How to Manage Financial Stress During the Holidays

Financial stress during the holidays hits each family a little differently. We all have slightly different root causes for the stress, so the remedy for each of us will be slightly different. But most of us agree the holidays can easily snowball into significant stress instead of bringing comfort and joy!

Overspending, especially during the holidays, is easy for us all! One of the ways I have found to curb some of the struggle is to discover what is driving the perceived need to spend more than God has provided.

Be honest with yourself about why you give gifts.

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

We've served in full-time ministry our whole marriage - which means we have a lot of people we love in our lives. We also definitely live on a "God math" budget when it comes to our finances. Yet, both my husband and I get a lot of joy from giving gifts. So we can quickly outspend our budget. Sometimes (Okay, every year, all the time!) I have to remind myself that people enjoy presents all year long; I don't have to jam it all into one day. I have to remind myself that I can give words that express my heart, which can be gifts, too. I also regularly remind myself that a gift can express my heart without matching it in size or cost.

If God provides X amount for gift giving, I can stretch that amount creatively and wisely, but if my desire to give presents significantly outpaces God's provision, something is maybe a bit off in my heart. Sometimes, we give gifts because WE get joy from it. But if that "joy" outpaces God's provision, maybe we need to anchor our joy in Jesus and not our circumstances. Sometimes, we give gifts because we want someone else to be happy, but in truth, we know their happiness doesn't depend on the gift. That is perhaps when a heartfelt, handwritten note with a little something handmade is better than expensive presents. We may give gifts to "pay back" or impress someone - this motive is nakedly self-serving, and God does not want us to indulge in this type of habit. Whatever the motive, if you are way outspending your gift budget, consider your motives and ask God for wisdom to navigate gift-giving with purity of heart, budget wisdom, and thoughtful creativity.

Comparison traps, social media, and saying "no" to yourself and your family are hard!

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

I have a friend whose financial pressures come from managing the expectations and comparison traps that holiday activities and social media-inspired decorating can do to us. Which is hard for all of us!

Even if it isn't fueled by comparison or keeping up with the Joneses, the plethora of money traps the holidays offer is staggering. And all of it is so fun! You see other families doing this activity or that on social media and want to share the same experience with your family. As a mom, it is hard to say "no" to yourself and the family when there's such a flood of activities, gifts, food, outfits, etc to buy. Sometimes the best way to manage the pressure of saying "no" so much is to not put yourself in the flood path of all the temptation.

Some of the strategies that help me keep my head above the waters of tempting extra spending are:

1. I spend less time on social media when I'm feeling the tug to spend or do more than fits into my life.

2. I pack plenty of snacks when we leave the house. For us, town is an hour away, so it's easy to go down the mountain and end up buying food when you get caught in holiday traffic and everything takes longer. Eating out is a major money drain for us, so making preparations so we don't get rushed and then "have to" grab a bite out helps stretch the dollars in the wallet a lot!

3. I make sure to schedule things we can look forward to so that when we have to tell ourselves "no," we remember there is a good "yes" around the corner to look forward to.

The old FOMO rears its head a lot during the holidays!

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

The fear of missing out can be a real motivator to spend more money than we have at the holidays. Recognizing the motive for your spending will help you drive your finances instead of your finances driving you. A verse that really helped me conquer the fear of missing out is Psalm 84:11, which says, "No good thing does God withhold from those who walk uprightly." So, if I do my best to walk with the Lord by obeying His Word, I can rest assured that God will ensure all the blessings that would be good for me will come to me. I don't have to chase His blessing. He doesn't withhold blessings or hide them from His children who are pursuing Him.

If I can't afford an activity, decoration, or outfit, then the bottom line is that it isn't good for me. Because my God makes sure I have what is good for me. When I feel the fear of missing out creep into my heart, I take a moment to recount the joys I have and recenter my heart in contented gratitude.

All these examples boil down to thinking and planning before the desire to spend money arises. They all also require some soul-searching to understand why we feel the sudden urge to commit our wallets in so many places. And ultimately, while some of us feel the urgency of our finances more than others, all of us are called to practice contentment and acknowledge God as the source of our provision. If finances are tight, we just get to practice those virtues a little more often.

If you’d like a free Family Conversation Guide to Work Through Holiday Finances, email us at info(at)

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Anna Ostanina

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here


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