Mindful Holiday Spending

With one kid’s birthday just around the corner, then followed by Halloween, it sounds like this is the perfect time to reflect on ways to plan more mindful holiday spending. 

This was one of our spending objectives for 2019 and as we enter the 4th quarter of the year, time to plan ahead to reach it.. 

By the time Christmas comes around, I’ll hopefully have a pretty solid plan in place to make sure we avoid ending up with way too much food and silly toys that don’t actually contribute much value to those moments.

Piggy Bank with Santa Hat - Mindful Holiday Spending

Steps to more mindful holiday spending

I’ve decided to take a step by step approach to reflect on the reasons behind why I’m not spending mindfully during the holidays. The more I identify the reasons behind every action I take, the easier it becomes to be mindful in my actions as I train my brain to pay attention to what I am doing and thus get off the auto-pilot.

Here are the 5 steps I will detail out below for our own holiday spending. 

  • Step 1: Identify the true values and results you are looking to get out of your holidays.
  • Step 2: Identify in which category you’re spending more (much easier to do if you’ve been tracking your expenses regularly). Reflect on if this level of spending in these categories has been in alignment with the values/desired results you’ve identified in Step1.
  • Step 3: Find all the spending triggers behind each of the categories where you’ve spent more than you would prefer.
  • Step 4: Identify common categories for your holiday spending triggers
  • Step 5: Reflect on creative ways you can use to counteract each of those common spending triggers.

If you also tend to overspend around this time of year, you can use these steps to have your own reflection on how to be mindful with your holiday spending.  

Does this spending align with my true values?

The longer I am on this journey to financial independence, the more I realize the main spending philosophy of it is to discover your true values and spend in alignment to meet them

By doing so, you can often reduce overspending while also increasing your freedom because you start acting and spending in a conscious way, not in a way that advertisers or people around you want you to spend. 

The fact that I’ve identified our holiday spending as an area to focus on clearly shows that I’m feeling like the spending in this area of our life does not align with our values. At first, this was just a general feeling, however I was able to explore it further while reading the book Work Optional by Tanja Hester last Winter. 

What are our spending values?

The book Work Optional leads you through a series of questions to identify your Money’s mission statement. Those questions include identifying things you have spent on that brought you happiness and spending that you wouldn’t miss.

These series of reflections clearly highlighted that I’m ok with spending on things that will allow our kids to grow up in a safe environment, and things that can lower our stress as well as increase the time we have to spend quality time with our kids as they grow up.

The book also leads you to reflect on things you’d still like to enjoy but could spend less on. Through this I identified gifts/toys and holiday spending while also including alcohol

Does our holiday spending align with these values?

Our 2018 Q4 spending clearly shows the biggest increase is linked to food, followed by gifts/toys and general shopping. Does the money spent on these things serve to make our environment safer and/or does it truly reduce our stress or increase our quality time with our kids?

The gifts, food and alcohol during the holidays adds some fun and smiles to events, yet the main idea for this special time is, for us, to be truly present and to enjoy that moment surrounded by people we appreciate

Sure, alcohol can feel like it reduces stress, but as described by A Purple Life in her post entitled Lessons Learned from 100 Alcohol Free Days, the way alcohol interacts with our hormones is actually proven to cause anxiety, and more precisely a phenomenon termed “hangxiety”.

We do love to give a bit of that Christmas magic to our kids with a few surprises on Christmas morning but we don’t want to let that desire overshadow the importance of the time we will be spending celebrating with family and friends. By rushing to wrap a crazy number of gifts ahead of time, or spending extra time looking for gifts (even if it’s scouting thrift stores and kijiji) because it feels like there aren’t enough gifts, it truly can get overwhelming.

Furthermore, by spending more on gifts/toys & holiday spending, we maintain higher levels of expenses and thus need to work longer to sustain this in the long run

Another way to look at this is that we could allocate these expenses differently on things that truly do increase our quality time with our kids. Perhaps we could instead pay for some renovations we had planned to do ourselves. This would free up time in our evenings and weekends that would have been otherwise allocated to the renovations.

Additionally, we are trying to teach our kids to be financially mindful. The best way for them to learn this is by watching our example. If we are showering them with gifts and toys in an oblivious way, what impact does this have on the delayed gratification lessons we work so hard to teach them throughout the year?

What triggers this spending?

