‘Tis the season to spend. As we head into the holidays, the urge to overspend can run hot, especially this year. Many of us might face the temptation to soothe ourselves from the endless drudgery of the COVID epidemic on top of the ordinary seasonal pressure to buy gifts for loved ones. Many of us run the risk of spending money we don’t have, setting ourselves up for financial misery in the New Year.
Making it through the gift-giving season with our budgets intact is a worthwhile goal. To achieve that, we need strategies for keeping a sharp eye on how we spend on ourselves and others — and, just as importantly, why.
When we’re worn out, bored, frustrated, aggravated, and otherwise out of sorts, we look for ways to soothe ourselves. Stores are filled with gadgets and gizmos designed to make us think they’ll make our lives better. As April Lane Benson, the psychologist behind ShopaholicNoMore.com and author of the excellent book on overspending To Buy Or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, writes, “The material things we buy with money can have profound emotional significance, becoming inextricably linked with happiness, love, power, freedom, security, independence, control, and self-worth.”
The problem is, of course, money can’t buy us those any of those things — at least not for any length of time. As Benson writes, we might enjoy a temporary “high of the buy,” but purchases can’t fill our fundamental need for love, satisfaction, safety and control in our hearts.
Recognizing The “Itch”
The Buddhist author Pema Chödrön in her essay, “How We Get Hooked, How We Get Unhooked,” addresses that gap between the negative feelings we want to push away and the positive feelings we crave as the “itch.” The itch can cause us to zone out and buy things we don’t need or can’t afford.
Her remedy is what she calls the four “Rs:”
— Recognize the itch.
— Refrain from scratching, meaning don’t spend in that moment in that state.
— Relax into the underlying urge — the fear, boredom, low self-worth, etc. we’re trying to escape. Make friends with those feelings, get to know them better, rather than pushing them away.
— Resolve to continue interrupting the itch.
If you find yourself making impulsive, impractical money choices, ones that make you scratch your head later, your task is to notice how you feel in those moments. Before you make any large or unusual purchase is an excellent time for a check-in. Do a body scan (I lead a guided body scan meditation you can listen to free here), and be alert to any underlying distress. Are you experiencing negative emotions that you’re hoping, on some level, this purchase will alleviate?
If so, my advice is to pump the brakes, rather than buy in a hurry. Take a few days to think through what this thing means to you and whether it’s truly worth what it costs. Try asking yourself these questions first:
— Is this object or service a “must-have” or an “I want?”
— What if I wait—will I still want it a week from now?
— Can I buy it cheaper elsewhere, or buy it used?
— Can I barter or trade for it?
— How will I pay for it?
— Where will I put it?
Taking the time to think it all the way through means you also have extra time to anticipate the pleasure of the purchase.
Holiday Gift-Giving for Others
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our loved ones are more important than ever. Taking the time to tell folks what they mean to us can have a far deeper impact than any purchased object.
You might consider conjuring the warmth you feel in your heart for a loved one and writing them a note or making them a piece of art — I’ve found recording notes I read aloud as an MP3 can be especially impactful. Or singing a song that perfectly sums up how you feel about them — call it karaoke-for-one — can be a fun way to let someone know you care.
So much of the pressure in holiday shopping stems from trying to guess what someone might appreciate as a gift. This year, how about asking your loved ones what they want instead? You might draw up a hand-made coupon for a few hours of your time to spend however they wish. Or let them know what you can afford to give, and ask them how that might be best spent. This year, a bag of groceries or paying a monthly bill might be the kindest gift of all. Let your loved ones tell you what means the most to them.
It’s easy to get lost in this season of shopping frenzy. But by never losing sight on the love you have in your heart — for others and yourself — you can stay focused on what truly matters.
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
Lola Davina is a longtime veteran of the sex industry and author of Thriving in Sex Work: Sex Work and Money, her followup to the formative Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry. You can get the audio version of Sex Work and Money via Awesound here. Contact Davina at Lola.Davina@ynotcam.com and visit her on Twitter at @Lola_Davina.
Image of Lola Davina courtesy Pat Mazzera.