It’s December. Already. While it’s already been Christmas season for a month anywhere that sells stuff, most of us are just starting to gear up for the “season of giving”. Sometimes it feels like some serious mental preparation is needed to survive the craziness that the North American style of Christmas has become. Christmas parties, Christmas plays, school bake sales, school craft sales, secret Santa exchanges at work, school, sports teams. It’s all a little much, and a lot expensive.
I’m definitely no grinch, in fact Christmas is my favourite time of year. But it’s got some pretty bad side effects that I could really do without.
My least favourite of which is the way people seem to lose all concept of finances during this wonderful holiday. Its like the magic of Christmas also seems to wipe away common sense spending or the reality that post-December 25th there will be a credit card bill ready to remind you, in detail, of all the poor decisions you made in the preceding month.
The desire to have or give others the “perfect” Christmas can wreak havoc on peoples savings goals. Or more often, results in significantly higher debt levels come January 1st.
Without going on a Charlie Brown style tangent about commercialism or what Christmas is really about, here’s ten ways you can keep your Christmas spending in check and avoid a regret riddled January.
- Set a budget. This seems obvious, but too many people just go out shopping and let the budget fly out the window. Know how much you are prepared to spend on the holiday, and plan your shopping accordingly. That includes things like extra groceries for holiday parties, baking, or Christmas dinner.
- Tap out. Seriously. It’s okay to say no. No to participating in the 23 Secret Santa gift exchanges that your family has been asked to be part of. No to attending 12 Christmas parties over 3 weekends. No to baking for the school bake sale, play, craft fair, and Christmas party. If it’s something that you feel like you HAVE to do, as opposed to WANT to do, say no thank you. It really isn’t the end of the world, I promise.
- For the adult members of your family, buying each other gifts can become a huge financial burden. So trade the gift giving in for an experience. Maybe a fancy Christmas Eve dinner at a special restaurant, an outdoor skating adventure, or a movie night with takeout. Choose something that brings everyone together and creates memories rather than just another gift or gift card to exchange with each other.
- If you have a large family, it can get ridiculous buying for all the nieces/nephews etc. And really, does each kid need a gift from every one of their aunt’s, uncle’s and cousins? Start a secret Santa exchange just for the kids, with a dollar limit! Adding in the set budget ensures everyone gets a gift of a similar value. We did this in our family, and it cut our spending from having to buy for six cousins, to having to buy for two.
- Don’t buy gifts for your kids friends. If your kids want to save their money and buy small gifts for their friends, great. But don’t get in the habit of buying for all their little friends and their families. That’s how things get really out of hand! If you really want to exchange something with your children’s friends or families, suggest a collective donation. IE: Each family puts in $20.00 and the kids get to decide on a charity where the money is donated. Or perhaps all the families sign up to buy a Christmas hamper for a less fortunate family rather than exchanging gifts. If you can’t get people to collectively move that direction, then just make it clear that you have plans to do something different this year. Go back and review Step 2 to help you with this.
- Make homemade decorations. Rather than spending a fortune on store bought Christmas decorations, do something crafty. If you have kids, they’ll love to join in and help out. Paper snowflakes are incredibly easy and cheap, and spray painted holly leaves or birch branches can add some inexpensive luxury to your decor. Letting your kids hand paint some plain old Christmas bulb ornaments can also be a fun way to change up the look of your old decorations rather than simply replacing them with new.
- For you and your significant other, agree not to exchange gifts. If you are both on the same page in terms of your financial goals, this is usually a pretty easy agreement to reach. But if you really want to exchange something, decide on a limit and make it something small. After all, it’s the thought that counts right?
- Skip the big turkey dinner. You can still make a wonderful dinner without spending a fortune on it. Make chicken, turkey breast, or a small roast instead of a big oversized turkey. It’s less time consuming and more cost effective. Or make a vegetarian Christmas dinner! Reduce the dinner to a reasonable amount of food instead of an over the top spectacle and everyone will still be full, but your fridge won’t be packed with another ten days of Christmas leftovers.
- Limit the Christmas baking. First of all, baking is super expensive in addition to time consuming. Secondly, “I wish I ate more cookies this Christmas” said no one ever. So make less/buy less, your bank account and your waistline will thank you.
- Skip Christmas cards. Christmas cards are lovely I suppose, but they are literally throwing your money in the garbage can. Think about it, you spend a few dollars for each card, along with postage, and it gets thrown out about two weeks after the person you sent it to receives it. Sometimes I wonder how much money is spent on Christmas cards each year, only to have them all land squarely in the landfill post-December 25th. If you really want to send a card and you have kids, now’s the perfect time to take advantage of some child labor. Hit up your local craft store and buy a big pack of card stock or construction paper, some generic envelopes, and have your kids draw a lovely Christmas card/message at a fraction of the cost. Plus, your family and friends will love them way more than a store-bought card.
- Okay, this is a bonus tip, and more of a way to save yourself some money in the future. Re-gift. Yes, this sounds awful, but if you have kids, you likely know that kids get way too much crap at Christmas. Usually they can’t even remember what everyone bought for them. So every year I grab a few gifts from my sons pile of stuff, things I know he won’t really like or use, and I put them away in the closet. If at some point he remembers the gift and asks about it, I would get it out for him, but the reality is that he has NEVER asked about any of the gifts I have put in the closet. Not a single one. And this year I’ll be starting the same practice with our newest addition to the family. While kids might love unwrapping all the gifts under the tree, lets be real, way too much of it ends up sitting in the bottom of their toy bin never played with because they simply have too much stuff. By reducing it a bit, when my son’s have birthday parties to go to over the rest of the year, I have a ready supply of gifts to choose from.
These are just a few ways you can keep Christmas in check over the holiday season, and ensure that you aren’t left with a whole lot of regret come January. With a little financial sense, and some forethought, Christmas can still be a magical, wonderful time of year full of family, fun and traditions, it just doesn’t need to be the commercialized waste of money that we’ve turned it into.
Keep the things that bring you and your family value, and shed the excess. Your future financially free self will thank you.