KohParenting’s Top 3 Holiday Spending Pitfalls, Solved!

December 7th


Holiday Shopping Guide

The ads are everywhere: ‘tis the season for spending! Retailers big and small all jump on the bandwagon at holiday time to market their products, and American consumers respond in kind… sometimes with significant consequences to their financial security. What does this mean for you as a co-parent? And how can you and your parenting partner maximize the return on investment so that you get the most out of your purchases? Let KohParenting be your guide! This week’s post will walk you through the most important considerations and tips so that you can devise a sound game plan. A must-read before you dive into your holiday shopping!

The Gist

  • Statistics show that American holiday spending reaches new heights each year. Parents often drain their budgets, damage their credit, and sacrifice their needs to purchase gifts for their children. Many people experience financial stress that lasts well beyond the season.
  • Managing finances can create conflict between co-parents, particularly during the festive season. Holiday spending stress makes co-parenting more difficult and impacts the entire family.
  • Co-parents can avoid financial stress during the holidays by working together ahead of time. They can discuss each other’s preferences and prioritize and delegate purchases.
  • Co-parents can also decrease financial pressure by focusing on their family’s values and holiday traditions rather than material goods.

Holiday Spending Trends, By the Numbers:

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending is expected to reach record levels in 2023. The average American household continues to shell out more and more money for things like gifts, food, special events, decorations, etc. Sources project that Americans spend an average of $1000 during this time of year. These expenses strain more than just the consumers’ wallets; they can diminish overall well-being way past the festive season.

According to a recent poll:
  • More than 40% of parents have sacrificed gifts for themselves to purchase more for their children
  • 59% overspend on their children
  • 71% worry that kids will compare notes on the holidays with their schoolmates
  • 61% would be willing to damage their credit scores to make people happy with gifts
  • 39% report being extremely concerned about their holiday spending

The intent of most parents is clear: to create magical moments for their family that they’ll remember for years to come. However, an inadvertent consequence of this “magic” may be that their economic security and mental health suffer for years to come. Anxiety over holiday purchases and other worries (busy schedules, family drama, high expectations, etc.) can take away from parents’ enjoyment of the season. Kids can pick up on their caregivers’ stress; thus, the negativity snowballs and threatens the holiday merriment for the entire family unit.

Holiday Spending and Co-Parenting:

It’s no secret that money impacts relationships. Many couples cite financial conflict as a key factor in their separation or divorce. And things don’t get any easier after a breakup, especially when you have children.

Co-parenting requires ongoing financial decision-making. Parenting partners must decide how to divide assets and expenses, both at the point of separation and throughout their offspring’s childhood, and coming to a consensus can be challenging. Realistically, they must readjust their agreement periodically as their child’s needs and each partner’s financial situation evolve and change over time.

The holiday season may be an example of such a moment of “readjustment.” Ideally, co-parents would want to align on purchases for their child and divide them reasonably and fairly. But this is easier said than done! Each partner may have different levels of disposable income and different views on how much to spend. Furthermore, emotional impulses may cloud judgment; often, co-parents attempt to assuage their guilt about the separation or divorce through excessive gift-giving or win their child’s favor by “one-upping” each other with their purchases.

Planned holiday shopping

The abovementioned factors can muddy the co-parenting waters and worsen relationship dynamics during the holidays and beyond. Studies show that under financial duress, co-parenting couples tend to utilize fewer positive conflict management strategies; in other words, they may resort to ineffective ways of resolving their issues. Ultimately, you must address money-related matters if you and your parenting partner wish to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Budgeting for Holiday Fun, Not Financial Disaster:

You want to make the most of your time with your family this season; don’t let money woes get in the way! Devising a plan of action before the holiday can mitigate financial stress. Here’s how:

