The Nightmare After Christmas…

Are you looking forward to Christmas, or are you stressed out and maxed out already? Are you wondering how you can afford all the gifts, the food, and the holidays without racking up your credit cards? It is possible, and here are my top 10 tips on how to have the Christmas of your dreams without the nightmare that inevitable comes after!

1. Write lists. So it’s almost Christmas, and you forgot to put money aside-again! There are lots of ways you can cut costs without giving up the things you love though. Think back to last Christmas. How much did you spend in total. Where did you overspend? Was there any one area that really stressed you out or were they all along for the ride? How much can you afford to spend this Christmas? Sit down with a note pad and pen and work all of this out. Then, write 3 separate lists with how much you have to spend on each area printed at the top. In red.

2. Firstly, food. What do you normally buy for the Christmas period, over and above your normal food shop? Be specific. Not just the turkey but the cranberry sauce too. Include soft drinks, alcohol and snacks. Make a menu plan if this is easier, of what you are planning to eat for Christmas breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t forget about picnics, gatherings and street parties that often happen at this time of year.

Take this list of food with you to the shops and STICK TO IT! Ford wastage reaches record highs over Christmas as people buy exorbitant amounts of food that they then don’t eat. It’s hard not to get caught up in all the gorgeous Christmas foods that are displayed, and we end up with a trolley full of things that really add up! If you have your detailed list and menu plan then you don’t have to worry you’ve missed something, and you come home with only items you are going to use. Give yourself a budget for your food, and buy homebrand products, shop around, and use coupons to help you stick to it.

3. Next up, activities or holidays. What do you normally do over the Christmas period? Do you have children who like keeping busy with activities, or do you head away for family holidays? Write down some examples of things you would like to do over the Christmas break. Then start researching. There are some fabulous deals available, even at peak periods like Christmas.

Holiday places are vying for your business and sites like Groupon offer a myriad of different activities for up to 70% off. Surprise your kids with outings they would never have thought of, at a fraction of the full price. Make sure you check things like dates, exclusions, and fine print to ensure you’re getting the best deals. If you are travelling for a holiday then make sure to include the cost of petrol or flights, when looking at deals. Give yourself a maximum spend amount and stick to it!

4. And lastly, gifts. Write down everyone’s names who you want to buy for this Christmas. Don’t forget to include teachers, neighbours, aunts and cousins. Anyone who you’re going to give something to-no matter how little needs to be on this list! If you have a present box (see below) check to see if you already have gifts for some of the people on your list. Next, give yourself a dollar amount that you can afford to spend on gifts, and separate this amount between the people on your list. Give each person a specific dollar amount.

Write an ideas list next to each persons name of what you would like to buy, and check that it matches with your spend amount. If it doesn’t: See if you can buy the gift elsewhere for cheaper, look for a similar alternative, or think of something completely different. Don’t forget to include wrapping paper and cards etc in your costings.

5. Check that the total dollar amount of your three lists matches the amount you can afford to spend. If it doesn’t, or you are still worried about the amount of money you are spending, try something completely different. Set realistic expectations with your family on how much will be spent on each person.

-Bake gifts. They always look fantastic and teachers, neighbours and grandparents alike really like the effort you went to.
-Hit the markets and find treasures, both new and used.
-Wrap inexpensive gifts in beautiful paper and ribbon and really make them shine.
-My family and I did a ‘homemade or handmade’ Christmas one year and it was amazing what people came up with. Gifts were a fraction of the price of bought ones- and they were far more special.
-What about trying secret Santa? Pool everyone in your family’s names, and each person buys for one person only. This allows you to buy a better, and more personal gift for one person, without the expense of doing it for everyone.
-Have a giftless Christmas. I know this sounds extreme but give it a try! Instead make family and friends the main attraction and focus on experiences instead. Perhaps you organise a day out white water rafting, with everyone from your niece to your great uncle involved, with a family photo and BBQ at the end. Presents are usually forgotten by the following year, but things like that stay with you forever.

Whatever you do, remember that whatever you spend now, has to be paid for eventually.

6. The very last step is to hit the shops. Yup, you read that right. The LAST thing. Wait until the Christmas sales begin, and armed with your lists, start shopping. Always, always stick to your limits. If you go over for one person and think you’ll spend less on the next one to make it up you’re kidding yourself and you will start down a slippery slope!
Stick to your budget!
Haggle. If you’re spending a lot (or even a little) in one store then ask what their best price is. The worst case scenario is you don’t get it cheaper, but you never know your luck!
Shop around. Do some research online first, or visit multiple shops to make sure the place you’re buying the gift has it the cheapest.
If you find something cheap then that’s awesome. Don’t feel the need to buy something ‘extra’ to bump up the price.

Now before you forget, let’s talk about next year. We normally have great aspirations of putting money aside all year so it’s not such a big hit during the silly season, but as soon as Christmas is done and dusted we forget all about it until it’s too late. So, before you pack up your tinsel, sit down and follow these steps. Your future self will thank you for it!

7. Work out how much money you spent this Christmas on food, gifts and anything else like holidays or activities. Be honest! Then divide this amount by 52. This is the amount you need to put aside each week to make next Christmas a breeze! If you get paid monthly simply divide your total by 12.

8. Open up a savings account with no card and no internet banking. Yes, they do still exist! Set up a direct debit straight from your main account into your savings account for the weekly amount you need. If you set the direct debit up for the day after your pay enters your account, chances are you won’t even miss it. The fact that you can’t see that savings account on your internet banking screen is really going to help you forget about it too.

If this is all too hard then make a money tin and start putting all your coins into it. You may not get all the money you need, but you will certainly have a lot more than you would have, without doing anything.

9. Set up a present box. I learnt this trick from a friends mum when I was about 10, and I have never forgotten it. A present box is exactly what it sounds like. It is an empty box which you fill with presents throughout the year. If you see something on sale, especially universal things like beach towels, books, stationary and non-specific toys, buy them and put them aside in the box. Not only are present boxes great for Christmas, but for birthdays and anniversaries throughout the year. Keep the price tags on so you know how much you spent on each item.

10. Check twice-buy once. When December rolls around and you have written your lists for the year, look in your present box and in your food cupboard and see if you already have anything you need for Christmas. Once you’ve done that, get out your savings money in cash, and use this for your remaining groceries, activities, and gifts. The best way to organise this is to have envelopes for each area, with the amount of money you decided on 12 months ago, inside. Stick to the original steps on list making and shopping above, and you will not only have enough money for everything, but Christmas-and January will be stress free! Well, mostly. I can’t do anything about your family…

Well, I hope that’s given you lots of help, if not for this Christmas then at least the next one! If you want more information on budgeting for Christmas, holidays, and anything in between, then take a look at my bestselling book Brilliant Budgets and Despicable Debt for some extra help and great ideas.
Just remember, Christmas shouldn’t be about the amount you spent, but on the amount of joy you got out of it.

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