Some of us plan for retirement throughout our working lives. We pinch pennies, cut corners and dream big of the day we’ll finally throw off the shackles of a 9-5 life and be free to live, exploring and creating as we please. Others simply slide into retirement with very little planning and figure they’ll take it day by day. Whatever your style, you’ll need to find a way to enjoy life beyond retirement in the most fulfilling ways possible.
Ernie J. Zelinski’s classic book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, shows readers the key to a truly happy retirement. Zelinski claims that planning for retirement goes beyond counting dollars-you need to plan for your creative outlets, leisure activities, physical well-being, mental health and social support system. In his book, he guides readers through this process, helping them create a feasible plan for retirement which encompasses every area in their lives.
In How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, you’ll learn how to do the following:
Take an early retirement
Put money into proper perspective
Generate purpose in your post-retirement life through meaningful, creative pursuits
Follow your dreams instead of chasing someone else’s goals
Take charge of your mental, physical and spiritual health
Envision your retirement goals clearly
Make your retirement years the best stage of your life
One of the most powerful tools you’ll find inside is the Get-a-Life Tree, a seven-page list of activities to keep you happy and active for years to come.
At times, Zelinski’s book is provocative and often entertaining. It always practical, though, and it is an enjoyable read with a unique message. Its reader-friendly format, fun cartoons, captivating quotations and inspiring content have made it a favorite among retirement books throughout the world.
Some readers complain the advice in the book is fairly obvious and doesn’t break new ground. Others criticize the way Zelinski makes light of the dollars and sense of retirement, claiming he wouldn’t talk so blithely about money if he weren’t financially comfortable himself.
This book might not give you a solid plan for saving up for retirement, but if you’re wondering how to spend your golden years living a happy, fun and fulfilling life, this might be the book you’ve been seeking.
Do you believe the post-retirement years can be the best years of our lives? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
It’s become a familiar and depressing sight: the shuttered doors, the “Going Out of Business” signs and the empty storefronts. And it’s not just happening to the mom-and-pop shops of our neighborhoods. In fact, dozens of major, national brands we’ve grown up with are disappearing from the country’s retail landscape.
What’s happening to the retail world in America?
Is there any way to stop the mass wave of corporate bankruptcy, or will we soon be stuck buying every item we want or need, from groceries to mattresses, on the internet? And most importantly, what does it all mean for the future of the economy?
The retail apocalypse: What’s really happening
The steady vanishing of major retailers across the country has been dubbed the “retail apocalypse” by mainstream media, with the finger of blame pointed squarely at the explosion of online shopping. But a deeper look reveals another story.
Yes, dozens of retailers have filed for bankruptcy since 2010 and more than 12,000 physical stores have closed their doors. But there’s a crucial detail the media has missed. A recent report by the IHL Group finds that, for every retailer that is closing some or all of its stores, 5.20 are opening new locations. In other words, there are more companies opening stores than closing them in every sector of retail, from department stores to mom-and-pop shops. Data from the Census Bureau further supports these findings: In 2018, the overall number of retail stores in the U.S. increased by 3,100.
The report stresses that the retailers declaring bankruptcy only account for a surprisingly small number of brands. To illustrate, at the halfway point of 2019, 16 retailers had filed for bankruptcy, but those 16 were responsible for 73% of the year’s retail store closings across the country.
Among the new stores establishing themselves in place of those who have gone out of business, the trend seems to be moving toward smaller stores that already have a strong online presence. This reflects the evolving needs of today’s consumers: Customers are more likely to visit a brick-and-mortar store for getting a feel for the company’s product, or to try out an expensive item, and then go home and make their actual purchase online.
While the media might have you believing that shopping malls are an endangered species, in truth there are thousands more brick-and-mortar stores in the country today than there were a decade ago.
What kinds of stores are still thriving?
Despite the wave of bankruptcy among chain retailers, there are some segments of retail that are thriving.
One such sector is the bargain department store, including Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Home Goods, where shoppers enjoy the thrill of finding a steal of a deal they can walk home with that same day. Budget-priced fast-fashion brands, like Old Navy, H&M and Zara’s, are doing surprisingly well, too. Another thriving sector is the warehouse club, like Costco and BJ’s, for similar reasons.
The world of retail may be undergoing a massive shift toward digitization, but finding a bargain never goes out of style.
What do all these closings mean for the economy?
