Tag Archives: holiday stress

Holiday Shopping Tips and Strategies

Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced Financial Counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy, and offers budget-friendly tips to help us “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season. –NavyNavStress.com note

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an exciting – and equally tempting – time of year to indulge in our purchasing desires. The retail world promotes extravagant discounts in big, bright, bold print, and for some, it really can be the best opportunity to secure favorable prices on sought-after items. But, buyer beware! Whether your buying experience is exclusively online or you’re a store-to-store shopper, here are some words of advice that can help minimize regret from your year-end shopping spree.

Start with the Truth
Groundwork is the basis for any major event. When it comes to earning, saving and especially Black Friday spending, a realistic budget will always be the place to start, even before you dream of your desired items! Determine precisely how much money is available to spend after you have accounted for savings, investing, and debt payments. Next, if you decide to use credit for any of your purchases, identify upfront where the repayment funds will come from. A good rule of thumb is to have it already set aside so that you are using credit as a convenience or to accumulate certain user rewards without incurring interest fees or other penalties.

Research before Buying
Now that you have committed to a budget, research your intended purchases. Glitzy packaging, celebrity endorsements, and clever advertisements can often present a false image of product capability. Check customer reviews, read any meaningful complaints, check out the manufacturer’s warranty and use research-based organizations, like Consumer Reports, to help support your decision.

The Hunt for Deals
Retailers are proud to display their deals and respective disclaimers in store and online, but the real deal is in the fine print. Don’t skip over the ultra-low price display only to be later surprised that a deal is only available to a select group of shoppers, locations, hours, or even online only. Be sure to ask upfront whether or not you can combine other coupons to complete the sale, too, as many products being offered at Black Friday prices disallow additional discounts. You can also make a list of the deals you find, naming stores where your product is available, prices, location, store hours, etc. Some websites and mobile apps, such as RetailMeNot.com and BlackFriday.com, can be useful in narrowing down your options by setting price alerts, thus giving you a sense of control during the holiday mayhem.

Let’s face it, “We will match any competitor price” or “Lowest Price Guarantee” are music to most shopper’s ears! To take advantage of these offers, you will need to be sure that the advertised products are identical (be aware of stripped down versions), and know if there is a price matching limit (e.g. up to $100 per item). Holiday advertisements are key in knowing what’s available where, for how much and if there is an opportunity to pay a well-deserving price. Again, read the fine print.

Using a layaway plan (online or traditional) can be an ideal option if you decide against using credit and paying upfront in full for your purchases. In this arrangement, you simply find your items and request that the store hold them until your payment is rendered in full. Be mindful that to do this, most assess a non-refundable fee and each retailer will have a written policy governing this practice (which you should read in full to avoid any surprises). Minimum purchases, cost to initiate a layaway plan, cancellation fees, pick up dates, and return and refund policies are some key items to know beforehand.

Couponing is now a national craze and a favorite pastime for many, but rule number one is to read the fine print! In that small text, you can determine any brand exclusions; whether the coupon can be used over an entire day, multiple days or is void after one transaction; or if you are limited in quantity purchased. Also, be aware of the expiration of the coupon, as some retailers will have coupons specific to early bird sales and others dedicated to an entire day or series of days. Next, and equally important, know the store’s coupon policy. Coupon doubling, combining, price matching, register rewards programs and overages are some ways to save more money using coupons. Print out (or bookmark on your electronic devices) the coupon policies for the stores in which you plan to shop. This will come to your aid if you are challenged by your use of coupons to secure deeper discounts. It is not uncommon for store employees, especially those retained only for the holiday season, to be unaware of some details in their company policies. Legitimate manufacturer coupons can be found through mail delivery (e.g. SmartSource, Redplum), or on sites like www.coupons.com. Store-specific coupons can usually be found on the store website or in its sale circular.

All the best on your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping adventures!

Navy Exchange Coupon Policy: http://www.mynavyexchange.com/nex/customer-service/store-policies Commissary Coupon Policies: https://www.commissaries.com/documents/contact_deca/faqs/coupon_use.cfm Fraudulent Coupon Search: http://www.couponinformationcenter.com/psa-list.php

The 80/20 Approach to Stress (and Spend!) Less this Holiday Season, Part 1

Stacy Livingstone-Hoyte, AFC®, is an experienced Financial Counselor who has worked extensively with U.S. Armed Forces members and families. She is a long-time volunteer blogger for Navynavstress.com and previously served at the Fleet and Family Support Center, Millington, Tenn. as a financial counselor. As a military spouse, Ms. Livingstone-Hoyte knows firsthand of the financial challenges and opportunities that face military families across the globe. To that end, she embraces a steadfast belief that financial success can be simple, just not easy, and offers budget-friendly tips to help us “Keep an Even Keel” this holiday season. –NavyNavStress.com note

