Going by TV commercials, the official countdown to Christmas starts right after Remembrance Sunday. In terms of financial planning, now is really the deadline for getting your Christmas in order so that you avoid going into the New Year with a financial hangover. There is one top tip, which we would like to emphasise ahead of everything else.
1. Plan your Christmas to suit your budget, rather than the other way round
Christmas is supposed to be about peace and goodwill, not about spending until your credit card screams. If something is too expensive for the amount of cash you have available, then it is too expensive, end of story. This goes for gifts, food, socialising and everything else connected with Christmas. If people really care about you, they’ll accommodate your financial situation. They may even be relieved at your honesty taking a strain off them. If you’re worried about receiving expensive gifts when you’ve only bought cheaper ones, then start setting expectations now, particularly for children.
2. Be firm with your budget and flexible with your shopping
The first point to remember about any form of Christmas shopping is that anything which has an obvious connection with Christmas is going to carry a premium price tag. Look for ways to avoid or work around this. For example, you could avoid the typical roast-meat-and-all-the-trimmings dinner and enjoy food which is non-typical but still special, whether it’s poached salmon or curry. Likewise, you could pass on traditional Christmas cake and just go for a normal cake or other dessert.
3. Remember the power of packaging
Christmas is a time when manufacturers bring out their most attractively packaged products and many shops offer gift-wrapping services. There is, however, absolutely nothing to stop you taking items in ordinary packaging and making them look beautiful yourself. What’s more, this can often be done very easily. For example it would probably work out much cheaper to buy a pretty, empty tin off eBay and fill it with sweets than to buy a special Christmas tin of the same sweets out of a shop. Likewise many gifts can be put into pretty baskets and will look just fine without being covered in cellophane. This is an excellent solution for toiletries. Basically it’s a safe bet that any kind of pre-packaged gift set can be recreated more cheaply without any crafting skills being necessary.
4. Give creative IOUs instead of shop-bought (or crafted) gifts
In spite of what the internet might suggest, crafting can work out just as expensive as shop bought and that’s even before you factor in the reality that your time also has a value. Even if you have a craft hobby which you enjoy, are you really going to want to commit to making all your presents when there is generally so much else to do this time of year? There is, however, one DIY gift, which, literally, anyone can make in minutes and which can also work perfectly for any one of any age. It is the gift of IOU vouchers. For example, instead of giving your child the current, must-have, toy, give them a voucher to stay up an extra hour on Fridays, Saturdays or school holidays. Make a voucher single use, or multi-use (just make sure multi-use vouchers have a way to track how often they’ve been used).
5. Practice saying no
Whatever your views on Christmas, it’s hard to argue that it’s become increasingly commercialised over the years, to the point where people can feel under pressure not only to spend more than they can afford on their nearest and dearest, but also to give gifts or at least cards to an ever-widening circle of people and then, of course, there is the growing practice of the Secret Santa. On top of all this, there may be pressure to attend events you would prefer to avoid. Practice saying no. It saves both money and stress.