Addressing Holiday Financial Conflicts

It’s mid-August and I’ve already seen hints and whispers of Christmas at the stores. Yesterday I watched a TikTok tutorial demonstrating how to turn bowls from the dollar store into giant ornaments! Soon the countdowns will begin to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and everything in between. Financial expectations surrounding parties, special foods, and gifts are around the corner. The holidays are an exciting time for many, difficult for some, and fraught with possible financial conflicts.

How much should you spend on Halloween costumes and candy?

How much should you spend on your Thanksgiving feast?

How much should you spend on Christmas presents?

I’m not here to answer those kinds of questions. Budgets, planning, and saving are all good ideas. This you already know. Rather, I want to encourage you to head-off potentially damaging holiday financial conflicts through clear and direct communication.


Think about the past 5 years of your holiday spending and identify conflicts you had surrounding money. These might be external conflicts (between spouses, children, other family members, co-workers, people in your community, etc.) or personal internal conflicts. For each conflict, chart when the conflict occurred, the issue, the people involved, how you felt, what you needed, the outcome of the conflict, and the impact of the outcome.  

Let’s look at an example from Joe and Janet Hill. Janet is a dentist and wants to buy holiday presents for her staff. Joe thinks this is unnecessary because the staff get their yearly bonus in December.

When: November 10, 2019
Issue: Whether to buy presents for Janet’s office staff
People involved: Janet and Joe
Feelings: Janet was frustrated, and Joe felt disappointed
Needs: Janet had the need to show the staff her appreciation for their hard work. Joe had the need to save money to gain independence from his work situation to retire early.
Outcome: Presents were purchased for Janet’s office staff
Impact of outcome: Janet and Joe experienced a reduction in talking about financial issues and they overspent their Christmas budget.

Once you’ve mapped out your past holiday financial conflicts, see if you notice patterns. Are there themes that repeat? Look specifically at your feelings and the needs behind those feelings. If you had a conflict with another person, ask them about their feelings and needs. You could say, “Frank, remember Thanksgiving 2019? Do you remember we disagreed about buying new plates for the occasion? Can you recall how you felt about that? What need were those feelings rooted in?” Now, Frank may not recall this fight about plates from 2019 and his feelings and needs, but asking is helpful. When you identify and focus on feelings and needs, you are on your way to addressing conflicts before they turn contentious.


When you understand your feelings and needs, as well as the person (or people) you are in conflict with, you greatly increase the probability of finding a solution to the problem that is win/win, collaborative, and enriches your relationship.

Take the example of Joe and Janet. If Joe and Janet had discussed the reasons behind their positions of buying/not buying presents for Janet’s staff, the outcome could have been one in which both were satisfied, and their relationship strengthened. If Joe understood why Janet wanted to buy presents and Janet understood why Joe didn’t want her to, they could’ve worked together to find a solution that met both of their needs: Joe could have baked everyone bread, Janet could have given everyone their birthday off with pay, they could’ve agreed on an office present budget for Janet to work within, etc. The point here is that when you talk with others in a clear and direct fashion, telling others how you feel and need while genuinely listening to their feelings and needs, you create a place to address conflicts in a healthy and fruitful way.

And isn’t that what the holidays are about? Loving others and treating them with kindness? Financial conflicts are normal and should be expected. Let’s deal with them.

Happy (early) holidays!


Click here to listen to Merry's podcast, Conflict Managed, with FirstCNB President & COO, Judy Long, 
in episode: Prepared, Available and Ready for Opportunity!


Follow @FirstCNB on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for Smart Women updates.
Have a question or a topic you’d like us to cover? E-mail us at!