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Is Guilt Driving You to Overspend This Holiday Season?

By Maurie Backman - Dec 9, 2020 at 11:40AM

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Feeling bad about the greater health and economic crisis could cause you to put your own finances at risk.

Person carrying large stack of wrapped Christmas gift boxes.

Image source: Getty Images.

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It's been a lousy, miserable year for a lot of people. And I'm not just talking about adults. 

Though the coronavirus crisis has been hard on me and my husband, it's our kids we feel worse for. My children have not done any learning inside a classroom since March. My twin daughters' first experience in a real elementary school has consisted of logging onto a computer and interacting with their teacher and peers over a screen. My son, meanwhile, who used to hang out with friends every week, hasn't had an indoor play date since the crisis began. And given the way the outbreak has trended, it looks like we'll be spending the holidays on our own instead of celebrating with family.

Clearly, that's rough on multiple levels. And so my husband and I initially thought we might compensate by showering our children with extra gifts. Our logic was that a heaping pile of presents might somehow make up for a wonky, unsettled year. 

But thankfully, that idea was relatively short-lived. Had we gone through with it, we'd have spent money needlessly and stretched our budget for no good reason. 

Unfortunately, though, other people may be more easily motivated by guilt than we are. And it's these people (notably, parents) who risk going overboard on spending this year and hurting their finances in the process. 

Why you shouldn't give in to guilt

This year's Halloween trick-or-treat haul was our most impressive to date. Most families in our neighborhood gave out full-sized candy bars instead of the usual miniatures. Why the shift? Many people felt bad for the kids and wanted to do a little something to bring them joy.

You may be feeling similarly as the holidays approach. Especially if you're going it solo instead of celebrating with family and friends. But don't let those feelings of guilt create a scenario where you attempt to compensate with extra gifts. If you do, you'll risk racking up a massive credit card balance and creating a world of financial stress for yourself. Right now, your kids need you to be calm and collected, not worried about digging yourself out of a hole. 

Of course, if you've got some financial flexibility and want to tack on one extra gift or special surprise for your children, go for it. But don't land yourself in debt or spend money you've saved for another purpose in an effort to compensate for the insanity that's been 2020. 

Create a fun new tradition

The coronavirus pandemic is not your fault, and while your kids may be struggling, you don't owe them more gifts because of it. So rather than spend your way into making the holidays special, get creative. Come up with a fun new tradition to enjoy with your family -- a game night or movie marathon, for example. Or, give your kids the gift of new experiences you can do together that don't cost much (or any) money. Plan a snow hike, a picnic, or a fun road trip for summer.

Spending more money than you can afford won't make up for the fact that this year's holidays may look different, and this entire year has been different. The sooner you realize that, the more likely you'll be to spend wisely and avoid a costly mistake.

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