Work Optional also leads you to reflect on your spending triggers and to plan ahead for them. So looking at each category where our family spends more during the holiday, here are the potential spending triggers behind them.


We often host during this period. We clearly enjoy it, however I end up being anxious that people might get hungry, therefore I go a bit overboard in making various dishes and buying snacks. We are then left with way too much food and even send some off with our guests to avoid seeing it go to waste. 

If we are not hosting then we may be bringing food to potlucks and I sometimes opt for the more expensive yet easier option instead one that may require more time to make. The trigger behind this one was therefore lack of planning and/or wanting to save time

Our restaurant spending also increases during that time. Turns out that our work will often have their holiday events at restaurants where we need to pay for our meals. Since I’ve been working from home full time, I feel the need to show up to all of these events to make a presence as my team doesn’t get to see me often. During these events, I do fall a bit prey to the idea of treating myself because I rarely go out to eat

As for our spending on alcohol, while a big part of this was more frequent drinking, we also opted for expensive wines and liquor. My thoughts were again around the idea of treating myself but also of treating others without looking cheap

Gifts/toys (for our own kids) :

The triggers behind overbuying gifts/toys for our own kids, are part linked to worrying my kids are missing out on some experience and part being afraid of deceiving them. 


Our general shopping category is a bit of a catch all of when we shopped for clothes or books for ourselves or when we can’t figure out what it was we ordered off of amazon. 

The triggers for the shopping category, at least for last year, were likely linked to wanting to reach either the 35$ free-shipping limit, wanting an add-on item or simply trying to reach a certain purchase amount to meet a requirement to get some AirMiles bonus points

It may also have to do with buying on a whim as we had limited time to research things last year since we were spending our nights and weekends finishing off a big renovation

Making a plan to address each triggers: 

Now that I’ve jotted down all the triggers that cause me to overspend during the holidays, I’ll attempt to find common themes and then  brainstorm ways to counteract each of these :

  • Anxiety : Nervous about running out of food, worrying about our kids missing out on some experience. 
  • Planning & Time Constraints: Lack of time to plan ahead to buy the ingredients and prepare food for potlucks, buying things without researching.
  • Treat yourself mentality: Telling myself I don’t go out often to restaurant, treating ourselves and our guests with expensive wine and liquor.
  • Self-Imposed expectations: Feeling like I need to show up at all work events, thinking others will think we are cheaping out for not getting the good alcohol stuff, worrying about deceiving our kids, reaching target amount of spending for free-shipping or points.


I’ve explored my holiday overspending when I wrote about creating money anxiety ladders. Basically, this exposure tool is helpful to plan increasing levels of exposure as well as your preparation to situations that trigger your anxiety. 

Here are others ways to try and work through this spending trigger:

  • I can review my true values and desired results for our holidays and ask myself if my anxiety is truly helpful to achieve these.  
  • Make a list of those emotional triggers or cues that show I am experiencing some anxiety.
  • For my “nervous about running out of foodtrigger Mr. Mod is much better at planning quantities so he now takes on a role and helps me with this step. 
  • As for “Worrying that kids are missing out on an experience” I’ve found it really helpful to find a visual way to see the quantity of stuff I’ve already gathered as Christmas morning gifts. I simply track all items on a simple track sheet. I also add up all the costs there to give me a clear view of how much has already been spent.  

Planning / Time Constraints: 

  • Have go-to recipes potlucks: Make a list of easy recipes to bring to pot-lucks and keep a list of items that I can stock up on to make these if time is limited during the holidays. 
  • Make it simpler: Either I can be creative while looking at the weekly flyers during the week of the potluck for something quick and yummy, or I could simply double one of the dinners to be prepared during the week and freeze to bring to the potluck.
  • For the trigger of buying something quickly because of lack of time for research, I’ve thought of a rather simple solution: If I don’t have time to research if it’s the best quality for cost option, don’t buy it! It’s not because it’s the holiday period that your desires becomes needs.

Treat yourself mentality:

I think it’s important to specify that I am aware that having to address my “treat yourself” spending trigger is by far a privileged problem to have. As Piggy from the incomparable Bitches Get Riches blog wrote: “cutting back on wasteful spending is a tactic mostly to be employed by those who have money to waste in the first place”.

