Are Your Holiday Expectations Holding You Hostage?


Image courtesy of stockimages /

Are you stressed out about the holidays?

It’s hard not to get stressed out just a little bit this time of year, especially if you’re struggling with your finances. With countless gatherings to attend and gifts to buy for loved ones, this time of year can be very difficult to handle when you’ve been fighting just to pay the bills each month.

I read a post recently from a fellow debt relief customer who is in just that kind of situation. She is extremely stressed out because Christmas is getting closer every day, but due to some unexpected expenses, they don’t have much money to fill the space below the Christmas tree this year. A comment was made by a fellow blogger in which she encouraged her to “let go of the expectations that are holding her hostage.”

The post, and the comment brought back very vivid memories of the first few Christmases that Vonnie and I were enrolled in our debt management program. The holidays were the time of year when our credit cards would get their most action. With zero financial responsibility, having money saved for gifts was completely out of the question. A tight budget combined with having all our lines of credit closed made for a very stressful holiday season as we struggled to find a way to purchase presents for our children, each other, and our extended families.

As alluded to by the comment, the problem was with our expectations.

Our ability to purchase (or more correctly, charge) gifts had dramatically changed, however our expectations towards having a tree overflowing with gifts on Christmas morning had not. We also still expected to be able to walk into family gatherings with our arms filled with gifts. Not being able to do so was a pill of harsh reality that was very difficult to swallow.

We did the best we could, buying several less expensive presents for the kids to make the tree look as full as possible. I remember Vonnie and I looking at each other anxiously as the kids sat down excitedly to open their gifts. We knew in our hearts that we should be ecstatic and thankful that we were able to provide gifts at all. We knew that presents under the tree should not be the focus of the season. Yet we also knew that through the eyes of two young children, it was all about new toys.

I asked my kids to think back over the last few years and tell me what they got for Christmas each year. They could list some of the gifts, but couldn’t tell me when they got them with any accuracy. I then asked them if they thought over the years they were getting less gifts, more gifts or about the same. They both responded that they thought the gifts had been the same year to year. Which is completely untrue.

We now spend a fraction of what we used to on Christmas gifts for our kids.

I challenged myself to come up with some of my top Christmas memories:

  1. Having a Christmas tree topple over on me with our living room curtains wide open in full view of the Schwans food delivery person walking up the driveway. He was laughing uncontrollably when we opened the door.
  2. After telling my mom we weren’t coming to Christmas at her house because we didn’t feel comfortable leaving town, I, my son, and a very pregnant Vonnie surprised my mom and dad by showing up on Christmas Eve.
  3. Vonnie and I’s first Christmas together as husband and wife

I easily came up with a dozen more, but my point is, none of my favorite memories involved a gift.

Before you go any further with your holiday shopping and preparation, do yourself a favor, sit down and align your expectations of the season to your finances and adjust accordingly. If you’re stressed out about money and gifts, you’re stressing out about nothing.

Relax, enjoy the people around you and make memories.

Happy Holidays from Team EOD.

About Travis

37 Responses to “Are Your Holiday Expectations Holding You Hostage?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Love this post.. great reminder that it’s NOT all about the gifts! I would agree with you, my favorite memories don’t have anything to do with the stuff I received. They all revolve around the fact that this time of year, I get to spend so much time with the people that I love.

  2. Such a great reminder Travis that the Holidays are not truly about the gifts. Yea, they’re nice to get but it’s the memories and time spent with those you love which really matter. I look back to what I remember most about the Holidays and not one of them include presents, it’s the memories that come to mind.

    • Travis says:

      It’s so fun to get a big group of friends and family together for a day or two, John. My family is a blast to be around – there’s always fun to be had. This year there’s hardly any talk of any kind of gift exchange….I think we’ll play some kind of game for prizes as we have done the last couple of years, but it’s really just an after thought at this point.

