Give Presence, not Presents This Holiday Season

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Don't know how you'll afford presents this holiday season? Here are some ways why presence matters so much more and won't put you in debt.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust. The opinions and text are all mine.

If you haven’t looked at a calendar lately, Christmas is in seven short weeks. That means one thing – spending money. The National Retail Foundation reports the average household will spend over $900 on gifts this holiday season. We could discuss ways to save money on your shopping, but what do you do if you just can’t afford to shop for gifts this year?

Playing the Expectations Game


As many readers know, I have my fair share of experience dealing with consumer debt. Having graduated college with over $50,000 in debt, I had little means to deal with much beyond daily needs, let alone holiday shopping. I would try to scrape together enough to be able to afford buying gifts for those in my family only to fall short for several years.

I’ll be honest; it wasn’t fun. I felt like I let people down or what I gave didn’t live up to expectations. Whether they were actual expectations or not, I do know it created pressure that I responded to by feeling like I had to spend money to show family my love or appreciation. Now that I’m free from debt and living a financially confident life, I see the importance of not making money a taboo subject among friends or family. This is the intent behind the onUp movement by SunTrust to create a movement of people who are committed to living a life of financial confidence.

If you’re in debt, or simply lack the means to go all out this holiday season, let me tell you one thing – don’t overspend. That only continues the cycle of being financially unhealthy. Instead, come up with a plan or budget for how you will spend your resources so you can focus on time with friends and family and get more enjoyment out of the season.

Turn the Holiday on its Head


We hear a lot during this time of year that it’s the thought that counts, not the amount you spend. I’ll take it a step further; it’s not the presents you give that mean anything. They eventually break, go out of style or are no longer desired.

Giving presence, however, is what sticks with you for good. Think back about last holiday season with me; what comes to mind? Is it the shiny new gift someone gave you what you remember or is it the time spent with someone that stands out? As a parent, and even looking back to my days where I was up to my eyeballs in debt, it’s time with friends and family that I hold close.

Some of those things are:

  • Having a Polar Express themed evening and going for a drive with our children to look at Christmas lights.
  • Volunteering with family members to serve at a homeless shelter during the holidays.
  • Spending time with my grandparents hearing stories about how they celebrated the holidays during the Great Depression.

The thread that ties these memories together? Very little money was spent. It was the act of spending time together that’s memorable and means so much more than some overpriced gift.

Don't know how you'll afford presents this holiday season? Here are some ways why presence matters so much more and won't put you in debt.

Finding Balance


Life is meant to have some semblance of balance. Implementing that on holiday spending is vital to not go overboard. That means one simple thing, budgeting for your Christmas spending. That’s exactly what we do in our home. We budget what we’ll spend on presents at the beginning of the year, divide it by 12 and set aside that amount each month. It allows us to shop with confidence and in accordance with our financial values.

You still have time to do something very similar. SunTrust has made this handy budget tool to help you plan your holiday spending. It covers everything from gas for travel to what you’ll spend on presents. You may not have enough time to save enough to cover all your holiday spending, but every bit you do save will help soften the budgetary blow. Even better, it will help you plan for next year so you can shop with confidence knowing you have the means to cover your expenses.

The holidays happen at the same time every year after all, so instead of treating it like a surprise, plan ahead so you can act with confidence – which is really the way we should approach life as a whole.

At SunTrust Bank, their purpose is lighting the way to financial well-being. When you feel confident about your money, you can save for your goals and spend knowingly on what matters most to you.

The onUp movement was created to guide millions of people one step at a time towards a more financially confident life without ever losing sight of the moments that matter along the way.

Join the growing number of people transforming their stress into positive motivation to move onUp.

Join the Movement



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

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