indicatorAlberta Lifestyle

Embracing minimalism this holiday season

By ATB Financial 16 December 2019 4 min read

For many people, stress about holiday giving and spending overshadows any sense of joy or relaxation they might hope to experience at the end of a busy year. Even for those of us who are personally acquainted with the phenomenon of unneeded and unwanted gifts, the social pressure to buy something for everyone can feel overwhelming.

Call us crazy, but we think there has to be a way to approach the holidays without breaking the bank, sacrificing your sanity, or burdening your nephew with a handy dandy automatic card shuffler.

Holiday spending, holiday debt

According to a recent Equifax survey, 55 per cent of Canadians plan to spend less on holiday gifts than they did last year. Why?

With individual debt on the rise in 2019, the same survey revealed that 54 per cent of Canadians under 55 will limit their holiday spending in order to try and keep their level of debt under control, while 46 per cent of the same group said they feel “a lot of anxiety” about the debt they already carry.

Clearly, the amount we are expected to spend and consume around the holidays is at odds with many Canadians’ sense of their own financial capacity. Not only will this type of spending impact your credit card bill, it may also impact your ability to manage your overall debt levels. Carrying too much consumer debt may affect your ability to make the necessary contributions to your savings or investing accounts - ultimately affecting your financial future and retirement.

Tidings of comfort and joy?

For those who experience financial difficulties during the holidays, the strain extends beyond their wallets. The 2018 edition of Manulife’s annual debt survey found that for about a quarter of Canadians, the financial stress of the holidays results in worsened mental health, tension between themselves and their partner, and more anxiety than they experience at any other time of year.

But many Canadians avoid addressing the root of this distress and anxiety: overconsumption and overspending. Even though personal debt is a perennial source of stress, the Manulife survey also found that 68 per cent of participants who described themselves as having “a lot of debt” planned to overspend during the holidays.


Video: Giving around the holidays isn't only financially intensive, but also time consuming. Was all that effort worth it? We asked a group of Albertan's, 'What is the worst gift you have ever received?'

Not worth it

The worst thing about this vicious cycle is that many of the gifts people are stretching their budgets and going into debt to buy aren’t even appreciated by the recipients. In fact, unwrapping ill-fitting clothes and unwanted pasta makers is such a common occurrence that we’ve invented a term for a convenient way of disposing of these items: regifting.

And unwelcome gifts do more than create awkward social rituals and clutter up countless homes. Packaging and shipping these gifts can also send massive amounts of trash to our landfills and contributes to the carbon pollution of our environment.

A better way

Minimalism goes beyond simply trying to stick to a holiday budget or limit your spending on unnecessary material goods. It’s a whole lifestyle—one that some people are adopting in order to reach their financial goals and stay out of debt. Minimalism all about thoughtful and deliberate living, reducing your focus on quantity to better appreciate the qualities, relationships and experiences that truly matter to you.

Most people would say that they purchase material goods for their friends and family in order to demonstrate love to them. But maybe it really is the thought that counts.

Holiday minimalism in practice

Here are some tips and tricks to help you take a more minimalist approach to gifts this holiday season. Your bank account will thank you—and so will the folks on your list! 

  • Gift experiences. This is an easy one—simply replace the kitchen gadget or umpteenth pair of pajamas you were going to buy with a online class, a yoga streaming subscription or ski passes. An experience can be an especially great gift if your loved one has a difficult time spoiling themselves (oh hi Mom!).
  • Gift your time. If there’s one thing everyone wishes they had more of, it’s quality time. Remember giving out homemade “coupons” for special movie nights or washing the dishes when you were a kid? Use the money and time you were going to spend on gifts and go visit your loved one instead (in accordance with public health guidelines). Offer a new parent free weekly babysitting for year. Commit to taking Friday afternoons off to make dinner for your kids. The possibilities are endless. 
  • Gift your skills or labour. Are you a talented home chef? Handy with vehicles? A veteran house painter? A writer? From a fabulous meal to help with your grandparents’ memoirs, there are probably many services you could provide to someone without the budget or know-how to accomplish a project themselves.
  • Give by giving back. Consider donating to a charity in your loved one’s name. (Not only is this a beautiful gift to receive, it’s also one more tax write-off for the giver at the end of the year.)

Minimalism enforces the idea that we should all be focusing our resources, such as time and money, on what brings us joy in life. Saving and investing is an important part of deliberate living. Rather than spending money on trendy items, you can build your wealth for the things that matter most to you and the ones you love, such as a family home or a bucket-list vacation.

If you are looking to forego holiday spending panic in future years, check out ATB Prosper to learn how you can get on track with your financial goals and invest towards meaningful purchases or experiences.

If you are a student, check out some more tips on navigating the holidays.

Still ready to buy gifts this year, but not ready to spend more than you can afford? Here’s some advice on setting a holiday budget and sticking to it.



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