While it may be true that there are more stores opening than closing, this reality does not necessarily reflect well on the country’s level of employment. Retail is one of the largest sources of U.S. employment, accounting for close to 16 million jobs nationwide. As mentioned, most of the stores replacing those going bankrupt are smaller stores, many of which hire fewer than five employees. Consequently, when a major retailer, like Forever 21, announces that it plans to close 178 of its stores by the end of the year, this means thousands of workers will soon be jobless. In fact, the retail sector has lost a whopping 200,000 jobs since January 2017.
The good news, though, is that most of those laid-off workers seem to be finding new jobs before their joblessness can adversely affect the economy. The national unemployment level continues to linger at a half-century low, and consumer spending remains strong. Unfortunately, though, many economists anticipate a recession within the coming year. If their predictions are accurate, consumer spending will likely plunge and accelerate retail bankruptcies and layoffs. In a recession, credit availability tightens and interest rates increase, which can negatively impact the retail sector as well.
“Brick-and-mortar retailers are already in recession,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “They’ve been laying off workers coming up on three years. And this is a time when consumers are out spending aggressively. If the broader economy is in recession, there is going to be blood in the streets.”
While there’s not much you can do to change the tide of the national economy, you can help support your own community by shopping at local retailers and choosing to frequent brick-and-mortar shops, instead of making the internet your first stop for all your shopping needs.
Let’s do what we can to keep our local economy strong.
Do you think the economists are right, and we’re headed toward a recession? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Scammers never stop dreaming up new ways to con you out of your money-and reinventing old tricks that work. The fake-check scam is a tried-and-true scheme with dozens of variations. One such variation, the car-wrap scam, has recently become more widespread and successful.
Here’s all you need to know about the car-wrap scam and how you can protect yourself from becoming the next victim.
In this scam, well-known “brands” post ads or send mass emails promising consumers generous compensation for allowing the company to use their car as advertising space. The consumer simply needs to have their vehicle shrink-wrapped with an ad for the company to get paid, usually, around $500 a week.
Unfortunately, the ad is bogus and does not really represent the promoted company. When the victim is awarded their first “paycheck,” it will be made out for an amount that’s far larger than what was promised. Alternatively, the victim will be supplied with the funds to pay the car-wrapper; only the amount on the check is a lot larger than necessary. In both scenarios, the victim will be instructed to cash the check and mail back the surplus to the sender. You can probably guess the ending: The check will not clear and the victim will never see that money again.
Like every successful scam, this one tries to bait its victims with the promise of easy money. Luckily, there are loads of red flags to alert you to the fact that you’re looking at a scam.
First, the ad will be written poorly and riddled with typos and spelling errors.
Here is the actual text used in one of these scams:
Bull light are currently seeking to employ car owners world wide. You will need to carry this promotional advert on the exterior of your car and you will be compensated with $500 per week which is essentially a “rental” payment for letting our company use the space of your car, no application fees required from you. We would be paying you by check and would want you to get back to us with your Name: Street Address: City: and cell phone State: Zip code: to send you the check and also send your Age: Current Occupation: Make of car/ year:. We will contact you immediately we receive this information Note: We take full responsibility for placing and remove decal on your car and it will not resort to any damage. Thanks.
A brief look at the ad should clue you in to its shady intent. Legitimate brands know their spelling and grammar.
Another clue is the ridiculously high compensation being offered for essentially renting out your vehicle for an alleged company to use as advertising space. You know what they say about things that are too good to be true …
Also, if the offer actually was legitimate, the company would likely be bombarded with hopeful applicants instead of sending out mass emails begging people to consider this lucrative, no-sweat opportunity.
If you fall for the scam and sign up to have your car shrink-wrapped, you can still pull out when you get your first paycheck or funding to be used for the car wrap. Legitimate companies do not mistakenly “overpay” you and then ask you to refund the change.
“If you get a message urging you to deposit a check and wire money back, it’s a scam,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Every time. No matter the story.”
If you receive a check that matches this description, rip it up and cut off all contact with the sender.
It’s equally important to note that many of these car-wrap scams are being pulled off in the name of well-known beverage companies like Monster Energy, Pepsi, Bud Light and Red Bull. Most of these companies have confirmed that they do not run any programs like the one promoted in the scam.
If you come across a car-wrap offer that sounds legitimate, a quick online search of the company that’s allegedly associated with the job can help you determine whether it is truly authentic. If it turns out to be a scam, be sure to warn your friends and to file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov.