  3. E.M. says:

    This is an important message. My family has struggled with the same thing: we want to see all the presents under the tree and have a happy time opening them, but at the same time, we want to make sure we can afford it. I would never want anyone to go into debt or further into debt over buying gifts for me. This Christmas I’m just going to have fun spending time with my parents, who are visiting. I would love to surprise them on a holiday in the future if they’re not coming up, that’s a great idea!

    • Travis says:

      Great perspective, E.M. I particularly want to enjoy my parents company as much as I can…..they’re getting older and I hate to say that I don’t know how much longer they’ll be around, but that’s the reality. My parents are my heroes in so many ways, I look forward to any time I can spend time with them.

  4. Awe this is sweet Travis. I love the one where you surprised your parents at Christmas. I have to admit feeling very lonely this time of year. Sometimes I’m OK with it, in that I don’t have a lot of family obligations or parties or whatnot, but then sometimes I almost wish I had those things. It’s almost as Christmas doesn’t really exist for me. But I love living vicariously though other people. I think as long as your kids know you love them and are there for them, that’s what is really going to matter in the end.

    • I’m sorry to read your words, “It’s almost as if Christmas doesn’t really exist for me.” I have a friend for whom Christmas has been a difficult time, and she decided one year to serve turkey at a homeless shelter. She said it was an absolutely fantastic experience, and it’s become a wonderful tradition for her. I wonder if there is a similar venue for you to volunteer? Perhaps you would be just as surprised as my friend to find out what a blessing it can be – as much for the volunteer as for those being served. Christmas does really exist for you, and I hope that truth hits home for you this year : )

    • Travis says:

      Family isn’t just blood relatives, Tonya, I hope you share that day with friends that are close to you. Know that Vonnie and I will be thinking of you around Christmas. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Mackenzie says:

    Love this, Travis! Christmas is definitely about making memories ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      As I read your comment, I started to think of ways I can spend some quality time with my kids over their winter break. Maybe as one of my gifts to them they’ll each get a “daddy day” of whatever they want to do. The more I think about it, the more I like that idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. The expectations are part of what freaks me out about the holidays! I feel like everyone expects so much and I get resentful about getting roped into it all. Bah humbug =/

    • Travis says:

      I think we make up many of those expectations ourselves, Holly. If we’d all just communicate just a little more, I think we’d find the Holidays to be a lot less stressful!

  7. Love this Travis! I would say none of my favorite memories revolve around any gift that I received. It’s all about sharing time with family for me.

    • Travis says:

      Good for you, Brian, glad to hear so many people are looking forward to making memories this Christmas. I think it’d be fun to have a post after the holidays where I have bloggers tell me their favorite memory from this year’s festivities!

  8. It’s remarkably difficult to let go of those Christmas expectations. I find that although my mind accepts that it’s absolutely the right thing to do, I still fight strong yearnings to throw out the budget and spend without measure. So far, I’m holding the line – tracking every expense. Your before-and-after experience encourages me, and reinforces the idea that we’re doing it right.

    • Travis says:

      The hardest people to throw away those expectations is with the kids….you always want to see the kids get everything they want. But there is such thing as toy overload….I’ve seen it and done it. Toys end up sitting in the corner unused because they just have too much to play with. Good for your for holding the line….I’m gonna touch base with you after the holidays and see if you made it all the way through. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Definitely no reason to stress. The holidays should be about love and joy coming from family not necessarily gifts.

    • Travis says:

      Love and joy…..true story, Stefanie. It’s a time to surround yourself with the people in our life that mean the most. For me, I’m looking forward to seeing my brother, who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. Looking forward to seeing him, his wife and my niece for sure!

  10. The best gifts I’ve bought over the last couple of years are the ones for the foster children in the Adopt a Child for Christmas program. I don’t get a thrill out of gifts for adults given or received in most instances, but experiences and being able to help someone less fortunate is much more rewarding.