  • Open the lines of communication early. Broach the subject with your parenting partner in advance. Consider setting up a specific time to hash out your expectations regarding holiday gift-giving. Check out our free learning guide, Develop Your Holiday Schedule, for a handy way to track holiday-related events and tasks.
  • Set a budget. Assess the current state of your finances and set a target limit for your spending. Sure, having the number doesn’t guarantee you’ll stick to it, but it does keep you mindful of your purchases and can help you stay on track.
  • Remember relatives and extended family. Chances are, your child will be exchanging gifts with friends or family members (other than you or your ex). Will you help your child pay for presents for them? If so, you’ll need to factor this into your budget. And if relatives purchase items for your child, you’ll also want to keep tabs on that. For example, you don’t want to waste money by duplicating items. People often appreciate guidance on what to give, so if you can, consider sharing your ideas for what would be most appropriate.
  • Use a shared doc or app. You and your parenting partner can streamline communication and expense-tracking using a shared document or app. Be sure to update it regularly.
  • Focus on values and beliefs over material things. Make a point to teach your child the true “spirit” of the season (whatever that means to your family). Talk with your child about your family’s customs and traditions, and involve them in whatever rituals or activities you typically do to observe the holiday. You can also instill a sense of appreciation in your child by engaging in gratitude practices or giving back to others (donating food or toys, volunteering, etc.).

Top 3 Holiday Spending Co-Parenting Pitfalls, Solved!

Our tips can help you and your parenting partner formulate a solid plan to buffer against financial stress. However, in real-time, we know that even the best-laid plans can go awry. Read on for our suggestions for troubleshooting some common scenarios co-parents encounter during the season.

  • Pitfall: You and your ex can’t agree on your holiday spending.
  • Solution: If your conflicts on this topic escalate, take a step back. Engage in self-reflection to see if anything is underlying the argument; for example, did something else trigger you? Are you holding on to negative feelings unrelated to the matter at hand? Could the same be true of your ex? Think about what is most important to you, and talk openly with your co-parent to learn more about your co-parent’s reasoning as well. Doing so may help you understand each other’s perspectives and find a middle ground that honors both of your preferences.
  • Pitfall: You and your ex have very different financial situations.
  • Solution: This doesn’t have to be a problem! After all, as unique individuals, you both have different yet valuable talents and traits to offer your child, completely independent of your finances. So your first step might be to remind yourself of this!

    Even still, financial inequity between parenting partners can be unsettling and uncomfortable to address. Co-parents who collaborate and communicate well may solve the problem with an honest, open conversation about what each person can afford this year. They might even agree to consider all purchases joint gifts (regardless of who paid) and label them “from both of us.” But suppose this doesn’t feel realistic to you. In that case, a clear holiday spending plan can eliminate awkwardness and confusion. Be clear about the limits of your holiday budget and delegate purchases accordingly. Seek legal assistance if your discrepant financial situations necessitate changes to your legal agreement.

    Both parenting partners can also support each other in front of their child, regardless of how much money they can spend. Acknowledge and express appreciation for your co-parent’s gifts; for example, you could say, “Wow, Dad remembered how much you enjoyed that book and bought you another by the same author; how thoughtful!” In this way, you teach your child to be grateful for any present, however big or small, and to place value on the kindness of the giver rather than the material goods.

  • Pitfall: Your ex repeatedly disregards your preferences in regard to holiday gift-giving.
  • Solution: Unfortunately, some co-parents utilize the holiday season and gift-giving as a retaliation or to act out unresolved feelings. They may willfully disregard their parenting partners’ preferences regarding what or how much they buy. They may try to punish by refusing to get desired items OR may try to win their child’s favor by overspending.

    If you find yourself in this situation and no amount of reflection, open dialogue, or attempts at cooperation have worked, turn the focus back to your relationship with your child. See if, at the very least, you can find out what your ex intends to buy (even if you don’t like what you hear) so that you can plan your purchases accordingly. But most importantly, shift your focus back to what you can control. Envision what type of experience you’d like to have with your child during the holidays, and devote your energy to achieving that vision when your child is in your care.

Finding the True Joy of the Season:

As holiday shopping kicks into full gear, we hope this guide brings you and your parenting partner peace of mind. Planful, intentional spending can bring great joy, while out-of-control buying or arguing over money can cast a shadow over the season. Remember, years from now, your child’s memories of the holidays will be about the love you shared, not the gifts you gave.

We want to hear from you! What do you and your parenting partner do to manage holiday spending? What works? What’s still a struggle? Share with us in the comments below!

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC

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