Get off the shopping hook this holiday season

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The holiday season can be among the most busy and hectic times of the year for individuals and families. More time for holiday activities, responsibilities, travel, houseguests and other obligations can wreak havoc on personal and family dynamics.

Although intended to be a joyous, stress-free experience, the season is often filled with tension, anxiety and physical exhaustion as added shopping, decorating, cooking and entertaining commitments drain our capacity for enjoyment, relaxation and spiritual reflection.

When high-stress lifestyles collide with even higher performance expectations during the holidays, the old cliché, “are we having fun yet” comes to mind. How much control can a person or family have over the potential stress of the holiday season? The answer lies within the individual and the family. Over-commitment is a common tendency of so many families during the holidays. Non-stop rushing around to attend as many events and parties as possible eventually diminishes enjoyment and exacts a physical and mental toll of fatigue.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Instead, setting priorities and limits on outside commitments will free more quality time to spend in doing what is most rewarding, with people who are closest to us. Making a collective decision to selectively choose a limited number of activities while eliminating others can free families to focus on what matters most during the season.

Learn to say “no” and mean it. Resisting the pressure to out perform the “Joneses” on social media, can actually result in more satisfaction, not less. The perceived approval of photo posts by remote (and sometimes unknown) “friends” is short lived, while quality relationship building, within a small inner circle of loved-ones, can create real-time memories and ties that could last a lifetime.

Doing more with less is what so many American families have to adjust to this holiday season. The economy continues in a mode of stagflation, as many families feel trapped with stagnate wages and rising costs of living. How much control does an individual or family have over these financial dilemmas? Again, it is up to them to determine how much holiday indulgence is too much. Gift giving alternatives abound for those who look around for creative and economical solutions. Avoid going into debt to give a gift and consider other options. Simple, handmade or home-crafted gifts could save families hundreds of dollars this holiday season.

My daughter, Adrienne, suggested I visit the popular website,, to find thousands of remarkable gift ideas, which are often very inexpensive to make.

You can create a family coupon book where members design experiences, run errands or do chores to “gift” to one another. This highly customized and thoughtful type of giving extends the good will of the holiday season, all year. What mother would not welcome a coupon from her child to do the dishes, or wash and clean the family automobile or bring her breakfast in bed on a Saturday morning?

The limited gratification of a child who receives a store-bought toy quickly fades. While a coupon promise from a parent for a special fishing trip, picnic, park visit, homemade play-dough clay making day or an encore reading of a bedtime story, will build permanent, positive memories and enduring relationships. What grandparent would not welcome a coupon from a son or grandson for raking the leaves in their yard? Gift giving does not have to cost a fortune or send families spiraling into debt over the holidays. A family night of baking homemade cookies, treats, granola or jam to distribute as gifts, provides a means of keeping costs low and goes a long way in memory making.

Use creative, low cost “upcycling” (to give an elegant new look to recycled items) ideas to decorate. “Mother Nature” can provide stunning décor this time of year with an abundance of vines, cones, bark, shells, moss and more that can be used to create a beautiful wreath for the door or centerpiece for holiday meals.

Elizabeth Phillips, my counterpart in Mobile County Extension Office, recently held an upcycling workshop, where vintage Christmas music albums and 45-speed records were fashioned into a festive wall/door hanging. Similarly, an automobile hubcap served a similar upcycled purpose, when old ornaments and ribbons were added. Two of my favorite projects included an old cast iron skillet decorated with a bright red bow and ornaments — perfect for the door; and a single cowgirl boot stuffed with red berries, a burlap poinsettia, greenery and a bright red ribbon — just the right touch! The cost of these projects was minimal and yet created a one-of-a-kind, fun display for the holidays and I could easily do any of these projects. Best of all, the entire family can work together on these types of decorating projects.

Let yourself off the hook for this holiday season with a commitment to control your precious time and limit the less important busy work and expenses. Keep your focus simple. Decide what will be your most meaningful, quality commitments. Resist the social pressure of expensive, mindless activities and spending, which rob individuals and families of the true meaning and value of the season.

Source: Elizabeth Philips, Regional Extension Agent