    I think the funniest recent Christmas memory I have is from a few years ago when our daughter was almost 3. My husband’s family used to put their stockings at the foot of the bed to keep the kids occupied so they wouldn’t be up a 4AM, so we tried it. Finally around 7AM, we went to check on our daughter and she was playing will all the stocking stuff. It was not expensive stuff, but things like socks, pez dispensers, and lip glosses. She was so excited and said “Mommy, Santa brought me all this stuff and he left it in this shoe!” She didn’t even know that there were bigger gifts downstairs, and would have been totally happy with all the stocking stuffers in the “shoe.”

    • Travis says:

      That’s a great story, and a GREAT memory, Kim! That’s exactly the kind of thing that you will remember forever, and can pass down to your daughter as she gets older. Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. I was there just last year, Travis, and ya know what?… Looking back, it was one of the better Christas seasons that we have ever had. We didn’t spend hardly any money on the kids at all, but instead we paid attention to the true meaning of the season.

    • Travis says:

      Another example of how the amount or value of the gifts really has no bearing on whether you enjoy the holidays or not, Jefferson. Hope your season this year is just as memorable – thanks for dropping in!

  12. Pauline says:

    I don’t have memories including gifts either, except the time I was preparing a one year round the world trip and my family got me all the gear, backpack, guidebooks etc and told me they’d miss me but were really happy I took that opportunity. I used all the gifts intensively for a full year and remembered my family, other Christmas gifts are usually stored and forgotten quickly. Happy holidays!

    • Travis says:

      If you don’t mind me saying so, Pauline….I would say that the memory of that Christmas wasn’t about the gift either…but about the trip, and the thoughtfulness that your family put into it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for sharing that awesome memory!

  13. Isn’t that funny how we can look back and realize that it is not the gifts that make Christmas special? My favorite memories of Christmas were spending time with family, laughing, eating food and enjoying life together. It is amazing how much we can let material things cloud our minds at times which prevents us from realizing what truly brings joy.

    • Travis says:

      That’s an interesting perspective, Deacon…..many people look forward to Christmas because of what gifts they may receive (at least when you’re young), but now, as we look back, it has very little to do with what Christmas means to us. Thanks for dropping by!

  14. Josh says:

    Hey Travis, thanks for this great post. It’s a great reminder of what the holiday season is all about. Gifts aren’t so important. As a matter of fact, my fiance and I aren’t exchanging gifts this year. We’ll be spending time together…which is a much better way to go!

  15. Great point Travis! Now that you mention it, the best Christmas memories I have do not involve gifts, and I’d be hard pressed to list out the gifts I’ve received even the past 5 years. This is an important message this time of year.

    • Travis says:

      The more comments I read, DC, the more I want to do a post after the Holidays asking readers what their favorite memory is from the season. Thanks for reading!

  16. Mike Goodman says:

    Well said. Most of the cherished memories we have of Christmas is really about spending time with the people special to us and the moments we feel really good about everyone around us.

  17. Love this, Travis, and what a great story about surprising your mom. I would’ve also loved to be hanging out with the Schwan’s guy, watching that tree topple over on you. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re SO right about the memories – don’t they make you remember the true meaning of Christmas?

    • Travis says:

      it was hilarious….even I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. The tree was fully decorated, but we noticed it was leaning a bit so I was trying to adjust it in the tree stand. I adjusted it just a little too much, and over it went, with me trying to hold it back up. Good times!

  18. AverageJoe says:

    One of my clients’ best Christmases was the year they decided to buy absolutely nothing. They said they got into the spirit of the season and togetherness more than ever before. You’re right on: the problem is the expectationsโ€ฆ.

    • Travis says:

      I think that would be a great experiment to try out. I’m sure the retailers LOVE the expectations of gift giving…don’t look for them to be pushing “togetherness” anytime soon – unless it’s to sell you a new cell phone or computer for skyping. ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Comment...


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.