BUSINESS
11/22/2018 06:49 EST | Updated 11/22/2018 10:35 EST

Holiday Debt A Risk To Canadians' Mental Health, But We're Going For It Anyway

“It ruins the holiday season for them.”

Richard Lautens via Getty Images
Shoppers outside Toronto's Eaton Centre on Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. A new survey of Canadians' financial situations shows a great number will likely take on debt to fund the holiday season, even at a risk to their own mental well-being.

A new survey of Canadians' financial situations shows a great number will likely take on debt to fund the holiday season, even at a risk to their own mental well-being.

In a report released Thursday, insurer Manulife found 60 per cent of Canadians are willing to go into debt this holiday season to buy gifts — an ill-advised idea, many financial experts will tell you.

At the same time, a quarter of respondents said the financial stress of the season "negatively impacts their mental health." That number is largely unchanged from previous Manulife surveys.

"It's clear that Canadians are overwhelmed both financially and emotionally when it comes to the holiday season," said Rick Lunny, president and CEO of Manulife Bank.

Watch: Common holiday depression triggers (story continues below)

"There's this hangover where for anywhere from 20 per cent to 30 per cent (of respondents) it ruins the holiday season for them," Lunny said in an interview with HuffPost Canada. The holidays are followed by "remorse over their purchases come January. ... It really speaks to getting a hold of your debt situation in advance of your purchases."

Yet the Manulife survey shows only four in 10 Canadians have set a budget for the holidays. And 54 per cent expect they will end up going over budget.

For Farrel Greenspan, an Edmonton-based psychologist who specializes in depression and anxiety, among other things, budgeting is a top priority when it comes to maintaining your sanity over the holidays.

Earlier on HuffPost Canada:

All that spending "comes from a good place," Greenspan told HuffPost Canada.

"People aren't spending on themselves, they just want to see their family members happy. It's all with good intentions." But that "makes it extremely difficult to stick to that budget."

He tells the story of one client who found himself on disability, and with a reduced income.

"He still feels that same pressure to provide his kids and family and extended family with the same gifts," Greenspan said.

"He doesn't feel comfortable saying he can't afford it. There is pressure to keep up with the way things used to be."

"It's kind of the new taboo we don't talk about. ... People are embarrassed by their lack of financial literacy or by the amount of debt they're carrying."Rick Lunny, CEO, Manulife Bank

The key, says Lunny, is communicating — even though admitting to financial problems could be one of the most difficult conversations you've ever had.

"It's kind of the new taboo we don't talk about. ... People are embarrassed by their lack of financial literacy or by the amount of debt they're carrying."

"As much as you want to give them everything, you have to understand that you can't give them everything."Farrel Greenspan, behavioural psychologist

And there are ways of reducing the financial pressure. For older families, Greenspan suggests the "secret Santa" tradition — everyone is responsible for buying just one present, for one other person.

Setting a family-wide budget can help too, so that everyone is working with the same amount of money, and no one feels the pressure of being upstaged on their holiday gifts.

And Lunny notes that, often, the best gifts aren't even things that can be bought in a store.

"One of the best gifts I ever received was the gift of babysitting from a relative. There are ways to express your love without spending money," he said.

Ultimately, it's about managing your own expectations, Greenspan says.

"As much as you want to give them everything, you have to understand that you can't give them everything."

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