Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Christmas Without Stress

Nathan Cabello - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Business experts say that for many retailers the Christmas holiday season represents 20- to 40-percent of annual sales, to the tune of billions. People budget good money for Christmas - and they often spend more than planned. There's joke circulating nowadays - that Christmas is actually the invention of stores.

Spending has since become a Christmas tradition. And it can be stressful. According to the American Psychological Association, as many as 69-percent of people are stressed by a "lack of time, lack of money, and/or the pressure to give or get gifts." And it's common knowledge how stress can affect people's health - people are 5-percent more likely to suffer a heart attack during the Christmas season than at any other time.

According to Michael Lewis, in an article at www.moneycrashers .com, one is likely to enjoy the Christmas season if he lowers his expectations, spends more time to prepare, and just "goes with the flow." Lewis shares a few steps for achieving these goals:

Determine whether to keep or discard family traditions.

Continuing family traditions links us to the past, particularly the carefree days of our childhood when Santa Claus was real and Christmas morning was the most exciting day of the year. Most families have holiday traditions, some simple and others quite elaborate.

Whatever your family practices during the season, if what was done in the past doesn't work today, stop or change the practice. Just because something is traditional is no reason to keep doing it.

Establish a budget and stick to it.

Many people don't budget for Christmas. The families who do budget expect to spend good money on gifts, at an increasing rate every year.

While keeping one's Christmas spending within the limits of a budget can be difficult, it is much easier than coping with months of debt repayments to buying gifts that may end up being sold on sale in January. The stress accompanying the debt can be avoided by realistically considering one's current financial circumstances and future needs, settling on an amount that one can comfortably afford, and staying within that limit.

Maintain a schedule.

Many families have two working spouses; single parents often work two or more jobs to make ends meet. The demands of preparing for the holidays on top of a normal work week can be overwhelming for most people. Generally, the excitement of the season and the anticipation of a perfect Christmas will inspire a person to draw down energy reserves to get things done, usually by giving up leisure time and sleep. Hopefully, the inevitable crash will occur after the gifts are open, the guests are fed, and visitors leave - but not always.

Everyone remembers a meltdown or two during Christmas. Scheduling some downtime every day and week is important to save your sanity and enjoy the company of your loved ones.

Plan the perfect holiday.

It's important to remember that there is more to Christmas than the giving and receiving of gifts - there are decorations to be made and hung, food to be prepared and served, and homes to be cleaned for guests. However, if one can stay within a budget and set aside sufficient time to complete all the tasks, he and his guests will delight in a stress-free and memorable holiday.

Regarding gifts, around which the bulk of time and money spent each Christmas revolves - choosing, buying, and wrapping presents for dear ones - Michael Lewis presents certain ideas to consider:

Family Gift Exchange. As families get larger, the costs of buying gifts can be a financial burden. To reduce costs and the time spent shopping, establish a certain amount as limit for the individual gifts, as well as any other desired criteria (for example, only clothes, toys, books, and gift cards).

Gift Cards. Gift cards allow the receiver to pick his or her perfect gift. In fact, it is now becoming a preference among shoppers. Most stores offer their own gift cards, and also accept those issued by major credit card companies, which can be combined to purchase more expensive items. However, when choosing a gift card, one should be aware that some may charge inactivity fees after one year if the card isn't used.

Internet Shopping. Shopping online is faster, often cheaper, and far more convenient than visiting brick-and-mortar stores. It is easy to compare prices, gift wrapping is often available, and the purchase can be delivered wherever one chooses. Most Internet retailers also guarantee delivery by a certain date.

Personalized, Inexpensive Gifts. These are unique and meaningful. For example, the small illustrated book "I Like You" with a personal note to a family member, business associate, or friend will be cherished and kept for a lifetime. A letter to a friend recalling a special time together or simply telling a loved one how much they mean to you will be remembered for years and always appreciated.

Paid Gift Wrapping. Paying to have gifts wrapped can save one the time as well as money spent on excess wrapping paper, tape, bows, and gift cards. Many retailers offer an in-house service and include free gift-wrapping with each purchase. Professional gift wrappers charge a different rate for different sizes of packages, which need not be expensive.

Christmas decorations can also be both costly and stressful. But that is only if one chooses to be lavish beyond his means and skills. A single wreath on the front door, a 'parol' by the window is enough to establish the spirit of Christmas at home.

If there is money to spend, it's a good idea to hire a professional decorator to do the works. Then, one can simply dictate what he wants and allow the professional to give him that. The professional fee is likely to be worth it in terms of stress avoided. (FREEMAN)

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