Friday, November 11, 2011

The Human Experience of Christmas

I’m not a writer. I’m an accountant. (Except now I’m a writer and a financial coach, but that’s another story.) When I feel stuck, that I have nothing useful to say, I read Susannah Breslin. She reminds me how to be a writer.

In her latest series on journalism (and strip clubs, but that’s another story) she reminded me that what a writer does “…for a living is attempt to chronicle the human experience.” Oh, I get it. I’m supposed to be teaching my readers how to have a healthier financial life through telling stories and providing corresponding helpful financial advice.

I realized that in my last blog, I tiptoed. I was cautious. Sure I told stories. And I gave creative and useful ideas. But all over the web are advice blogs about a frugal Christmas, making your own gifts and starting a Santa Saver account.

What is unique about me, what I do that few other financial writers do, is to tell the real human experience of what our financial decisions, or indecisions, do to our self-esteem, our relationships, our happiness and our lives. What was missing in my last blog were these naked emotional truths that clients and friends have shared with me over the years. More people have talked to me about the anguish and pain and simple embarrassment that Christmas can bring than have talked to me about the joy that it brings. Here are some threads of those conversations.

Naked Truth #1: I feel shame. – A story I’ve heard many times, enough to know that thousands of people are preparing to walk this path over the next few months, is the story of feeling as if there is no way to get through the holiday season without credit cards, even if there is an agreement with your spouse to not use them. With every purchase, the shame wells up a little more. With the giving of each gift, the shame lies underneath. Vagueness often provides the mask for the shame. If you don’t look, its not there. The pinnacle is when the credit card statements arrive in January and are hidden. For months afterward, people scrimp and scrape their normal monthly spending to pay off their holiday purchases before their spouse discovers the deceit.

Naked Truth #2: I feel regret. - The stories of regret that I hear come in a few forms. Regret that yet again, I didn’t set aside any money for the holidays. Regret that yet again, I bought expensive gifts because it’s ‘expected’ in my family. Regret that yet again, I’ve amassed large credit card bills. Living with this regret is a direct hit to one’s self-esteem and enjoyment of the season.

Naked Truth #3: I feel anguish. – For some, there is literally no choice to over spend, use credit cards or put off paying other bills in order to buy presents. For some, there is literally no money. “I feel like a total failure to my family, especially my little 7 year old boy” reads one post on from a father that had absolutely no money. That is the true human experience of Christmas for millions of Americans every year.

If you are feeling shame, regret, anguish or any of the other extreme emotions that can come with holiday pressures, make it different. It can be one of the scariest conversations you’ve ever had to talk honestly about money. It is a peculiar truism of our society that we can more easily have frank conversations about intimate sexual problems than we can about money problems. But gathering the courage to have a conversation can shift your entire experience of Christmas.

What might the conversation be?

Shame: could your experience be any different if you did the unthinkable and had an honest and open conversation with your spouse about the money, the patterns of spending and the impending shame? Could your experience be any different if you told the truth?

Regret: could your experience be any different if you talked to your core family about a modified plan for Christmas? If you and your family made one simple step toward change?

Anguish: could your experience be any different if you talked to your children about the true meaning of Christmas? Could your experience be any different if you raised children that grew up and said “my mom would either get our gifts from charity shops or make them herself. I still have a doll that she made me that I’ll cherish forever. It’s not about how much money you spend, and I think children more than anyone else know this.”

If you struggle with any of these emotions around money and Christmas, you aren’t the only one. It just might be the biggest gift that you give someone this Christmas is the opportunity to talk openly about money and make their experience of Christmas, and yours, more joyful.

Stacey Powell builds financial muscles at, creates financial clarity at, and shows off Financial Art at Facebook.

Join her for her free call Empower Your Holidays at

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