Financial Sustainability This Holiday Season

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Image credits: Shutterstock

To protect your money, ignore the need to keep up, learn to hang around with family, and locate hidden spending for the holidays

In South Asian culture, we are encouraged to not discuss money. The clichés about the father of the bride taking loans to pay for dowry or single-handedly navigating the wedding expenses, it’s all real but unspoken. I have heard parents say, “We’ll figure out the money; you follow your dreams.”

While all this sounds very caring from the outside, this kind of mindset can be damaging. When you have been conditioned right from your childhood to think of monetary conversations as taboo, you will develop a complicated relationship with money as an adult. You might pass on the same toxic traits — secrecy around financial capability — to the next generation. Money doesn’t magically grow on trees. Period! Financial well-being is important to your overall health — kids and adults both need to be aware and work with a budget.

There is no shame in being prudent about what you can or cannot afford as a family. I honestly think it’s important to raise awareness about financial literacy in South Asian families. I once overheard an older, Indian uncle judge his son for using airline miles for travels this holiday season instead of buying airline tickets at inflated prices. The competition about who spends more, irrespective of whether they can afford it, is mind-boggling. I have witnessed women in leadership roles take a back seat when it comes to generational wealth because they were deemed incapable. There are plenty of Indian films where a man on an H1B loses a job but can’t tell anyone at home… because of “What will people say?”

May 2021 be the year we discard stigma, stereotypes, and cliches around financial well-being. The holidays are approaching. Let’s cut to the chase — holidays can feel simply festive for some people, it can also take a toll on the bank balance of many others. The bills don’t take a snow day just because you have holiday expenses. Between the gifts shopping, attending multiple holiday parties, hosting gatherings at home, and traveling…it all adds up. Gas prices, airline tickets, cost of food… It’s all gone up. Didn’t we just celebrate Dussehra, Diwali, and other Indian holidays and get a head start on the gift-giving season?

Reality is that the economic recovery has been lopsided. Some people are thriving, while others are still struggling. Lives have been interrupted by job losses, deaths, financial setbacks, and illnesses. So many are trying to pick up the pieces and move on. But it’s not been easy. There is continued uncertainty with the Omicron variant. The stress and anxiety around gift shopping and getting into debt is real. According to one survey, as many as 56% of shoppers have made a purchase with “buy now, pay later” services they couldn’t pay off.

How can one avoid the stress that comes this time of year? How can we be more strategic this gift-giving season? I spoke with three women in finance and asked them to share their expertise on how people can make smart financial decisions this holiday season.

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Ruchi Pinniger (image courtesy of Ruchi Pinniger)

“Don’t let FOMO guide you, says Ruchi Pinniger, founder and CEO of Watch Her Prosper. “If you let the fear of missing out on deals kick in, you’ll end up overspending and overbuying things you don’t need.”

Monica Ranjan
Monica Ranjan (image courtesy of Monica Ranjan)

U.K.-based Monica Ranjan, a business manager who takes women’s economic empowerment seriously, calls for “more family quality time like games, chats and activities, rather than material gifts.”

Diane Neustadt
Diane Neustadt (image courtesy of Diane Neustadt)

According to Diane Neustadt, director of operations at the Forest Hills Financial Group,“If you can free up some extra cash for holiday spending that certainly could ease stressing about spending (when we’re stressed, we tend to make poor decisions). Renegotiating your cable or internet package, turning in unused gift cards or checking if you have any credit or debit card rewards that you can convert to either gift cards or cash back, can help your holiday cash flow. Additionally, check your bank statements for monthly charges you may not be aware of that may be recurring after signing up for a free trial. However small, these charges add up and cut into your spending.”

Yes, I get it; we want to woo our friends, family, and loved ones. We want to shower them with gifts and express our gratitude. May I remind you that the thought counts, not the amount you spend? Don’t focus on the price tag. There is enough research to confirm that the holidays take a toll on our mental and emotional wellness. Throw money matters into it, and the stress of debt or other financial issues can leave you feeling depressed or anxious. So, don’t ignore the well-being of your bank account as you spend during the holidays. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. The last thing we need in these times is more strain on our bank balance and mental health.

Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.” ~ Helen Gurley Brown