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Celebrating the holiday season in your 20s can be a weird time. As an independent adult, you're now responsible for your own gift-giving (or not), making your own travel plans (or not) and generally deciding how you want to celebrate (or not).
Here are some of the trickier decisions you may face this time of year, and how to navigate them gracefully.
Feeling Pressure to Buy So. Many. Gifts.
When you're on your own and your parents no longer sign your name to their holiday cards and gifts, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by how much gift-giving costs.
"Talk to your family about placing spending limits on gifts,” says financial wellness coach Galit Tsadik, “or create a system where you only purchase one gift for one person over the holidays." You can also plan an activity everyone can partake in instead of exchanging gifts. This way, you're giving something special (your time) to parents who deserve the world but say they want nothing as far as gifts.
For friends and co-workers, go out for a group meal or do a Secret Santa or White Elephant instead of buying presents for everyone individually. Focus on spending quality time together rather than wracking your brains over what to buy each other.
Never-Ending Shopping Sprees
With holiday promotions beginning as early as October, it’s easy to feel like you’ll never see the end of holiday shopping. So, for the gifts you do want to buy, set a firm budget and give yourself a deadline to finish.
"A big issue I've experienced is continuously buying things here and there," says Dustyn Ferguson, founder of Dime Will Tell. "By setting a budget and spending the entire budget, you are definitively done.”
And give yourself some wiggle room for self-gifting — so you can treat yourself and spend only what you planned to.
Balancing Your Family Obligations With Your Partner's
Figuring out how you'll celebrate the holidays can be tricky if you've got a significant other in the mix. You'll likely want to be together, but your families will also each want (read: expect) you at their own gatherings.
Separate yourself from the guilt trip. Consider how much travel and PTO you're willing to take to make it to both. Or come up with a trade-off. You may choose to spend Christmas or Hanukkah with your own families but get together for New Year's Eve. Or, if things are more serious, alternate holidays together between families, like spending Thanksgiving with your partner's and another holiday with your own.
Facing Family Drama
Going home for the holidays isn't always the Hallmark experience. Whatever the reason (different political views, lingering family drama, a lack of acceptance of your lifestyle), you may dread spending time with family but still feel obligated to do so.
"When visiting home, people often get cast back into their family roles from when they were younger,” says therapist Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. But, remember you’re not the same teenager you were before leaving home. You have the power to make different choices, Bilek adds — about how you react, how much time you spend at home and so on — to avoid setting off unpleasant dynamics.
If all else fails, enlist a friend who can be on call for when you need to vent (or, heck, cry) about your family situation.
Breaking the News That You're Not Coming Home for the Holidays
If you've decided to bow out completely from family events, "don't try to minimize or downplay it," Bilek says. "Tell them you understand that they may not be happy with your decision, and you regret if they feel hurt, but you have made your decision for such-and-such reason."
Resist the urge to make excuses. If you just don't want to go home, don't tell your parents that money is too tight for a plane ticket — they could call your bluff and offer to fly you out themselves. Being honest and upfront is part of being an adult. Welcome to the club!