The other half of the bitches, Kitty, wrote a fabulous post on her confessions of spending $500 a year on Thanksgiving. My favorite quote is:

“If you go nuts on each and every holiday, you will go broke. (And possibly become the Grinch. #Originstory?) But spending money on holidays you love is absolutely allowed if the dollar amount that you spend equates to a commensurate amount of joy for you personally.”

So based on this reflection, here are some ways to approach this category of over-spending triggers:

  • Compiling all the treat yourself moments: when I add up all these moments, I find they might be more frequent than my mind reasoned. For example, looking at my idea of treating myself for rarely going to restaurants, our average monthly eating out costs of near 290$ per month up until now in 2019, I think I’m being a bit generous with my definition of “rarely”. 
  • Based on Kitty’s post, what dollar amount actually equates a commensurate amount of joy for me personally? Upon reflection, I feel happier at seeing my guests drink some good quality beverage as we enjoy an evening together than I do at eating an expensive plate at a work event. 
  • I can reflect on the limit or tipping point to that dollar amount that bring me joy: When looking at my last example, do I need to be serving an endless amount of quality alcohol? No, at a certain point, some guests may become more obnoxious so maybe it isn’t too terrible if the second and third bottles (or box?) of wine we offer aren’t as readily gulped down. 

Self-Imposed expectations:

Grouping up what I called my “self-imposed expectations” outlined that most had to do with what others might think of me. As long as you’re treating those around you with kindness, most people don’t think all that much about what you do.

Mindy Jensen’s (a.k.a Mrs. 1500 and co-host of Bigger Pocket) favorite quote comes to mind:
“I don’t care what you think about me, I don’t think about you at all.” -Coco Chanel

The other parts of these triggers had more to do with my own self-imposed limits where I’m thinking I need to have x amount of gifts to make my kids happy, or I need to reach this amount of points and save on shipping cost. 

Here are a few ways that might work for me to overcome these worries:

  • Challenge my limiting belief: I can use some useful questions to challenge my limiting beliefs. I.e.: What would you say to a friend that had the same thought? What’s the worst thing that can happen?
  • Comparing these self-imposed limits with my true spending values: Are my kids truly going to be deceived if they don’t have lots of gifts to unwrap? Will they feel unsafe, or will it lower the quality of time we can spend with them not to be surrounded by more toys? 
  • For my self-imposed thought of having to show up to all holiday work events: I can clarify with boss what the expectations are with regards to attending perhaps only a smaller event- which I prefer anyways – but skip the larger group event.
  • Reduce the scope: I can still show up to all work events but only grab a drink or an entré. I can still offer one nice bottle of wine to split with our guests but opt for the good yet more frugal options for the next bottle. 
  • As for our reward points: I can still get some points by being strategic with my shopping yet I can survive by it not being the optimal amount. Besides, we already use our Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card which gives around 2% cashback for most of our purchases.

Talking to those implicated in the events

As a final thought to my plan on being more mindful with my Holiday spending, it will be important to talk to my close family as well as the other people that come into play during those events.

Furthermore my kids are at ages where they can start grasping some important financial concepts. They are starting to understand it can take time, effort and patience to save money before being able to purchase something (delayed gratification). It’s important to talk to them about the mindful choices we make with regards to our holiday spending. It’s even more important that I talk to others who may shower them with gifts. 

I’ll be open with our families about our objectives for the holidays and the idea of keeping it simpler and less materialistic. This can help me deal with some of my own self-imposed limitations as well as some of my anxiety while also adding clarity to our choices during those festivities. 

Do you have any tricks to be mindful with your own holiday spending? Any beneficial traditions you’ve implemented that have been helpful to keep your spending aligned with your values?

2 thoughts on “Mindful Holiday Spending

  1. Very timely article. Holiday spending has been on my mind for some time now. I feel like I’m good at controlling my spending but those around me tend to go overboard. I’m struggling with how to have conversations with others about their spending and how it affects me and my family. With a new little one we are trying to be very mindful of our money habits. We don’t want her to expect to be showered with gifts on holidays. May have to send this out to some family and friends for them to reflect upon.

    1. Thanks Maria! It’s definitely is not easy. I’ve found that when I outline the benefits of less shopping and preparations it seems to reach my family more than saying what we want out of the holidays and why showering our kids with gifts is not helpful to achieve this. Kind of like outlining the benefits for them.

      Sometimes it works other times it’s a miss. Keep me posted on how your discussions go and if you find ways to help your family & friends reflect on this :).

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