By Margaret H. Johnson
Even though you may be feeling that it’s ‘too late’ to start saving for Christmas now, what are your other options? If you answered ‘credit cards,’ you aren’t alone. It’s easy for the majority of Canadians to fall into the debt trap, but do you really want to start the new year off with a debt hangover? I didn’t think so! Read our 6 tips for an affordable Christmas.
As anyone with a calendar knows, it’s almost that time of year again! Although Christmas is the same day every year, it always seems to creep up on us, almost unexpectedly. It may be because the last four months of the year always seem so hectic – in September the children go back to school, October is dedicated to finding or creating that perfect Halloween costume, and November is about remembering the sacrifices of our soldiers, veterans, and citizens involved in protecting our freedoms. By the time December rolls around, we are exhausted physically and financially. Here are some ways to keep your sanity and your cents about you this Christmas.
6 Tips for an Affordable Christmas
1) Create a budget
Creating your holiday budget before you create your shopping list may be the first step to reigning in your spending and protecting yourself from ‘sentimental shopping.’ Try to remember that it’s often not the dollar amount that leads to the best presents – one thoughtful present is more meaningful than five thoughtless ones (and usually less expensive, too!). Also consider that many people are in the same situation as you in regards to budgeting, and understand if you cannot give a gift. A thoughtful and well written card will suffice, or something homemade (cookies, crafts, etc).
Don’t forget to include miscellaneous costs such as entertaining, food, decorations, and the like within your budget. Whenever possible, try to use what you already have available (for example – do you really need to purchase new holiday decorations, when you have a box or two of them at home?).
2) Create a shopping list
Holiday shopping can be overwhelming and hectic. By creating a list, you are staying in control of your finances and your impulses. Many people become caught up in the sentimental aspects of the holidays and in my experience, this is where they usually derail. Your sentimentality can lead to overspending, so be careful here.
Figure out who ‘needs’ a gift and who you can ‘skip’ (see the above advice about gifting something homemade, etc). Look at alternative ways to reach your holiday shopping goals. For example, one tradition that my daughter’s inlaws have is Secret Santa, in which all family members over the age of 20 draw a name out of a hat and are assigned one person to buy a $25 gift for. This allows everyone to receive a gift, but limits the amount of money and time spent shopping for each person. Because each person only has one gift to buy, it really allows each member of the family to shop with that special person in mind – this usually results in more meaningful or fun gifts.
3) Give experiences, not gifts
How many times have you opened a gift only to think “will I truly get a good amount of use of this?” It sounds ungrateful, but the reality is that many times we are often guilty of thinking that sentiment – or worse – of actually not using an item enough to warrant its purchase. Instead of buying the people you love yet another consumer good, consider giving a gift that can be used or experienced. Some great examples are movie passes, quality foods (gourmet tea or coffee, preserves, etc) that a person may avoid purchasing for themselves, a spa treatment, a car detailing, or a gift card to their favourite restaurant. Some items, such as preserves, can be made at home!
4) Avoid shopping online
This advice might be going against the grain, but shopping online can be a risky endeavour. Purchasing gifts online usually involves using credit cards, as most online retailers do not offer Interac services; and, as we know, using credit can lead to overspending or impulse purchases. Unlike purchasing in person with cash, online shopping’s allure involves seeing the dollar amounts and products as intangible. There is a disconnect that happens when shopping online, as the items go into your virtual cart and the funds are put onto your plastic card without enough thought and consideration. It is easy to overspend online, especially given the sentiments surrounding the holiday season. Avoid overspending and over purchasing by making your gift purchases in person, with cash, whenever possible.
5) Share the load
During the holiday season, it is easy to take on more than we can handle. Between shopping for gifts, planning meals, hosting family and friends, work related functions, Christmas concerts at school, and the general chaos that ensues, it can be exhausting. Don’t take on everything; discuss expectations and plans with your friends and family early to avoid last minute stress. If you hosted last year, maybe it’s time to let someone else take on that responsibility. If you are hosting, consider doing a potluck style of dinner, so that you aren’t stuck cooking for everyone. If you are lucky enough to be attending Christmas at someone’s house instead of your own, don’t forget to lend a hand with the set up or cleanup – it will be much appreciated!
6) Don’t underestimate the power of simple pleasures
This is written all of the time on numerous financial and credit related blogs, but its truth is profound. Often the holiday season is a whirlwind of activities and can be exhausting. Make sure you take time to enjoy the season with your family and friends by partaking in pastimes that give you joy. A favourite holiday film, game, or tradition is often more fun than shopping for gifts, or even opening them for that matter. When you really consider what the holiday season has become for many – isolated shopping for days on end, searching for that elusive ‘perfect gift’ – it seems to contradict the meaning of the holidays. Don’t forget what the season is really supposed to be about – togetherness!
If you or someone you know is experiencing credit or debt problems we can help! Contact us at Women and Money Inc. Toll Free 1.877.588.9491 any time. You will be glad you did.