With back to school behind us and Thanksgiving upon us, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. Yup, I said it out loud. Before you know it, the winter holiday season and Dec. 25 will be here. That means you only have 11 weeks, or five bi-weekly pay periods to prepare.
Christmas and the holidays can be special without breaking the bank or going into debt. Some people even say their holidays are more special when the commercial aspect is minimized or eliminated.
But, just like Santa, it’s all about your list. Decide who you really need to buy for. Sure, it’s nice to give presents to everyone. But if your generosity comes at the expense of your budget, the good feelings you get from giving will turn to resentment when the bills pile up in January.
Now, take that list of people you want to buy for and make a budget based on what you expect to spend per person. Once you have the total, divide by the number of pay periods between now and Christmas. For example, if your gift giving budget is $500, then you will need to save $100 per paycheque between now and then.
Follow this same process for any other big holiday expenses you’ll have, such as meals, travel or winter entertainment and recreation.
To come up with the bi-weekly savings you’ll need, review your regular expenses to see if any of them can be temporarily cut back over the next 11 weeks. Eating out, picking up take-out food, drinks after work and the streaming service that won’t be playing your favourite holiday shows are a few things that many of my clients identify as cuttable expenses while saving for a goal.
If there’s just not enough time to save a sufficient amount to buy everything you want, you may have to get creative to avoid putting Christmas on credit.
One good option is to suggest to your family that you all draw names this year, so that each person buys only one gift for one person. With my own kids grown, we tried doing this last year, and it saved everyone money and a lot of the time it takes to find perfect gifts for everyone. Drawing names worked so well for us last year that the grandmas want to get in on the draw this year.
If you really love the act of holiday giving, consider putting your skills to work and treat your loved ones to handmade presents. Even if you aren’t super handy, check online for ideas with easy-to-follow instructions. Who doesn’t love receiving homemade Christmas baking? Factor the cost of ingredients into your budget and involve your kids. This will teach them about giving and helps keep their focus on the real meaning of the season.
One of my favourite parts about Christmas is spending time with family and friends. Instead of exchanging presents, why not have someone over to share a meal or dessert together? The memories made while enjoying time with friends or family can be worth far more than any present.
If you’re responsible for hosting Christmas dinner and aren’t sure how to manage it with the rising cost of food, ask your guests to bring their favourite holiday dish. This can be a great way to try different foods as well as provide some necessary holiday budget relief.
But if you really love being able to provide that traditional meal, be sure to use the five paycheques you have between now and Christmas to start stocking up on all the ingredients for your feast. Watch for sales. If your freezer has space after Thanksgiving, why not make that purchase early? It will be one less thing to put strain on your budget in December.
For your kids, consider giving them a budget for the items they put onto their wish lists (works for parents, too). Focusing on what you can afford is much easier than disappointing them or turning their one big wish into a family gift.
On the other hand, if it’s a big gift the whole family can enjoy, such as a game system, and it fits within your spending limit for all your kids, then consider giving it as a shared present. Just be sure to buy whatever is needed so that everyone can enjoy it right away.
With some well-thought-out planning, Christmas and the holiday season can be both merry and money-wise. Set your savings goals and look for ways to help kids learn about managing money effectively, even during what is traditionally an expensive time of year. Start now at Thanksgiving and talk to family and friends about cost-conscious gifting and affordable new traditions. Everyone will be happy you did.
Sandra Fry is a Winnipeg-based credit counsellor at Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization that has helped Canadians manage debt for more than 25 years.
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