Spread the cost of Christmas

Personal Finance · 17 Sep 2019

We’ve reached the time of year when people start to wince when they hear the word “Christmas” and frown when they start to see decorations in the shops but starting…

We’ve reached the time of year when people start to wince when they hear the word “Christmas” and frown when they start to see decorations in the shops but starting your Christmas planning and prep now could mean a reduction in both stress and cost.

Prep the family

Make a budget and talk it through with the whole family so there are no disappointments on the day.  Try not to be doom and gloom if money is tight, emphasise what you can do and how you might be creative with your Christmas plans rather than what you can’t do.

Food first

Too many of us end up stressed out in the supermarket on Christmas Eve, spending far more than we planned to. Instead, keep an eye out for specials on more expensive items such as meat that you can throw in the freezer, and alcohol. Not only will you be saving money by buying on special, but you’ll be spreading out the cost of Christmas by buying some items early.

Think about planning a menu around fruit and veg that’s in season in December and should be cheaper. Maybe try and steer away from Christmas classics such as ham, turkey, strawberries and cherries which all seem to skyrocket in price around December 25.

Better still, why not agree with your extended family to make Christmas dinner a pot luck meal, where everybody brings a dish to share? This really takes the pressure off the host and could be the start of a wonderful new tradition.

Or, if you’d prefer to be a little more planned just divvy up all the elements of your menu, so one person, or one branch of the family isn't dealing with all the cost and all the effort. It means you can also divvy up the leftovers so the whole family has treats to see them through after Christmas

Pressie planning

Now let’s look at your gift list. Is it long and unmanageable? Do you find yourself buying gifts for people you don’t know that well? If that’s the case, you’re probably not the only one in your family who finds it stressful.

Could you suggest a different way of doing things this year? For example, you could all agree to buy presents only for the children in the family or you could do a Secret Santa, where each person buys for just one other person. Setting a price limit on everybody is another good idea.

Another possibility is to trade favours and time with friends and family instead of giving gifts. For instance, you could print vouchers offering several hours of babysitting, or help with home reno projects. “I’ll help paint your living room if you help with my garden makeover” for example. This is a great way to make sure everyone gets something that is genuinely useful for them, with the bonus that you’re scheduling in time to spend with your family and friends.

For presents you need to buy, it’s a really good idea to start buying them early. Let’s face it, there are precious few bargains to be had in the days right before Christmas and your December paycheck will only stretch so far. As with your food bill, if you start gift shopping now, you can spread the cost out over several pay checks reduce your reliance on credit come December.

One present that punches above its dollar value is the gift voucher. Whatever dollar value you put on the voucher in December, those dollars will go further when the recipient spends them in the post-Christmas sales.

One trap with shopping early can be the temptation to keep adding things to your present buying. Write a list of all the people you need to buy for, figure out how much you have to spend on them and stick to that!

You can also make savings on some the peripheral Christmas costs such as decorations and wrapping by putting the kids in charge of making their own, which can usually be done fairly cost effectively. A bit of crepe paper and glitter can go a long way!

Beware the budget blowout

Don’t be tempted to max out your credit cards to pay for Christmas. High interest rates mean you could end up paying for it for years to come.

If credit card debt is already giving you trouble, now is an excellent time to get it under control. Do some research and see if a debt consolidation loan could be one way to cut the amount of interest you pay each month. You may find it frees up some cash to put toward the Christmas budget, an emergency fund, or even next year’s school books bill!

Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. And if you don’t know where to start, seek debt advice. Be wary of companies offering to sort out your budget in exchange for large fees. There are free services you can take advantage of including: National Debt Helpline and the The Salvation Army.

Finally, spend a moment thinking about what’s important to you this Christmas. Chances are, it’s the people, not the presents. So don’t sweat the small stuff. Here’s to a less stressful festive season and remember: be prepared!

Other articles you might like:

Debt consolidation - what is it and is it right for you?

Learn to love your budget

Spring clean your finances

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