The most wonderful time of the year is almost here. But for some, the holiday season seems to appear as a thief would in the night – suddenly and 131231-N-QL471-200unwelcomed. There are any number of reasons why we have these feelings, some vague and others deeply rooted in our experiences. Nonetheless, when said and done, the holiday season can leave us with cold realities to face: lingering debts piled on from two seasons ago, the thought of budgeting for holiday parties, gift exchanges, family visits, travel, and elaborate meal planning—not to mention the great expectations of loved ones. It can leave any soul feeling a bit materially bankrupt this time of year. Before you give into accepting that it’s ok or unavoidable to accumulate another dollar of unplanned expenses, apply the Principles of Resilience to think strategically and act decisively. Meaningful goals can be your offensive tactics to battle any holiday excess and keep an even keel throughout the stress and excitement.

Thinking Strategically
Strategic thinking involves assessing your views and making purposeful decisions that will lead to success. Let’s consider an 80/20 approach. Think of this as a general principle directing us to put more effort, action and concentration into one critical attribute over another. Using this approach, our holiday focus should be personal relationships (80%) and spending (20%). Although the success we hope to achieve here is financial, we can also achieve peace of mind. The starting point of our holiday budget planning should be a conscious process where we identify what is truly important in the scheme of things. Usually, personal relationships and reflection/meaning are answers at the heart of this search.

This 80/20 idea is simply another way for us to understand and accept what most of us already know and believe –the focus of the holidays is family and togetherness, not extravagant spending.

Acting Decisively
A good plan requires gathering information and acting on it in a sensible manner. In addition to having the mental framework to plan for the holidays, a written analysis of your true financial picture must first be completed. Prepare a budget that clearly identifies your spending limits, debt and savings goals. Be sure to account for any extra holiday income, create a buffer for any unplanned activities, and estimate the cost of materials and postage for cards and gifts. Set realistic goals to exercise controllability, like avoiding additional credit card debt (layaway is a good option here). Step back and evaluate your budget based on the 80/20 approach to help you achieve balance and adjust as necessary.

After the budget is prepared, it should be placed in a highly visible place so that you can closely refer to it during those tempting holiday sales and promotions. Conscious holiday spending can also create an opportunity to save cash and put it toward existing debt or savings– whichever will put you in the most advantageous position. Consult your Command Financial Specialist (CFS), FFSC financial counselor or Military OneSource advisor for help creating a spending plan.

Finally, stay focused on what’s important this season, and take care of yourself! In addition to creating your holiday budget, now is a good time to review and update your Stress Navigation Plan.

Stay tuned for parts two and three of our series, “The 80/20 Approach to Stress (and Spend!) Less this Holiday Season.”

Comfort Foods Can Be Healthy Too

foodWhile the holidays are typically a season of celebration and joy, this time of year may trigger feelings of loneliness, loss or difficult emotions for some. Whether you’re missing your family back home, or are tense after a disagreement with your spouse over holiday budgeting, turning to food for comfort is often accompanied by poor nutritional choices.

So what should you eat when your emotions are eating you?

Contrary to popular belief, not all stress eating is bad for you. In fact, eating the right foods when you’re emotions are running high can actually help calm you down. Try switching your usual comfort foods for these quick and healthy snacks to get you back in the holiday spirit (and to avoid the guilt of overeating):

  • Instead of dipping into the cookie jar…go for a handful of almonds.
    Almonds contain a winning stress-relief combination: vitamin B12, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. For those who take to the peanut butter jar with a tablespoon – go for a spoonful of almond butter instead!
  • Swap the chips and dip for avocado slices.
    If you’re craving something rich and satisfying, go for the “good fat.” The monounsaturated fats and potassium found in avocado can lower blood pressure. Make your own guacamole for a special treat that will have the whole family at peace!
  • Meat lover? Try a salmon burger instead of ground beef.
    Salmon is packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, which not only fight heart disease, but can keep cortisol and adrenaline levels in check. What does that mean? You’ll be able to calm down and relax after a stressful event, instead of remaining tense and “wound up.”
  • Need something sweet and colorful? Go for a bowl of blueberries and cantaloupe.
    Put down the M&Ms! Blueberries and cantaloupe are just as colorful and easy on the eye, and are full of stress-busting antioxidants and Vitamin C.
  • Oatmeal is the perfect hearty comfort food.
    Carbohydrates trigger the release of serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone. Smart carb choices in moderation are key, which is why a good old-fashioned bowl of oatmeal will do the trick to get you out of your Grinch-like funk, while keeping cravings at bay. The high fiber content will keep you fuller longer. Here’s a tip: instead of buying the flavored oatmeal loaded with sugar, buy plain oatmeal, add some fresh blueberries, and sweeten it to your taste.

