Gift Giving Guilt

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The holidays are upon us. Well, almost. And I’m hoping this post will give you the space to pause before lurching into yet another December avalanche of spending you can’t afford because you feel guilty about only spending what you can.

Look, emotionally, I’m pretty much right with you. A big part of my compulsive spending was around gift-giving. Giving extravagant gifts really gets me high. Picking just the right and special and, of course, expensive item was the way I proved I love you or, at least, was the way you’d remember that I am a great gift giver.

And then, there are the office presents, or those that we feel we just “have” to buy even if we feel annoyed and resentful about doing so. Even then, we might sink into feeling competitive or just wanting to ensure we don’t look cheap compared to everyone else.

In recovery, we may still suffer with some of those feelings. But the difference is that we don’t act on them. When we fund our gift-giving categories, hopefully, beginning in January in the case of December holidays, and annually prior to birthdays, etc., we become clear about how much we will spend in total and fund each category with 1/12th of that amount each month. Then, when it’s time to buy the gift, we may still feel like it’s not good enough, but we can also find peace knowing that we are living within our means. Over time, as we practice giving gifts that are reasonable based on our income, the pain of not being the gift-giving big shot subsides.

So, I’m posting this on December 11, 2016. If you’re reading this today, you have two weeks until Christmas. Hanukkah begins on December 24th. I’m not sure when other gift-giving December holidays fall this year. But, if you’re like me, you have waited until now to begin the frenzied shopping that, I promise you, will not change the recipients’ life one bit. So, I urge you, before you enter the fray, which will, I promise you, cause you to not to think clearly around spending your money, please take some time now to make a list of all the gifts you need to buy.

Then, if you don’t have a spending plan, ask your Higher Power to help you be right-minded about how much you can afford. In fact, and this may sound shocking, I know, but ask your Higher Power if there is anyone on your list who really doesn’t need you to buy him or her a gift, someone who would prefer the gift of your time, a hand-written letter, or maybe a home cooked meal instead. Or maybe, a charitable contribution in honor of one or more people on your list would be far more beneficial than more stuff that they eventually feel a need to declutter and get rid of them.

Now, go back through that list and write next to each person either a maximum dollar amount you will spend or the more meaningful alternative you have chosen. Add up the amounts.
Now, this is where the rubber meets the road.

Ask yourself:

Can I really afford this total this year?

This is where I urge you to examine your motives and your finances. If your gut clenches, or you start shaking, or you can’t breathe when you look at that total, then I maintain you already know the answer. Now is the moment to look at your bank account and determine what that total realistically should be in order for you to live within your means and ensure your needs will still be met.

So, go back through that list and subtract from each one so that the total of gift spending fits the total dollar amount you can afford.

Make a phone call if you need support. Get some tissues and cry your eyes out if this process makes you feel sad and ashamed. But keep moving forward. Because the truth is that there is no shame or sadness in being honest with yourself about what is reasonable to spend. That is the disease of compulsive spending trying to confuse your brain. If anyone judges whether you care for them or not based on the dollar amount of a gift, then it may be time to reassess that relationship. And if children have an expectation of material gifts that exceeds your ability to buy them, and especially if you are worried about disappointing them, it may be time to have a meaningful and honest talk with them.

This holiday season, practice conscious and conscientious spending. Give yourself the gift of coming out of this season with no debt and no fear that you cannot pay January’s bills. Then, start the process of creating a spending plan for next year around all presents: birthdays, anniversary, holidays, even think about possible unknowns like if someone is hospitalized, gets married, or has a baby at the end of the year. Follow this advice, and you will be happy, joyous, and free when it comes time to buy and give these gifts to those you love.