financially Struggling?

The old adage of honesty as the best policy rings especially true during the holiday season. Elise recommends being honest about your budget with family, friends and any children you may have well in advance. 

While this is not always a comfortable conversation for many to have even with loved ones, Elise said it can be spun as a positive to your loved ones. They don’t need to buy you a gift, which may relieve financial stressors or pressures they have that you don’t know about. 

Make Your Money Work for You

Elise said you can present them with the idea that instead of buying gifts, you’d love to do homemade gifts or acts of service for each other. There’s even room to make this into a fun challenge where you decide to shop only at Goodwill or secondhand stores to save money. 

If your loved ones insist on getting you a gift still, even though you have nothing to give in return, Elise said you can let them know that since you’re in a season of financial improvement you’d appreciate practical gifts. For example, consider a gas or grocery gift card.

Employees who are financially struggling can also tell their coworkers they’re planning to sit this year out on the office holiday gift exchange. “You can still be involved by being the ‘coordinator,’ taking charge of making treats or dressing up as Santa and being the secret Santa commissioner, for fun!” Elise said.

Families with kids can use this time to teach their children about the true meaning of the season. Rather than emphasizing getting gifts, families can do something meaningful at home together like making a fort to watch a holiday movie in, baking treats to give to others and giving back as soup kitchen volunteers. Elise said even if things feel financially tight right now, giving back can help you realize how fortunate you are to have a home and food.

Make Your Money Work for You

No-Cost Ways To Celebrate the Holiday Season

There are many no-cost ways for everyone to celebrate the holiday season, said Dr. Ellen Contente, founder of Heart-Centered Programs. See which options below you and your loved ones may be able to enjoy!

Make Your Money Work for You

Finally, remember to practice gratitude. While the holidays can easily feel commercialized, they are a good time to reflect. Contente, who celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah with her family, said this is the time to create your own traditions and celebrations. 

“We chose specific movies we watched on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Day. Our Chanukah traditions included lighting the Menorah and making latkes. And, my next door neighbor always brought over tamales they cooked for Christmas and invited us to dinner,” Contente said. “This is the true meaning — of not just the holidays — but the spirit and goodwill of man.”

Remember to always be gracious when receiving gifts during financially difficult times, too.

“It’s part of the divine flow. I wrote an affirmation during bleak times, ‘I always have way more than I need whenever I need it’ and it has never failed me,” Contente said.

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