What causes the holiday blues?

Those who suffer from holiday-related depression and stress do so based on different aspects associated with the holidays. Triggers can include loneliness, memories of loved ones, an overwhelming pressure to feel “happy,” seasonal affective disorder (also known as seasonal depression) and financial hardship.

The financial hardship many feel during this time of year is often a result of racking up excess debt. One survey found that seven in 10 Americans are willing to go into debt during the holiday shopping season. This is a dangerous risk, considering debt can take years to pay off, meaning many may be carrying holiday spending debt that has been compounding over several years.

It’s no wonder so many of us feel wary going into the holiday season.

How to feel better about holiday spending

Although some of the key triggers associated with the holiday blues are difficult to surmount, with some actionable steps, you can feel better about spending. 

Change your credit card

If you plan to put holiday spending on a credit card this year, you may want to consider an upgrade. With interest rates averaging close to 17% for new cards, it is important that you do your homework to see if there is flexibility to that. 

One option for those with a healthy credit score is to shift their balance to a credit card with a better APR. And those who plan to purchase gifts and spend on travel may be better off wielding the strength of their higher credit scores to sign up for more favorable credit cards.

Avoid store credit cards

Store credit cards may seem appealing. Many offer discounts for signing up at the time of purchase. Many also offer discounts if you do a fair amount of purchases at the store using their store credit card.

However, store credit cards tend to have higher interest rates, as well. These credit cards tend to be easier to qualify for but have an average interest rate of nearly 25%. That’s far higher than many other credit cards. 

Ultimately, you may spend more using store credit cards if you don’t pay off your balance at the end of the month. That said, if you do pay your balance before you incur interest, the discounts offered could be worth it for some buyers.

Only buy what you can afford

You may find it necessary to reduce your spending this holiday season. Instead of buying gifts that take months or years to pay off, you may want to reduce how much you spend. You may need to purchase only what you can pay off at the end of the month. 

For some, this may mean slimmer holiday gift giving or only spending on travel. It could also just be a case of exchanging one type of stress for another. However, the negative feelings of giving fewer presents will subside much faster than debt that sticks around for years.

Spend on experiences instead of individual gifts

One way to feel better about your holiday spending is to spend on an experience that incorporates multiple people instead of spending on individual gifts for everyone. Some unique and fun holiday experiences can include:

  • An ice skating or roller skating trip
  • A night out bowling
  • A movie night
  • An escape room
  • Wine tasting
  • A cooking class

The important thing to remember for spending on experiences is that the cost per person is often less than you might spend on individual gifts. If you bring along your camera or have someone dedicated to taking pictures to memorialize the event, you can pull those precious memories together into a photo album everyone can enjoy for years to come.

Buy gifts for needy children and families

For some consumers, the solution to feeling bad about holiday spending may be to spend money where it’s desperately needed. Consider spending money on holiday charities, such as Toys for Tots. You may even want to donate gifts to local adoption agencies. 

Plan for next year

Finally, planning for the next year may help reduce some of your spending regrets. If you have a credit card that gives points for spending, for example, try saving those points all year until the holidays roll around. You may be able to save up enough points to cover some or even most of your gifts. 

You may want to set aside money each month for holiday spending. Combined with a spending plan or a budget, you can more easily alleviate the stress of not knowing how much you’re spending.


  • Maxime Croll

    Product Manager, ValuePenguin

    Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Croll's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.