Always be on the alert for possible scams and keep yourself informed of the latest schemes. A little education and a lot of common sense can go a long way toward keeping you safe from scams.
Have you spotted a car-wrap scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
Is your debt shrinking? Have you gotten rid of one of your outstanding loans or lines of credit? Well, then it’s time to celebrate!
Take the time, this month, to celebrate every small goal you’ve reached on your journey toward paying down debt. You don’t need to spend much to celebrate an achievement; find inexpensive or even cost-free ways to reward yourself.
Celebrate big. You deserve it!
How do you celebrate achievements without blowing your budget? Share your best ideas with us in the comments.
If you’re an erstwhile arcade aficionado, you’ll love Fortnite. The wildly popular game is equipped with arcade-like aesthetics and unveils new weapons, challenges and game modes each week. Plus, you can pick up a game you started on your mobile device and continue it on your desktop computer for non-stop fun.
Knight Brawl (Apple)
This one is for the secret medieval hero inside you. Use your weapons and shields to fight opponents and boast about your big wins to other players while in the game’s characters’ inn. Aside from the basic battles, the app also offers super-challenging missions for the diehard knights out there.
Are you ready for an out-of-this-world adventure? Prepare for takeoff! This game will really take you places as you zoom along Kazarma, an ancient bridge connecting all human colonies within the galaxy. Ward off aliens with your neon zapper, and enjoy a new game each time with the app’s procedurally generated levels. You’ll only need your thumb to play Kazarma, making it a perfect choice for mobile devices.
Shadowgun Legends (Apple)
With super-sophisticated visuals and a first-person perspective, Shadowgun Legends is a top-rated app for good reason. Navigate the game easily with both thumbs, and get drawn into a fast-paced world of danger and intrigue. It’s a perfect adventure for the braver soul.
Beach Buggy Racing 2 (Android)
Travel back in time to a world of dinosaurs, gigantic sea creatures, fire-breathing dragons and dinky old wagons. Your dilapidated vehicle is your lifeline, and you’ll need to find shortcuts, use power-ups, blast your enemies to the heavens and maintain top speed so you reach the checkered flag before your opponents. Beware: This game is addictive!
Asphalt 8: Airborne (Android)
Asphalt 8: Airborne, gives a slight nod toward realism with true-to-life locations, and will have you devouring miles of road at dizzying speed. A thrilling racing game, this app lets you blast through volcanoes, soar into the air and blaze through rocket launch sites as you make a mad dash for the finish line.
Get ready for some old-fashioned fun! PinOut is what happens when iconic arcade gaming meets 21st century visuals. It’s pinball reinvented, with extra challenges forcing you to find the most efficient way to the next table, grab some dots and beat a ticking timer before your game is up. With incredible graphics and sound effects, PinOut is your ticket to a nostalgic trip back to the ’90s.
One Tap Rally (Android)
With a single finger, you can join the race of a lifetime! One Tap Rally lets you steer, brake and own that racetrack until you beat your opponents to move up to the next level. Mix speed and strategy in this beauty of a racer, perfect for your mobile device.
With so many free apps to choose from, it’s a world of nonstop fun and adventure in gaming land!
What’s your favorite gaming app? Tell us about it in the comments!
Health and wealth: They’re the most basic, and yet often the most elusive, of human desires. After all, it wouldn’t help you to be sitting on millions of dollars if you were to be too weak to get out of bed. Similarly, if you were perfectly healthy but struggling with mountains of debt, you’d be far too stressed to enjoy your health.
In AgeProof, financial guru Jean Chatzky teams up with Dr. Michael Roizen to show you how you can use the same strategies to achieve and maintain both financial wellness and physical health.
The primary principle that’s threaded throughout the book is to strike a perfect balance between inflow and outflow. In practical terms, this means that, just like you don’t want to consume more calories than you burn off, you wouldn’t want to spend more money than you earn. While this is basic common sense, Chatzky and Roizen offer scientifically proven ways that readers can implement this approach and improve their behavior to benefit both their physical and financial wellness. They show readers how to beat the systems that are designed to make us fail, by automating decisions and limiting choices in the face of overconsumption and debt.
AgeProof is written in easy-to-understand language without any of the eye-glazing jargon that is common in most personal finance books. The upbeat tone and practical ideas sprinkled throughout its pages make AgeProof a quick, enjoyable book for readers of any age or stage in life.
