Getting Through the Winter Blues
Winter brings cozy fires, happy holidays and fun sports like ice skating and skiing. It can also bring some things that are less welcome. With sunshine being scarce, many people get the winter blues. This depressed state is often made worse by the financial realities of winter, which include higher energy costs and money spent on holiday festivities.
Here are some ways to get proactive and beat the blues before they start.
Budget for Holiday Spending
It might be too late this year, but it is not too early to think about strategies for next year. Consider what you actually have in hand to spend without using credit. Then, make a list of all your holiday expenses. These expenses might include gifts, travel, special foods and entertaining.
If you have family or friends you usually exchange gifts with, speak to them about putting a dollar limit on spending. Think of some other ways to celebrate in addition to gift giving. Maybe a holiday potluck would work. Have a family game night. Plan an at-home New Year’s party.
Doing rather than buying can lift your spirits. Psychology professor Tom Gilovich of Cornell University says you’ll be happier and have longer-lasting happiness if you spend your money on experiences instead of things.
Also, consider making your own gifts, because a handmade gift can be more meaningful than something store-bought. Have the whole family participate in making fruitcake or jam. Even the youngest members of the family can help with decorating and wrapping the gifts.
This is a great time to talk with your children about financial realities and budgeting. Instead of making a long list of presents they want, have the kids pinpoint one or two items that are really important to them. Talk to them about the expenses you have and reassure them that there will be plenty of joy even without being overwhelmed with presents.
Energy costs can be a source of worry. However, there are some things you can do to cut your energy costs.
For starters, check your house to make sure you have enough insulation. Look for places in the house where you may be losing heat, such as loose windows or cracks. You can fill these cracks yourself or hire someone to come in and do it. The money you spend will be recouped quickly in the form of lower heating bills.
Try to keep your thermostat at a lower temperature. Get your family in the habit of wearing sweaters and socks in the house. Small afghans on the couch are attractive and useful for cuddling and keeping warm. Buy some extra blankets for the beds and lower the temperature even more at night.
If it is in your budget, a new programmable thermostat can save you money. You will be able to adjust room temperature according to your schedules, keeping it low when no one is home. You can set the thermostat to kick in more heat before you get home from work, so the house will be warm when you arrive.
Do It Yourself
When the kids are home from school, it’s easy to fall into the trap of keeping them busy by going out for treats — pizza, hot chocolate or a warm meal. Start doing more of this at home. Make a large pot of chili or some cocoa for the family. It’s easy and more fun than bundling everyone up to go out. It will save you both money and time.
In general, you can save quite a bit of money if you have been buying expensive coffee on the way to work or throughout the day. Hone your skills as a barista, brew your own and save a bunch.
Consider Credit Counseling
If you are still feeling blue and think it may be related to your finances, start the new year off with a visit to [credit union]. A sure way to beat the winter blues is to get a confident feeling about being on top of your financial wellness. “The more you plan, the less you spend,” says Ellie Kay, a California financial planning expert.
And that can make a world of difference in many areas of your life.
Your turn: Are you feeling down about your financial situation? Does the cold weather have you feeling depressed? What are some strategies you’ve used to combat the winter blues?