The holiday season can be a financially challenging time for those who live with chronic illnesses. Many of us are disabled, unemployed, and/or have high medical expenses and are financially strained under normal conditions, but especially so this time of the year. And though we would love to purchase goods and presents for all, we struggle to pay for our basic medical and living expenses and cannot afford to spend extra on things above and beyond the essentials for our survival. Oftentimes, our loved one extend gracious invitations indicating we are not obliged to pitch in for the meal or reciprocate gifts, but for many of us, this creates a sense of guilt and makes us feel as if we have not done our part or contributed in a meaningful manner. How are we to cope?
Beyond relying on the understanding and compassion of our family members and friends, there are several steps we might take to minimize the pressure and guilt we feel and to participate in the festivities and gift-giving in meaningful ways. I offer the following suggestions for your consideration:
* Let go of others’ expectations and refuse to feel obliged to participate in any activities or exchanges which stretch your finances beyond what you can bear. There is no need to feel guilty for circumstances beyond your control, and protecting your financial well-being is an act of self-care which is borne out of necessity. It is perfectly appropriate to offer a polite refusal: “My apologies. I am afraid I will not be able to exchange gifts this year. It has been a rough spell for us financially.”
* If you choose to participate, refuse to exceed your budget no matter how small. This may mean sacrificing the “ultimate” gift you had hoped to purchase or giving gifts to fewer people than you would like, but in the long-run, it will save you from being in a financial bind and allow you to avoid the additional stress when payments you cannot reasonably meet come due.
* Suggest family or groups of friends draw names for gift exchanges rather than buying for everyone in the circle. This will allow you to spend a larger amount on one gift instead of divvying up limited funds among many. Or perhaps “White Elephant” exchanges of used or “re-gifted” items would be a welcome option.
* Purchase small gifts throughout the year when you have additional funds available and set gifts aside until holiday time. That way, the expense of gift-giving will be broken up over time and will not feel so overwhelming when the holidays arrive.
* This might be obvious, but shop for sales. Many stores have fabulous deals on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Cyber-Monday (an online version of Black Friday on the Monday after Thanksgiving). Check clearance sales both in-store and online, as some are exclusive to one location. For additional savings, look for free shipping offers and percent or dollar-off coupons in local newspapers and on store websites.
* If your goal is to purchase for everyone on a long list of recipients, and you cannot bear to omit anyone from the list, perhaps very inexpensive gifts are an option. Thrift stores (such as “Good Will”), overstock and limited-stock stores, and discount retailers (such as “Dollar Tree,” “Dollar General,” and “Dollar Time”) offer low-cost goods and one-time deals which might suit your needs.
* If you have children and cannot afford presents, contact charities such as the Salvation Army, church groups, or clubs/organizations which operate assistance programs. A good place to begin your search for relevant charities is with the United Way. This organization can often direct you to local charities which might be of assistance. Food pantries can also cut down on the cost of preparing meals.
* Consider gifting homemade goods, crafts, or foods. If you have a talent, share it with those you love. Baked goods, hand-made ornaments, crocheted scarves, paintings, poems written on fine paper, well-intentioned notes in a hand-made or virtual cards, and other such items are often welcome and appreciated for the skill and effort they require. After all, such presents cannot be found at retail stores and can be personalized to fit the exact tastes of your recipient. They are unique and from the heart.
Whatever choices you make, please remember that, ultimately, the holiday season is not about the material items we give or receive; rather, its true meaning is found in giving of ourselves, our time, and our companionship. A precious moment spent with loved ones is an unmatched and priceless gift of joy.