Chatzky and Roizen believe our health and our wealth are intimately connected. They claim the sooner we acknowledge this link and learn how to manage both aspects of our lives in the most optimal way possible, the sooner we’ll be on the path toward a life of true financial wellness and physical health.
Some readers complain that AgeProof, while packed with actionable tips, does not break any new ground and simply recycles stale theories and strategies. However, most readers find AgeProof to be an enlightening and useful guide for those seeking a way to maintain their wealth and health throughout their life.
Your Turn: Do you believe there is a clear link between our physical health and financial wellness, as theorized in AgeProof? Share your take with us in the comments.
Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.
Here at Advantage One Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness, and that includes keeping you and your money safe. To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.
Five red flags of scams
While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:
They demand detailed information before agreeing to process an application. A favorite ploy among scammers is asking for sensitive, non-public information like your date of birth, Social Security number and login information for online accounts. They will typically do this before processing any application for an alleged product, service or job.
They insist on a specific method of payment. If an online seller or service provider will only accept payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, you’re likely looking at a scam.
They send you a check for an inflated amount. Another favorite trick among scammers is to overpay a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to return the extra money. In a few days’ time, when the original, inflated check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been conned but it’s too late to get back the “extra” money they returned.
You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents. A scammer representing a bogus business can easily be uncovered by doing a quick online search about the “company.”
You’re pressured to act now.
Scammers are always in a rush to complete their ruse before you catch onto their act.
Who are the targets?
Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:
The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
Children. Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.
What do scams look like?
Here are some of the most common scams:
Cyber-hacking In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
Phishing scams Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
Mystery shopper A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
Job offers Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
Sweetheart scams A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
Fraudulent investments Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.
10 ways to protect yourself from scams
Keep yourself safe by following these rules:
Never share personal information online.
Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
If you have elderly parents who spend time online, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
Don’t take the identity of callers at face value, even if your Caller ID verifies their story. If a government agency, utility company or financial institution reaches out to you and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own and then end the call.
Never accept a job or agree to pay for a purchase or service without thoroughly researching the company involved.
Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
Once an individual falls prey to a scam, there is very little that can be done to mitigate the loss. Full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking Advantage One Credit Union for help.
Your Turn: How do you keep yourself safe from scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments.
Do you find your daily to-do list is no match for the distractions of the internet? Are you constantly pushing off tasks so you can check your Facebook page or see what’s new on Pinterest for the 10th time this hour? If this describes you, consider a distraction-blocker app. These apps are the mobile age’s way of fighting back. Or, as Cold Turkey, a leading app of this kind cheekily says, “Meet your match, Zuckerberg!”
We’ve done the research for you, dishing you the details on three of the most popular distraction-blocker apps on the market.
We’ve given you the info on how to choose the one that suits you best, and stop (okay, pause) your internet addiction today!
This top-rated app is a favorite for people looking to reclaim their free time as their own. As its name implies, the app makes it easy to quit wasting time on apps and websites by allowing you to stop frequenting them-cold turkey. For complete control, have a friend set your passwords.
Cold Turkey offers a free “Basic” version with limited features as well as a “Pro” version for a one-time fee of $29.
Cold Turkey’s blocking features are highly customizable. You can choose to block specific apps and websites, or even block the entire internet-or your entire computer! If you need limited online access for your work, such as access to Google Docs, just white-list the sites you need. Set your own blocking schedule in advance so your work or study hours are always distraction-free. Best of all, once you start a block, there’s no turning back. If going cold turkey is too intense for you, you can build timed breaks into your preset blocks.
Cold Turkey will also track your internet usage and let you know exactly how much time you’re wasting on Instagram or YouTube each day so you know better which sites and apps to block.
While the paid version offers an excellent array of features, users find the free version of Cold Turkey to be severely limited. You won’t be able to block apps or specific web pages without paying the subscription price. The free version can also be difficult to uninstall.
FocusMe offers features similar to those found on Cold Turkey; however, FocusMe offers even more customization and harder-to-break controls.
Users love FocusMe’s extremely detailed customization options. The app lets you block specific programs, block keyword phrases in internet searches and schedule breaks with reminders into your time blocks. Create your schedule, and it will automatically kick into gear when you boot up your computer; there’s no need to open the app to turn on the block. Once a block has started, you can’t turn it off, even if you restart your computer.
There’s no cheating with FocusMe!
This app is great for students looking to boost their grades. It even offers a special discount for the cash-strapped student to make it more affordable.
