There is always a delay of a week or two between my column going to print and me actually posting it here. So there are actually only 9 weeks until Christmas Eve...yikes!!
Prepare for Christmas early
There are less than 3 months until Christmas (don’t shoot the messenger!). If you’re paid weekly, that means you have 11 pay days to set aside money for the biggest holiday of the year. If it’s been a hard year, are you stressed about how you will manage? Do you plan to put it all on your credit card and worry about it in the new year?
Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at how debilitating credit card debt can be. What you charge now might not be paid off by next Christmas, when it’s time to do it all over again. Isn’t it time to stop the madness?
Consider going gift-free
You are not Ebeneezer Scrooge if you simply can’t do it this year. Let loved ones off the hook if they have been out of work. Tell them you are all grown up and you will take your gift in the form of babysitting, snow shoveling, or a simple meal together with some games and Christmas movies. It’s understandable if you refuse to cancel Christmas on your kids. But maybe it’s time to sit them down and talk about expectations and the reality that you are facing. A simple philosophy is “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read”.
Set new traditions, and be considerate
Every tradition had its start somewhere. Rather than family shopping days, try a family baking day instead. With regards to social media, we’re all familiar with the Facebook pictures of trees almost eclipsed by the stacks of surrounding gifts. What are we trying to show each other? How are kids and families supposed to feel when faced with such extravagance? Take the picture for posterity, by all means, but consider leaving it off social media. Or how about you post pictures of your joy-filled, affordable, bought-and-paid-for Christmas, and invite friends and family to do the same? Christmas is for kids. Let everyone feel theirs was the best one yet and leave the competition out of it. Also, remember you have the ability to take a social media break over the holidays and truly pay attention to your loved ones.
Draw names, set a price limit, donate instead
If you can’t talk the grown-ups out of exchanging gifts, perhaps you can convince them to pick names from a hat, or ask around about other gift exchange ideas. Set an agreed upon price limit and then actually stick to it. Don’t let emotion rule you when you are shopping! Yes, you love your family. The amount you spend has nothing to do with that. So stick to the budget. Maybe you should fund-raise or donate gifts as a family rather than exchanging them. You will soon be hearing ads for local gift drives, and don’t forget the food bank.
Buy your Christmas turkey on sale, now
After Thanksgiving you can quite often find young turkeys for around $10. Unless you expect to get a free turkey with your groceries nearer to Christmas, purchase one on sale now if you can—even if it means storing it in a friend’s deep freeze. This will help your grocery budget come December.
If you normally go all-out entertaining during the holiday season, this might be the year you ask guests to bring a potluck item and their own alcohol. Or plan for a card game and drinks after supper rather than feeding everyone. When you are feeding a group, switch to the most in-season (aka affordable) produce you can find. Serve the meat personally to ensure that everyone gets a piece and you don’t run out.
Focus on people and experiences
Often the most special Christmas memories are those of the smallest gifts, the kind gestures, and the time spent together. Go for walks or drive around to see the Christmas lights. Take part in community meals and events. Get in the spirit; it really doesn’t have much to do with the gifts, after all. Welcome into your home a person or family who might be alone this season. Making their day is sure to make yours, as well.
Shop on Boxing Day, instead
While lacking in suspense, doesn’t it make sense to do some of your shopping on blowout sales on Boxing Day? If you can handle the crowds and know that what you want will be on sale, it is an easy way to save some money. Surprise your teen with cash and a day out together, if they wouldn’t be disappointed. Probably, most teenagers would be delighted.
Christmas is a time for giving, yes. But remember to give your time and attention and take the focus off the commercial craziness. Don’t overspend and you might find more joy and less stress this holiday season.