“But honey, it was on sale, and I know the kidswill love it. Besides, I saved eighty dollars.”

I spoke with a mournful husband who told me, “I don’t know how much our Christmas gifts cost, but I can tell you how much my wife “saved” on each one.We are saving ourselves into bankruptcy.”

This holiday scenario is pretty common this time of year, though the details on which spouse does the purchasing may differ. It boils down to the same old storyyou battle the budget all year long to reduce some debt and get ahead, only to have your budget blown at the first holiday sale the day after Thanksgiving.If this form of budget-busting holiday gluttony sounds familiar, you are not alone.

According to a survey my colleagues and I conducted, 60 percent of people either overspend or have a spouse or partner who overspends during the holiday season, and 78 percenthave difficulty discussing the issue.

People fear budget conversations because they feel ill-equipped to hold these sensitive discussions. If not approached skillfully, criticism of spending habits can come off as a personal attack. People will become particularly defensive when their intentions are to please others with gifts and someone tells them they’re out of control.The problem is that most don’t know how to hold these conversations without damaging the relationship or acting like a Scrooge.

Our survey revealed that people fear budget discussions so much that they will employ just about any tactic to avoid unpleasant conversations on holiday spending. In fact, the top six tactics couples use to avoid discussing holiday overspending are:

1. Changing or avoiding the subject, 24%                                                           

2. Hiding price tags or what’s been spent, 23%                                                   

3. Hiding recent purchases, 17%                                                                        

4. Walking away from the conversation, 10%                                                      

         5. Telling your spouse/partner it’s your money, 9%                                              

6. Changing the subject to areas where the other person is “less than perfect,” 8%                       

If couples apply a few simple skills for holding these crucial conversations, the discussion will be more pleasant and will not only strengthen couples’ finances, but their relationships. So take a turn for the better this holiday season and learn these tips for candidly and respectfully discussing holiday spending with your spouse in order to keep your budget, and your relationship, on track.

Talk early. Don’t wait until your spouse springs for a Harley to talk about limits. Find a time to talk early about how you’ll deal with this year’s holiday spending.Try something like this,”Since we’ve made great progress on our finances, I think we may want to increase our spending for Christmas gifts this year. Would it be all right with you if we made a budget for the holidays to make sure we’re smart about our spending?”

Solve the right problem. Many couples don’t reach resolution because they discuss the wrong problem. Don’t get tricked into justifying each of your purchases. Stay focused on this season’s budget. Now, if you discover your loved one has rented storage units in neighboring states stuffed with hidden binge gifts, the issue becomes trust, not spending.

Communicate with love and respect. The most important key to solving problems with loved ones is to ensure they know you respect and love them. Once they feel safe, their defenses drop and they begin to listen. For example, “We both love Christmas, and I love your giving heart.I just want to make sure we plan our giving so our money situation is good after the holidays.”

Be willing to be wrong. Approach the conversation with an open mind. For example, it could be that the source of your conflict is not really a budget limitation, but that you don’t value holiday gift giving to the same degree as your partner. Try this,”I want to understand how you see things. Let’s both share our points of view so we can come up with the best decision together.”

Hold each other accountable. Once you reach an agreement, find a way to routinely keep track of spending. Sit down with each other frequently to review your receipts and track your running total. Make adjustments to your plan as needed.

Picture the following conversation.

“Honey, it was on sale. I know the kids will love it. And, I saved eighty dollars!”

“That’s fantastic, now we’re eighty dollars under budget. What should we do with the extra money?”

Happy Holidays.

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