Users are also quick to highlight the incredible customer service FocusMe offers. Emailed inquiries are answered promptly and company reps are super-helpful.
Some users complain that, while FocusMe offers an impressive array of customizable options, it can be difficult to learn your way around the app. Setup and installation can also take up a large chunk of time.
Also, there is no free version of FocusMe, and the cost of a subscription at $6.99 a month (or $2.50 per month if you commit to a full year) is a bit on the pricey side. You can also sign up for life by paying a one-time fee of $119.
If you need visual motivation to keep you focused, this is the app for you. Forest takes the classic distraction-blocker app and turns it into a game with its unique interface and graphic design. The app isn’t free, but at $1.99, it’s extremely affordable.
Every time you open the Forest app, you start planting a virtual tree. The tree will continue growing until you leave the app or complete your block. Once your timer is up, you’ll have a fully grown tree. The app will store a virtual forest of every tree you plant, serving as a great visual reminder of all the time you spend away from your phone. Become an expert “Forester,” by planting an entire forest!
This innovative app works by motivating the user to keep the Forest app open on their device. Once it’s open, all apps are blocked unless they have been white-listed by the user. While the user’s tree is growing, the app encourages the user to leave their phone alone and go do something productive, like catch up with family or get back to work.
Earn virtual coins for every tree you plant within the app and then spend them on real trees: Forest partners with Trees for the Future, an authentic tree-planting organization. To date, 535,815 trees have been planted through this unique arrangement. Instead of wasting time online, you can help make the world a more beautiful place.
The app’s unique approach to distraction blocking is also its greatest disadvantage because it offers very little customization. There’s no way to plan built-in breaks, create a weekly schedule or even set a password for your block.
How they stack up
What’s your favorite distraction-blocker app? Tell us all about it in the comments!
Another excellent option we offer our members to help their savings grow is our savings certificates. They are sometimes also known as share certificates, and referred to by banks as CDs. These unique accounts offer the best of both worlds when it comes to your savings. First, you’ll be giving your money a greater chance at growth than it would have in a typical savings account. Secondly, you are not subjecting your savings to the inherent risks and potential for loss that accompanies investing in the stock market.
Let’s take a closer look at the way this fantastic savings product works and why it might be the perfect choice for you.
What is a Certificate?
A savings certificate is a federally insured savings account with a fixed dividend rate and a fixed date of maturity. The dividend rates of these accounts tend to be higher than those on savings accounts and some money market accounts. Generally, there is no monthly fee to keep the certificate open.
However, unlike a savings account, your money will be tied up in a certificate. A typical certificate will not allow you to add any money to the certificate after you’ve made your initial deposit. You also won’t be able to withdraw your funds before the maturity date without paying a penalty.
Terms and conditions of Certificates
As a member of Advantage One Credit Union, you can open up a certificate today. However, there are some basic requirements that must be met before you can do so, including a minimum opening balance and a commitment to keep your money in the account for a set amount of time.
The minimum amount of funds you’ll need to deposit to open a certificate will vary widely from one financial institution to the next and also depends upon the term you choose. Some institutions will accept an initial deposit as low as $50 for a certificate. Others, such as a “jumbo” certificate, will demand an opening balance of $100,000. In general, the more money you invest in a certificate, the higher rate of interest it will earn. At Advantage One Credit Union, you can open a certificate with as little as $50 for youth certificates and $1,000 for adults. Certificate rates vary with term, check them out now.
Certificate term lengths also vary greatly among financial institutions, with most offering a choice of certificates that run from three months to five years. Typically, certificates with longer maturity terms will earn a higher rate. Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we offer our members certificates that can be opened for just six months or as long as 60 months. View our current certificate rates.
Is a savings certificate for everyone?
While keeping your savings in a certificate can be an excellent option for your money, it is not for everyone. Before you go this route, ask yourself these important questions:
Do I have an emergency fund set aside to help me get through unexpected events or circumstances?
Do I anticipate needing to access these funds during the life of the certificate?
Remember: Your money will be tied up in the certificate and you will not be able to access it without paying a penalty. A certificate works best for people who have money set aside for a rainy day and are fairly certain they will not need to access the funds in the certificate until its maturity date.
Why keep your money in a certificate?
Here are some of the most popular reasons people choose to open a certificate:
While nearly every investment carries some sort of risk, your money is always safe in a certificate. With each Advantage One Credit Union certificate insured by [the National Credit Union Administration] up to $250,000, so you can rest easy, knowing your money is completely secure.
