small chirstmas tree with ornament because can’t afford cristmas

Worried About Holiday Spending? Tips to Destress the Holiday Season

Christopher Grey
6 min readNov 22, 2022


The holiday season can be stressful for lots of reasons.

This year is shaping up to be a doozy in the stress department. There’s so much awful going on in the world. Inflation is raising the prices of just about everything and a recession is looming over us. It’s not surprising that a lot of people feel like they just can’t afford Christmas this year.

If you’re stressed about holidays, take a deep breath and read on. I’m going to give you some real tips on how to destress your holidays this year. I’ll include ways to tame holiday spending and tips on self-care to help you enjoy the best parts of the holiday season.

Why People Get Stressed About Holidays

Let’s start by talking about why the holiday season is stressful for so many people. It’s not a new thing. Harvard Medical School noted way back in 2016 that the holidays are “filled with both joy and stress.” They quoted a 2015 survey that found more than 62% of people reported feeling “very or somewhat” stressed about holidays. Only about 10% of people said they weren’t stressed about Christmas at all.

I picked an older article for a reason, by the way. While COVID has added new holiday worries, the statistics about holiday stress haven’t changed all that much. A 2021 survey by VeryWellMind shows that just about 75% of people report that they’re feeling some stress about the holidays this year. That includes 30% who worry about getting sick with COVID, which wasn’t a concern at all in 2016.

These are some of the biggest reasons that people get stressed about holidays:

  • They can’t afford Christmas and holiday expenses, such as travel and gifts.
  • They’re anxious about getting along with family members.
  • They worry about getting or spreading COVID.
  • It’s hard to stick to healthy habits during the holidays.
  • They feel lonely.
  • They worry about their own mental health.
  • Many families will be dealing with the absence of loved ones.

While you can’t control many of the things that create holiday anxiety, there are things you can do to reduce them and keep them under control.

How to Stop Being Stressed About Holidays

The most common reason for holiday stress is money. People worry that they can’t afford nice Christmas gifts. They stress about keeping up appearances. They can’t find the money in their budget for travel to family gatherings.

Here are a few tips to manage stress about holiday spending.

Set Realistic Expectations

Talking about money is never easy, but it is the first step in managing your holiday budget. Sit down and talk to your family about gift expectations. Be open and clear about what you can and can’t afford. An honest conversation now will prevent disappointment when the gifts are unwrapped.

No-Cost Alternatives to Traditional Office Gift Exchanges

Does your workplace have a traditional gift exchange? Propose a no-cost alternative that preserves the fun without the expense. offers a list of very low- or no-cost alternatives to traditional gift exchanges that are still fun. Or suggest a group activity as an alternative to gift giving. Start the ball rolling with a simple conversation with a manager. You don’t even have to talk about your own finances. Just point out that many people are feeling a financial pinch this season.

Create New Holiday Traditions

Tame holiday spending and stay on track with your wellness goals by starting healthy new holiday traditions. Instead of a neighborhood cookie exchange, host a neighborhood holiday hike or ice-skating party.

Decide What’s Most Important to You

One of the major reasons people feel stressed about holidays is that they’re trying to keep up appearances. They’re trying to meet expectations from other people. It’s a variation of living for others instead of taking care of yourself. When you spend time trying to meet other people’s expectations, you don’t have time to do what makes you happy.

So make a list of holiday traditions you enjoy. Make them a priority, and let everything else go.

Say No to the Stress

You don’t have to accept every holiday invitation that comes your way. Practice polite ways to say no to holiday outings that don’t fit your budget. If the invitation is from a close friend, consider suggesting a lower-cost alternative. Remember, though, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You can simply say you have other plans.

Let Go of Letting Other People Down

Guilt and shame play a big part in holiday stress. You show up at Christmas dinner with the folks even though you know you’ll be miserable the whole time. You come up with the $100 for the group gift because it’s embarrassing to say you can’t afford it this year. You max out your credit cards to put gifts under the tree, knowing you’ll be paying the price for the next 12 months.

Every time you do something because other people expect it, you are giving up time to do something that’s important to you. You deserve to spend your holidays doing things that make you happy.

Change Holiday Spending to Holiday Giving

If your wallet feels a little more pinched this year, you’re not alone. Inflation is higher this year than it has been since 1981. In other words, it’s not you, it’s the economy. That may not help ease your money anxiety, especially if it means you’ve had to give up some of your comforts.

A few months ago, I talked about realistic ways to deal with money anxiety, and the tips I shared all apply here. Focus on what you do have instead of what you can’t buy. Here are a few examples of how you can change your mindset about holiday giving instead of holiday spending.

  • Give the gift of your time. Make a commitment to be more present when you’re with those you care about.
  • Give the gift of your talent. Play a holiday concert. Paint a portrait of a friend’s pet. Write a poem for a loved one, and frame it. Those gifts will be treasured long after they’ve finished that bottle of wine or regifted the holiday mug.
  • Give a gift from your abundance. Start seedlings from your own plant cuttings for your friends. Make up a batch of jelly from your garden. Build a birdhouse and offer to install it.
  • Give the gift of your labor. Help a friend or family member with chores they find difficult or just hate doing. Offer to organize their closet, clean up their yard for winter, or mend that screen door that bangs every time the wind blows.

Remember, it’s not just about saving money — though that’s a nice side effect. It’s about reminding yourself that you are worth more than your wallet.

Make Your Health a Priority

Winter holidays are a prime time for slipping up on healthy habits. It’s cold. The days are shorter. There are so many chores and tasks to do. And there are so many excuses to indulge in unhealthy behaviors. The problem is that the more you give in to temptation, the worse you’re likely to feel.

Of course, you shouldn’t sacrifice everything you love during the holiday season. Just remember to maintain some healthy balance to keep you on top of your game.

  • Planning a late night for a party this weekend? Get some extra sleep, or schedule extra time to rest the next day.
  • Don’t avoid the dessert table entirely. Pick and choose, or limit yourself to a few bites of your favorite apple pie instead of a whole slice.
  • Get your physical activity in. Take a walk around the block at lunch. If you don’t have time for a full daily workout, cut it back instead of skipping it entirely.
  • Get outdoors as much as you can. Sunshine is still one of the most important “vitamins” for your mental health. If you can’t spend as much time outside as you’d like, consider investing in some full-spectrum light bulbs for your home or office.

Final Thoughts

Money is tight for just about everyone this year, but you can still enjoy the holidays. Instead of letting your budget stress you out, come up with creative ways to make the season meaningful and fun. Like everything else in your life, it comes down to one major principle: spend time doing the things that are most important to you instead of focusing on what you can’t afford to do.

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If you found these tips useful, check out my book, Life Hacks: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life for more resources and advice on living your healthiest and best life. Learn more at my website

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Christopher Grey

Entrepreneur. Author. Investor. Dad and tennis coach to Ryan. Wellness Enthusiast. Check out my book: Learn more: