What To Say When You Can't Afford To Travel For the Holidays

How to handle the hardest conversation of the year...

Talking about your finances with your family is already hard. But telling them you can't afford to go home for the holidays is the conversation you're absolutely dreading. But, you aren't alone. According to a recent Wallethub survey, 33 million Americans don't have the funds for holiday travel this year.

"U.S. consumers will be shelling out billions of dollars in extra charges they otherwise could be spending on other things such as travel," Mark A. Bonn, director of the resort and vacation rental management program at Florida State University, tells TravelPulse. "This makes it difficult to travel now, let alone after the holiday spending has ended."

If traveling home isn't an option this Christmas, it's time to talk about it with the fam. It isn't always easy, but it might just be a chance to open a larger conversation that will deepen your relationship.

"Talking about finances with family can be awkward," Laura J. Pilz, a Merrill Lynch financial advisor tells US News and World Report, "but the holidays present a perfect opportunity to have a short discussion with family members on tough topics like this." So how do you break the news to the folks? Here's a handy guide.

Pick Up the Phone

It may be tempting to have as little human interaction as possible, but when it comes to a topic that's as emotionally triggering as not coming home for the holidays, a phone conversation is essential. Email and text can be easily misinterpreted as either hostile or insensitive. So do everyone a favor and set up a time for a good-natured talk.

"Call at a time when you are available to have a full conversation, not in the five minutes between meetings," suggests Susan Fales-Hill, etiquette columnist for Town and Country Magazine. "You want to give your loved ones the time to express what they feel, not make the announcement to them and hang up, like that lover who dumped you via text message."

Explain Your Financial Situation Now...and Your Plans For 2019

The next step is to have an open and honest conversation about your finances. Show that you've done your research: know the cost of a roundtrip ticket and added expenses, and what it means with respect to your debt or limited cash flow. Be open about how this trip isn't responsible for you to take this year, and then shift the conversation into how you're making changes so that next year you can make the journey. Whether it's taking proactive measures in your job search or saving up enough to meet financial goals for the following year, it's crucial to ease your family's concerns about your current status.

Prepare For Hard Questions

No matter what you say, you're bound to raise some concerns. Remember: it's not judgement, it's love. Don't be defensive, be informative. Write down a few responses to questions you're expecting ahead of time, in order to further ease their worries rather than fuel them.

If you're currently out of work, present your plans to change your current situation before the question, "when are you getting a job" even comes up. "I might preempt it," Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of the etiquette consultancy Mannersmith, tells AOL. "I can say, 'I'm doing great, I'm working on some temporary assignments that might turn into work.'"

If you're one of the 57 million freelancers in America right now, chances are your income isn't as steady as if you were working one full-time corporate gig. "My biggest stress with family around the holidays is being judged," freelancer journalist and publicist Wanda Felicita Ortiz tells Refinery29. "I try to stress that my work is just as valid as that of people who work one job full-time — it's not that people freelance because they're 'lazy.'" Take some time to explain how your business works, how you're hustling now and what the returns will mean in the long-term.

Give the Conversation a Positive Spin

If this is the first time you're being truly open about your finances, lean into that narrative. Tell your folks you want to be able to talk to them about this topic moving forward, and even glean their advice now and in the future.

"Talking about money openly and honestly throughout the year helps to make it less taboo to have those discussions around the holidays," financial coach Emily Shutt tells Chimebank. "If it's treated as a normal dialogue, it will become just that."

Be there in Spirit

Just because you can't make it home this year, that doesn't mean you can't spread the love.

"Spending the holidays away from your family doesn't mean ignoring your folks, and it isn't an excuse to be inconsiderate," explains Slate's June Thomas. "If you exchange gifts, select them with the same attention you would if you were going to be present at the unwrapping, mail them to arrive in time for the holidays, and be sure to call home to wish everyone a Merry Christmas—at a designated time if you want to speak with as many family members as possible."

Don't Beat Yourself Up

Remember, you're not a bad person. You're doing the best you can under financial constraints that make it impossible to be everything to everyone. You don't have to apologize for your absence, but you can offer some consolation ideas that let your family know you love their company. Offer to host them for the holiday if they're willing to travel, or if that's not an option, make a tentative plan to visit for a belated celebration in the new year. Just make sure to end the conversation with three simple words: I love you.

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