Higher dividend rates
Certificates offer all the security of savings accounts with higher yields. It’s more for your money, just for choosing to invest it in a certificate.
Locked-in rates There’s no stressing over fluctuating national interest rates with a certificate. The APY is set when you open the account and is locked in until its maturity date. Instead of playing guessing games, you can determine exactly how much interest your money will earn over the life of the certificate the day you open it.
‘Tis the season to be merry-except sometimes, it’s not. While the entertainment industry would have us think the holidays are always full of good cheer, lots of laughs and warm feelings, the reality can, unfortunately, be otherwise.
Sometimes, all that frenzied consumerism, party-hopping and crazy schedules can bring out the worst in the people we love. Other times, a challenging life situation, such as a recent divorce, death in the family or financial struggles, are painfully magnified when everyone around you seems to be in such wonderfully high spirits.
No one wants to be the Grinch on Christmas. So, if you tend to feel stressed or down when the holidays roll around, here are eight tips to help you turn that frown into a genuine smile.
Watch the buck
Nothing kills the holiday cheer like a mountain of debt. Stick to a budget when doing your holiday shopping and only spend what you can actually afford. Be extra careful not to overspend as the holidays draw near, and you’re experiencing pressure to finish your shopping in time. If you find yourself running low on funds, consider arranging a gift exchange, like a Secret Santa, or giving some homemade presents this year.
The holidays can sometimes leave us feeling down because of all that emphasis on the perfect gifts. Opening up a present is always a thrill, but giving to others creates lasting joy. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to give back to your community.
Beat the stress this season by sharing holiday cheer with those who are less fortunate. There are so many ways to spread joy! You can bring some toys to the children’s ward at the local hospital to brighten up a sick child’s holiday. Use your time off from work to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Dress up your family in their ugliest Christmas sweaters and holiday hats before visiting the closest nursing home to put a smile on the residents’ faces. When you give, you always give most to yourself.
Stick to a schedule
Part of the holiday experience is enjoying late nights and/or early mornings. Sometimes, though, all that lazing around and lack of quality sleep can make stress levels soar. There’s no need to be a stickler for your regular routine on the holidays, but it’s a good idea to keep some sort of schedule. Make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye, and if a physical workout is part of your daily routine, don’t neglect it over the holidays. You’ll always feel better when you’re taking care of your body. And, if you’re mindful about your habits, you may not even have those extra pounds to work off in January!
Cheers! Can I pour you another glass of … soda?
If you like to party, you can end up getting sick over the holidays. All that heavy drinking and loading up on refined carbs can really do your body in. Do yourself a favor this year and watch what you imbibe. Enjoy a glass or two of your favorite alcoholic beverage, but try to keep the drinking to a minimum. Similarly, it’s OK to break your diet over Christmas, but it’s best not to go overboard. You don’t need to feel bloated and sick to enjoy the holidays. Keep the stress out by treating your body well.
Are you hosting a crowd this Christmas? Guests can be great fun, but all the extra work can bring your stress levels through the roof. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to do it all! There’s nothing wrong and there’s everything right with asking for help. Don’t feel bad about having your guests and family members pitch in with cooking and cleaning. They’ll feel better, too, when they’re sharing the workload. Plus, everything is easier when there are more hands on deck.
Take some “me” time
Whether you’re a closet introvert or you just need some time alone each day, the nonstop partying and a house full of guests can get to you after a while. It’s always a good idea to take care of yourself, and in the chaos of the holidays this need is often neglected. Consider running out to get yourself a manicure, taking a solitary half-hour walk or just locking yourself in your room after a long and loud day to savor the peace and quiet. You’re not being an antisocial snob if you need your “me” time; you’re just being human.
Give up the guilt
If you tend to over-analyze every interaction you have with family and friends, you can really beat yourself up over the holidays questioning everything you’ve said. Try to relax and to let go this season. So long as you’re reasonably pleasant and agreeable, you can give yourself a break.
Lower your expectations
A common cause for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations. It’s best not to build huge castles in the air by keeping your expectations to a minimum. There will probably be some minor, or even major, stressors this holiday, and not everything will turn out exactly as planned. All of that is OK. If you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be struggling with mountains of disappointment this holiday.
Beat the blues and put the cheer back into the holidays this year!
Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union.
How do you beat the holiday stress? Share your best tips with us in the comments.