Eating the right foods may not get to the cause of your stress, but it will prevent you from dealing with the added stress of trying to lose the extra pounds caused by emotional eating. Take control of your stress eating this holiday season and fuel your body with the right nutrients to keep you cool, calm and collected.

For more tips and strategies visit Navy Nutrition online.

Getting Ahead of the Humbugs

H4HWith the holidays approaching, you may experience mixed emotions about family gatherings—especially if you’ve spent a lot of time away from home and loved ones recently. Whether it’s encountering a person that you’ve struggled to get along with in the past, or even a seasonal tradition that you no longer feel connected with, there are bound to be elements of the holidays that can be…well…irritating.

The transition from high operational tempo and incredible mission demands, to basting turkeys, singing carols and toasting with champagne, can be difficult to navigate. Here are a few ways to apply three of the 5 Principles of Resilience (Predictability, Controllability, Relationships, Trust and Meaning) to stressful holiday situations to help you get a better grasp on “the humbugs” and enjoy your well-deserved time off for merriment and relaxation:

  1. Predictability: If you can predict something, you can prepare for it. Rather than trying to avoid the thoughts, situations or people that may dampen your holiday spirit, accept them and try to move forward. Make a plan for how you’ll deal with these situations, positively, rather than letting them weigh on you. Maybe you’ll find something in common with “weird Uncle Lester,” or realize that caroling really doesn’t bother you so much after all.
  2. Controllability: You can prepare for the predictable, but inevitably there are some things that may be outside of your control. Maybe you feel obligated to attend three different family dinners because you’ve been away and everyone wants to see you. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and sort through what you can and cannot control. You might not be able to please everyone and make it to all three dinners across town within two hours, but you can regain a sense of control by deciding which suits your schedule best. Don’t feel guilty for declining an invite!
  3. Meaning: To Thrive during the Holidays, it’s most important to stay focused on what this time of year means to you. Whether you observe the religious significance, look forward to a little time to kick back with your shipmates, or just enjoy the company of friends and family, remember that this is a season of hope. Be grateful for the challenges, triumphs and positivity in your life—they all build resilience!

Whatever humbugs and sticky situations you may encounter, assure yourself that you can navigate through these challenges and still enjoy the holidays without feeling like a scrooge. For more strategies to  defeat holiday stress, check out “6 Strategies for Beating the Holiday Blues” on the Chaplain Corps Live blog.

If you or someone you know is having a hard time navigating stress this holiday season or any time of year, help is always available. Dial 1-800-273-8255 (Option 1) for the Veteran’s Crisis Line, or 1-855-NAVY-311 for ChaplainCare. It’s okay to speak up when you’re down.

Resilience and Fun with Food

Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, the OPNAV N17 Nutrition Programs Manager, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has nearly 10 years of experience in counseling thousands of service members and their families on nutrition and health-related issues, having delivered close to 600 nutrition-related lectures to more than 20 commands and institutions across the DoD. With a passion for promoting nutritional awareness to enhance health and quality of life for individuals and populations, Lt. Cmdr. Sood hopes to offer simple and practical ways to maintain healthy eating practices 365 days a year. He is a firm believer in the phrase “Food is Medicine,” and that every individual should embrace this idea to help them think about food as a therapeutic agent, thus leading to food choices that are beneficial rather than detrimental to overall health.
NavyNavStress.com note

December… a month filled with family and friends, deadlines, gift-giving and the anticipation of the New Year…. and a lot of delicious food!

The key to enjoying the flavors of the holidays without the guilt is through conscious planning. Exercise controllability, one of the Five Principles of Resilience, and take the reins when you can, while still recognizing old and creating new traditions. Here are a few ideas to enhance your controllability:

  • Decide on a theme and invite your family and friends to bring healthy variations of traditional indulgences.  An example would be a candy cane-themed event. Someone tasked with dessert could make brownies using pureed pumpkin in place of eggs and oil, and sprinkling a crushed candy cane on top.
  • Engage children (at their skill level) to reduce the stress of preparing entire meals. Examples include:
    • Engage a 5 or 6 year old with some easy tasks, like washing vegetables, pressing the cookie cutter or mixing baking ingredients in a large bowl.
    • Older children can manage more complicated tasks, such as cutting foods with a table knife, stirring something on the stove top, using the microwave or toaster oven or following a recipe to make their own dish!
    • Eating with others, as opposed to eating alone, helps to avoid overeating.  One great way to take delight in food is to invite family and friends to bring a new main dish, side dish or dessert, and have a taste-test contest with prizes for each category.  This will help you savor a little bit of everything in moderation and prevent overeating.

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, and involving family and friends builds cheer and resilience. Doing so minimizes and prevents stress that comes from having to plan or prepare everything yourself and it reinforces relationships.  Using these simple strategies will reduce stress eating, so your New Year’s resolution does not include a weight loss goal.

Visit Navy Nutrition Resources for links to more tips and ideas on healthy eating strategies!