Given my recent private criticism of Christmas decorations on the shelves before Halloween, an entire piece dedicated to avoiding debt this holiday season seems a little hypocritical.
However, there is some sense in early preparation as regards your finances – after all the average spend at Christmas in Ireland is around €600, a sum of money most people will have to build up over time. And while it’s nice to give presents and show your loved ones how well you know and appreciate them, there’s no sense in taking out loans or getting into debt to help tide you over.
But how exactly can you manage that? Financial coach Mark Bristow, based in the UK, has got some useful advice as we head towards December.
“Sometimes our overspending is driven by deeply buried childhood or teenage experiences that make us get into debt even though we know we shouldn’t,” he says. “For example, there’s a lot of peer pressure to buy the latest and the best, this is something that might have been handed down from our parents, something we picked up in childhood the ‘keeping up with The Jones’ attitude’. The need to put on a good show for family and friends, rather than admitting that things may be tough or that you just think it’s a waste of money to buy kids toys that are usually discarded in favour of the boxes.”
Sorting out a budget is the very first step to getting a grip on your spending. Figure out how much you’ve got to spend and the people you plan to buy gifts for, and set a realistic limit.
It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to children – the latest toys and games are undoubtedly cool but can be quite expensive. For young kids, there’s no point in raiding your wallet, as they’ll likely be as enamoured with the packaging as with the toy itself.
Organising a Secret Santa exchange can help avoid buying token presents for friends or family members. Agree on a spending limit and stick to it rigidly, thus avoiding overspending and unnecessary purchases.
Put the names of those taking part into a hat (ensuring you’ve got an even number), pair people up, set your limit and agree on a gift-giving date.
Make use of social media or email in place of the traditional Christmas cards, particularly for the younger generation. Alternatively, if you’re creatively inclined, you could make your Christmas cards, though you’ll still have to pay for postage.
When you’re shopping for presents, make a list and check out online prices before you buy in-store – you’d be surprised at how much you can save. For example, you can compare a range of items across computers, beauty, games consoles and toys on PriceSpy.ie.