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Five ways to battle family money stress during holiday visits

Written by Curtis Arnold
Posted On: December 7, 2010

AAA predicted that about 42 million Americans hit the road to visit with loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday. That's roughly 11% more than last year, suggesting a few things:

  • Gas prices have gone down
  • Plane tickets have become easier to get
  • More of us have solved our family money issues this year

While the AAA doesn't keep track of the reasons why Americans would stay home for the holidays, it's a safe bet that at least a small percentage of us wanted to avoid awkward conversations about credit card debt, mortgage woes, or amounts of cash owed to other folks at the dinner table. According to the Mayo Clinic, disputes about money can lead to stress during the holidays. Your survival plan should include five essential actions:

1. Seek credit card deals to wipe out person-to-person debt.

If you're worried that cousin Jimmy's stewing over the $200 you owe him from last winter's bad Super Bowl debt, you may want to walk in the door with his cash in hand. Even though credit card cash advances don't carry the best interest rates, it might be worth the finance charges to get through dessert without getting into a fight.

2. Practice defusing tense conversations.

Maybe Jim's still upset, even after you busted your credit card balance to pay him back. Counselor Erin Kelley-Soderholm recommends rehearsing the responses you'll give to pointed questions and challenging conversations. If you've got relatives who might question your financial situation, practice a "firm but compassionate" answer that refocuses the conversation on something neutral.

3. Learn to accept credit card payments.

New services from Venmo, Square, and Discover allow you to accept credit card payments using your wireless phone. If you're on the lending end of a bad family debt, you can gently suggest an alternative that puts the pressure on a professional bank instead of on you.

4. Use the season to invite help from your loved ones.

Even in families that thrive on criticism, asking for help leads to a sense of belonging, an increased self-worth, and a feeling of security that can give you the comfort you need to focus on getting out of debt.

5. React with frugality to a season full of excess.

Holiday travel and gifts can put strain on a family budget. Even during a time of celebration, it's important to keep your long term financial goals in sight. If you're not shelling out for lavish gifts this year, be honest about your intentions.

Being aware of what causes stress, anxiety, and depression can help you build a plan to beat the holiday blues. If money issues have been weighing you down, use your family time to rebuild your support network.

About the author:
Curtis Arnold
Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer educator and advocate, has been educating consumers about credit cards since 1998. Curtis is the author of "How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using Credit to Improve Your Financial Life and Bottom Line" (FT Press, 2008). He is also the co-author of the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Person-to-Person Lending (Alpha Books/Pengiun Group USA, April 2009), a contribitor to The Ultimate Allowance (InnerWealth Publishing, 2008) and is extensively featured in 42 RulesTM for Driving Success With Books (Super Star Press, January 2009).
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