Holiday planning during the pandemic

Each year, we look forward to spending time with family and friends over the holidays. Normally, being together can help us through tough times—but the COVID-19 pandemic has even changed that this year. Since a positive outlook is what we could all use right now, we have some tips to help you make the most of the coming holiday season, which will be like no other.

Tips for being social, staying safe, and making good financial decisions throughout the holidays

Over the holidays—normal ones—we generally fall into the traveling or hosting category. Last year, record numbers of Americans were on the move—whether by car, plane, or train—to visit family and friends. The pandemic has put the brakes on all of that this year, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending we stay home to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. 

But traditions and celebrating with family and friends are important, and having that time together to look forward to—and then look back on—can help us make it through the long winter. This year we need it more than ever, as both everyday worries and financial stress have increased during the pandemic.1 The good news is that it is possible to plan a memorable holiday season without putting yourself or others at risk. 

Here are some ideas to help keep the holidays meaningful this year while creating some new traditions along the way.

Prepare to be social—but safe

  • Have a virtual family cook-off where everyone starts with the same ingredients and compares the results—be sure to include the older generation, and choose a leader who’s good at hosting video chats.
  • Dress up your table with fun decorations, or even hold a centerpiece competition with a prize for the winners.
  • If you have family members or friends in assisted living, have some decorations delivered to them to help the holidays feel more festive.
  • Bake cookies for your neighbors or volunteer to prepare food for vulnerable families in your area.
  • Take your dinner virtual with family members near and far—and remember to snap some photos. 
  • Downsize your feast, sticking to one or two family favorite recipes, to reduce stress (and cost).
  • If you host an in-person get-together, the CDC recommends making it a small gathering with only those who live in your household.
  • Ask everyone to wear fun holiday masks (and their ugliest ugly holiday sweaters) while being sure to maintain social distancing if in person.
  • Support a local business by having a holiday takeout dinner. 
  • Think about dining outdoors if you live in a milder climate—maybe make it a brunch to take advantage of warmer daylight hours.

Make good financial decisions when giving gifts

  • Set spending limits and avoid impulse buys—watch out for overusing credit cards, dipping into your savings, or even tapping into your retirement plan savings.
  • Purchase small, thoughtful gifts—personal touches are likely to be a lot more meaningful this year. 
  • Be original and create your gifts—bake cookies, knit scarves, or design your own holiday card—it’ll save you money and mean a lot to the recipient.
  • Shop online to avoid crowds, but be careful of cyber theft—monitor your credit card activity and confirm deliveries. 
  • Leave plenty of time for gifts to be received, if you’re shipping them, and avoid rush charges. 
  • If there’s something you need, such as new tires, ask family members to contribute to your tire fund as a gift.
  • Give your future self a gift—consider contributing a little more to your retirement plan.
  • Open presents together over a video chat so you don’t miss out on happy faces unwrapping their gifts.

With a little planning and creativity, you can get through the holidays happily—and stay healthy. And if you make smart financial decisions, avoiding debt and putting a dent in your savings, you’ll feel even less stress when January comes and your finances are still intact. The important thing is to focus on what you can control. Even if you're only making a small holiday dinner at home, you can make it feel special—and some of the activities you incorporate this year may become traditions for future holidays.

1 In July 2020, John Hancock sponsored our seventh annual financial stress survey. Working with the respected research firm Greenwald & Associates, we surveyed more than 500 workers to learn more about individual stress levels, their causes and impacts, and strategies for relief.

This information is general in nature and is not intended to constitute legal or investment advice. Greenwald & Associates and John Hancock are not affiliated, and neither is responsible for the liabilities of the other. This report presents the results of research conducted by Greenwald & Associates on behalf of John Hancock. The objectives of this study were to (1) quantify the financial situation and level of financial stress of John Hancock plan participants; (2) determine the key triggers of financial stress; (3) understand the extent to which actions, including actual financial behavior and planning activity, ameliorate stress; and (4) assess retirement preparation and readiness. This was was online survey of 500 John Hancock plan participants. The survey was conducted from 7/28/20 through 8/14/20, with an average survey length of approximately 19 minutes per respondent. Respondents were located from a list of eligible plan participants provided by John Hancock. All statistical testing is done at 0.95 and 0.99 significance levels. The maximum margin of sampling error at the 95% confidence level is ±4.1%.

The content of this document is for general information only and is believed to be accurate and reliable as of the posting date, but may be subject to change. It is not intended to provide investment, tax, plan design, or legal advice (unless otherwise indicated). Please consult your own independent advisor as to any investment, tax, or legal statements made herein.