By Sharon Grand, Ph.D.
If the holidays are over and you are wondering how you will pay your rent or mortgage over the next few months, or staring at your credit card bill with a sinking feeling in your heart, it’s important to know that you are not alone! Money blues after the holidays is an experience shared by many, especially here on Long Island where the cost of living is significantly more than the national average.
Often after overspending for the holiday, we blame ourselves for being irresponsible. We may hold resentment towards our spouse for their choices, or our wealthier family members for not understanding. There are moments where we may become overwhelmed with feelings of shame, anger, and stress. Olivia Mellan, the author of the book “Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships” notes in a 1994 article that “It is important for people not to beat themselves up for having screwed up again. It won’t help you change and it won’t pay the bills. The important thing is to forgive yourself and take action.”
This is especially important because money is not a stand-alone item, but is symbolic and tied to many other things that we consider important, such as security, self-esteem, and status. Especially when we struggle with money at this time of year, it can start a downward thought spiral, where we start looking back through the year and focusing on the things that we haven’t accomplished. This kind of thought process is not only unhelpful, but often inaccurate, as we tend to focus only on the negative and give little credence to the many positive things we have accomplished.
Instead, it may be more helpful to create a balance regarding what value money actually brings to our lives. In our society we have a tendency to overvalue money in comparison to other things in our life that are also very valuable, like our health, our home, and our relationships.
So I encourage you this last week of December to make a plan for money and a plan for balance. Begin by taking a deep breath and doing the hard work of seeing where you spent money this month, what your outstanding credit card bills are, and how you can make a concrete plan to tighten your budget and get to the best place you can get to financially. Think about where you want to be and how you will get there in 12 months, and then work backwards to set your expectations for the next three months. Understand that it may feel worse before it feels better! Call a friend, family member, or financial advisor to get help if you need it. You don’t need to be wealthy to have an advisor, but I will give you a strong reminder that money problems can make us feel desperate, so don’t choose a helper impulsively. Take a breath, pause, then find someone highly recommended and do your own research. Finally, if your income is not enough to get by each month, think about bigger ideas, such as changing jobs, asking for that raise, or working an additional part-time job for a time. This can seem frightening or even incomprehensible at first, but taking a look at job opportunities in January can sometimes bring surprising results.
In the meantime, take care of and strengthen the other areas of your life that you find valuable. Although you may not have money security right now, you may find feelings of connection and security in your relationships with others. Money problems will not stop you from having a cup of coffee with a good friend, enjoying a long walk with your dog, or playing ball with your children. Small acts of kindness or appreciation towards your spouse go a long way towards improving connection and getting past feelings of resentment or stress. Think about keeping a gratitude journal, in which you write down each day three things you feel grateful for.
Volunteering at a food kitchen or homeless shelter can not only help your community, but also help your own self-esteem and put things in perspective. Sometimes it’s important to remember that we can still be valuable to other people, even when we don’t have money.
Finally, taking care of your mind and body feels good, raises self-esteem, and can bring a sense of peace and joy. Look for free meditation podcasts, youtube exercises, and take long walks while listening to your favorite music. Most of all, be kind to yourself and remember that you are not alone in feeling these feelings. Healing yourself financially, like all other healing, takes time. Viewing this as a learning experience may help you create changes today, tomorrow, and for the years to come.
Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in your Life and Relationships by Olivia Mellan
Washington Post 1994 Article, "Money Crazy After the Holidays." https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1994/12/27/money-crazy-over-the-holidays/50c97efb-e839-43f6-a019-112996d47d26/