How Not to Go Broke at Christmas
‘T’is the season for spending…”
How can we have a Merry Christmas without breaking open the piggy bank? It’s tough, isn’t it? Aside from buying gifts for our families and friends, there are gifts to give at the office parties and gifts to give at club parties. It never seems to end. Where do we draw the line? Where and when do we say No?
The tradition of gift-giving at this time of the year is so deeply ingrained. Of course, it is wonderful to give gifts to people, but somehow it has gotten way out of control to where we feel a sense of guilt and obligation to give gifts. Many, as we know, find themselves overwhelmed with credit card debt simply from succumbing to the pressure of gift-giving in excess.
Can this year be different? Can we start off on a new foot? Where do we begin?
Start With a Plan
If you don’t have a plan of action, the Christmas Season and the shopping malls will eat you alive and spit you out. Not having a plan means that the stores and family members will decide how much money you will be spending at Christmas and where you will be spending it. Not planning also means that your time will belong to others and your nerves may be shattered to pieces. Be kind to yourself at Christmas and have a strategy.
Plan your budget
Plan your budget and plan your time. Both are important. Make a list and check it twice Side note: check who’s been naughty or nice (sorry, I had to put that in there). But seriously, you are in control of how much you are willing to spend, not the stores, not the Jones’s and not the children. You are not a money tree and you don’t have to spend money that you do not have, especially on people you may only see once a year. You don’t have to buy everyone a gift out of a feeling of guilt or obligation.
Plan Your time
Your time is even more valuable than your money. Time can be used to create beautiful memories with family and friends. What people appreciate most is the time we spend with them. Value your time and your sanity. Ask yourself the question: “Do I really need to travel to shopping malls after work (and fight traffic) and wander around in the overheated, overcrowded, overdecorated shopping centers in quest of that elusive gift that they will “just love?” All the time spent in these shopping centers could be better spent hanging out with family.
Shopping online is an option and so is thinking outside the box for Christmas gift ideas. Who says that gifts must come from the store? And who says that we have to carry on the annual pilgrimage to the shopping centers? I like the Icelandic tradition of offering pajamas, books, and chocolate for Christmas. It is simple and cozy. Certainly, kids can do more with books than a Batmobile or a PlayStation.
Explore other cultures
And, speaking of Iceland, why not look into other cultures around the world to see what they do to celebrate this time of the year? We are not obligated to follow the North American Christmas Debt and Stress Plan. Are there traditions from other cultures that would resonate with you and be fun to try?
Don’t Go Overboard
You do not have to have a community of inflatable characters hiding your house and your home does not need to light up the neighborhood – all those lights will ring up the power bill and I am not sure they are so good for the environment either. You do not need to aspire to be Martha Stewart in your Christmas festivities with a perfectly decorated home and table. Trying to make the season the perfect “Christmas to Remember” will only leave you exhausted and out a whole lot of cash.
Don’t worry about the Jone’s
Let the Jones’s do their thing; you don’t need to compete with them at any level. Besides, the Jones’s are probably broke from all their spending and dreading their next credit card bill. Christmas isn’t about having the best decorations, getting the newest electronic/digital gadget/toy or about buying for the sake of buying. We do not have to go on autopilot when it comes to Christmas spending.
What does the season mean to you and your loved ones? How do you want to spend it and what do you want to focus on? The commercial jungle (advertising and stores) will try to tell us what we should be doing, what we need to buy and where we should buy it and why. They will tell us we can “have it now” and not pay until January. But we don’t need to listen to all their noise.
Why not look at creating memories and doing things together instead of gift-giving? It is an interesting alternative and certainly better for the environment. Why not plan activities as gifts? The gift of time is precious.
Alternatively, we can offer vouchers for future service or activities. Maybe there is an activity that works better in the summer than in the winter and you can offer a voucher to do this activity ( such as a reserved camping weekend).
Prioritizing the environment is something to consider as well. in addition to saving money, time and our sanity, we can also be doing our part not to contribute to extra waste (packaging, transportation of merchandise and power usage).
But, If You Do Decide to Buy Gifts…
Decide ahead of time how much you are willing to spend in total. Make a list of all those you are giving gifts to and divide the total $ by this number.
Respect your budget
Respect your budget and keep track of spending. Keep the bills and keep a tally. Don’t be afraid to return items when you have overspent your budget. You decide and you are in control.
Factor in the extras
Factor in the extras such as wrapping paper, bags, and mailing costs, Other costs may include hosting and traveling costs.
Don’t shop last minute
Don’t shop last minute. Seriously, just don’t. You will end up spending more than you wanted to. You will be rushing around with frazzled nerves and probably end up buying something that may never be used.
Don’t go overboard on credit
Try not to buy on credit or open up a new credit account just for Christmas shopping. You will feel the crunch in January when the bills come around.
Don’t dip into the emergency fund
Don’t go dipping or double-dipping into the emergency fund. Christmas shopping is not an emergency.
Keep all receipts and check return policies.
The Christmas Season does not have to be hectic and energy draining. It does not have to involve draining our monetary resources and racking up credit card debt. With a bit of planning and honing in on our priorities, we can take a more reasonable approach to where we will give our time and our money. And then we can say “Merry Christmas and Peace to all” without a ball of anxiety in our chest and a lump in our throat.
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