Make a budget for gifts and stick to it, using cash or debit card preferably
For most people, Christmas is their favourite time of the year, and I’m one of them.
I get to spend more time with my family, more time watching TV, more time reading etc. It’s a time to recharge my batteries after a long and busy year.
Others like Christmas so much because a son or daughter returns home from abroad for the Christmas period, and not even Santa himself could give a better gift than that.
On the flip side, there are those who find Christmas one of the most stressful times of the year, and according to one psychological association, as many as 69% of people become stressed at Christmas because of a lack of time, money and/or pressure to give or get gifts.
Is it just a coincidence that January is the month when most divorce filings are made?
In the UK they refer to January 3 as Divorce Day because that is when legal firms get the most number of calls from couples who can’t bear to be with each other anymore. I wonder was it Christmas that pushed them over the edge?
Apparently you are also 5% more likely to suffer a heart attack during the Christmas period than at any other time of the year because of the stress that comes with it.
From a financial perspective it’s one of, if not, the most expensive time of year. And given that there’s only two weeks to go, if you haven’t prepared by now or at least given some thought as to how much you will spend over the Christmas period, you could be looking for trouble.
Regardless of how good or bad your financial situation is, I’m not going to patronise you and list a whole lot of things you should be doing with Christmas just around the corner, because for many people it takes the fun out of Christmas, as it’s their one time of the year to splurge a little bit and rightly so. They don’t want to be told they should be making their own Christmas presents, or suggesting secret Santa with other members of their family or saving money by sending e-cards instead of an actual handwritten card etc.
But you need to be careful as well i.e. don’t get into debt buying things you know you’ll find it difficult repaying in the New Year.
And you don’t want to raid your savings account too much either. Set aside an amount you are happy to spend but that’s it, not a cent above it.
Because, have no doubt, buyer’s remorse will kick in in January; you just have to minimise how bad it will feel, so be sensible and only spend what you can afford to.
With that in mind, here are some last minute tips that I like, and might help you with this year’s spend:
If you find a present that’s a good deal, look at the cost of the item not the discount.
What I mean by this is if you set a budget of €40 to buy a present for a nephew of yours and you find something that costs €30 and is now reduced to €20, leave it at that. Don’t go looking to spend another €20 to make up the difference.
Make the most of discount websites like Groupon or Living Social.
It might be a good idea to sign up to a site like them before you make any purchase as you might find the item you were looking for half the shop price or even better.
And you don’t have to use discount sites either to get great deals. I was looking at buying a tennis racquet and in store it cost €149, but online it cost €82, including shipping.
Make a budget and see how much you can afford to spend this Christmas.
Write down on a page how much you will spend on presents, food, nights out etc. or input it on an excel spreadsheet, or use an on-line budgeting tool, whatever works for you. But whatever you do, do something because it will help.
There is an app that people I know have been using, called Santa’s Bag and it’s free and excellent, and about the best I’ve come across.
It’s really easy to use and you can download it to your phone, and it will track how much you are spending, who you have to buy for, whether you are over budget or not, where you bought the present and for who.
Regardless of whether you use an app or write your budget on the back of an envelope, whatever works best for you is fine with me.
Planning for presents and budgeting for them will help you buy what you really need, rather than making last minute expensive purchases.
When you go shopping, leave two things at home, your credit card and your kids.
The credit card is just a needless temptation that you promise yourself you’ll only use once and will repay it in full in January, but as I said earlier, the chances are good you won’t.
If you use cash/debit card you will have to stay within budget - you have no other choice because if the money isn’t there you can’t spend what you don’t have.
And it’s a proven fact that you are likely to overspend if you shop with friends or family.
If you’re prone to this happening to you, then make a list, stay focused and go shopping alone. Your objective is to get in and get out again, fast!
Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd,
based in Plassey. He can be contacted at email@example.com or www.harmonics.ie