♫ Oy yoy yoy ay yay yay! It’s Christmas! Merry Christmas! ♬
Are you walking around singing Baron’s tune all day? Well ‘tis the season for parang, black-cake, and endless food and drinks. But are you feeling a little anxious over the added expenses that come with the festivities? Well you don’t have to lock your door or say you’re sick just to avoid the costs altogether. It only takes a proactive and creative approach to keep your expenses in check, while still being able to have a very enjoyable Christmas.
When the new year starts, it’s a horrible feeling to be thinking about the debt pile that has to be repaid, and it is often accompanied by a certain amount of regret that you were not more careful with your spending.
For those who enjoy splurging for Christmas, the best approach is to build up your Christmas fund during the year i.e. put aside a set amount each month, so you already have the funds when you start to shop. In this way, you avoid new “bad” debt (see the post Bad Debt and Wealth Erosion to learn more).
Here are a few money-saving tips to consider this Christmas.
Gift list & budget
Try to prepare a complete list of all persons who you would like to buy a gift for. How many times have you forgotten the administrative person in your office who helps you get personal things done, the guy who washes your car, the courier who delivers your packages on his off day, or the children’s school teachers? Perhaps you later regretted not giving them something? The list could be endless, but we should try to acknowledge those who help make our lives easier during the year.
The point here is a list helps you decide how large your gift circle needs to be and ensures you aren’t buying in an unplanned fashion.
While a list helps plan your gift-giving, no significant expense should ever be approached without a budget. It helps you organize your finances and determine objectively how much you can afford. So make sure to include an estimate for what you’d like to spend on each gift. Check if the total is in line with what you can afford. Remember, if it makes you go into debt, you CANNOT afford it.
Once you make the list (and check it twice), your only challenge now is to try and stay within the limits you set!
Focus on children
An easy way to save is to put the Christmas focus where it probably belongs: on the children. Seeing their excitement during Christmas time has to be one of the joys of life.
Here are a few thoughts:
- Children usually have no significant understanding about money and how expensive an item is. Christmas is usually a good time to start making them more aware and help them to learn about the importance of money.
- It helps to set their expectations early, probably about the number of gifts they will receive or the budget you are prepared to spend.
- If they want an expensive item, consider only paying for part and let them “buy-in” by contributing the rest, whether in chores, or saving from their allowances.
- If your budget is really tight, instead of giving gifts, think about making Christmas Day a day of games and fun activities with smaller rewards for everyone.
- Give them IOU gifts, meaning gift wrap a promise to buy something when the price falls or when you can afford it more easily.
- For the younger ones, teach them to share and give back by telling them no new toys unless they give some of their current ones to charity.
While focusing on children naturally means adults do not do a gift exchange, understandably some may not enjoy this. So instead, consider playing Secret Santa for the adults. Everyone picks one name and buys a gift for the person they choose. You could even set a budget for the gift to make sure it’s reasonable.
If one gift still seems not enough, everyone can put their name twice for selection, and each person then picks two names. You can get quite creative with this game.
There are quite a few approaches you can use for shopping.
No sale? No purchase.
During Christmas we refuse to buy anything unless it is on sale. You sometimes encounter a grouchy retailer who refuses to offer a discount, so we just move on. There are just too many who are prepared to cut you a break on price to bother with the ones that don’t.
At this time of year, small price reductions can add up to big overall savings.
You probably already know we are big fans of online shopping because the reality is many retailers in the Caribbean are too expensive. It’s ridiculous to think we can order a single item, pay retail price and sales tax abroad, pay local duties and VAT when the item arrives, plus local delivery, and the overall price is still lower than what some local retailers offer.
Give us a break. We support local retailers enthusiastically, but they must demonstrate they appreciate our business and are willing to charge a fair price.
One way to ensure you stick to your budget is to use a debit card instead of a credit card. Load up the debit card with your budgeted amount to spend and shop until the money runs out. Nice and simple. This way, you avoid the credit card temptation to just continue spending.
When the Christmas spirit takes hold, it’s easy to go overboard with certain non-gift items e.g. a Christmas tree (is the 9-foot tree necessary or is 6 acceptable?), decorations of all forms (do you really need reindeer on the roof?), Christmas cards (we use simple tags for gifts and free e-cards for sentiments), gift paper (yeah, the expensive stuff is nice, but it still ends up where the cheaper stuff goes too – in the garbage).
Just consider downsizing your wants and save a bundle.
Avoid last minute shopping
Ever realized how much more you end up spending when you shop in a rush? This is because when you leave your shopping for the last minute you are forced to take the first thing you see, but if you had the time to look around, you may have found the same item cheaper elsewhere, or you could have found something else at a better price. Pace yourself and start shopping early.
Early shopping could also help you spread your expenses over several months, which could be a helpful approach for managing your credit card expenses.
Food costs really add up during Christmas, so you really should pay attention to what you spend.
Smart Grocery Shopping
Save lots of dollars by shopping for groceries in advance of the holiday madness. Ever noticed how the prices of turkey, ham, raisins and prunes etc. increase in the last couple weeks before Christmas and how difficult it is to find what you’re looking for? The increased seasonal demand leads to higher prices. Shop early if you can and save. Your meats will stay well in a freezer, but of course, you should buy your perishables closer to when needed.
Caribbean people are known for their endless gatherings around the holiday season. In fact, we spend the whole year looking forward to pastelles, black-cake, ham and turkey. These events can be, however, quite expensive to host. If you’re looking to be a little more frugal this Christmas, you don’t need to cut the event altogether. Shake things up a bit. Tell your guests you’re having a potluck party this year.
A potluck party (if you’re not familiar with the term) is a party in which each family brings a dish to share. This could be a lot of fun as they prepare the dish themselves.
Harnessing your creative side is a great way to save money, engage your children and family, and have fun in the process. Here are a couple examples:
Make your holiday décor
Some people like to change their holiday décor every year to make it look fresh. That could cost a lot if you’re not careful. If you’re artistic and good with your hands you should consider making holiday décor yourself. This could be a family project, a great way to spend quality time with your children, while at the same time saving you money.
Of course you should shop wisely for your materials, as some stores charge unnecessarily high prices, and you can often get the same items cheaper elsewhere.
Not only can you make your holiday décor, you could also make your own presents for the more sentimental among your friends and family. You could even be environment friendly and use stuff from around your home, like foil, old Christmas decorations, bottles and cardboard etc. The benefits are endless – make it a family activity and encourage your children to think creatively, reduce clutter around the home, and save money.
Whatever you decide to do this Christmas, make it enjoyable for yourself and your loved ones. We all work hard the entire year and look forward to winding down for the holidays. You deserve to live life a little and be merry, but don’t let the result be New Year debt.
Remember, make wise financial decisions when managing your Christmas expenses. Avoid impulse shopping and plan your expenses and events carefully. Stick to your budget. Use your credit card in a disciplined way and only charge what you can afford to pay off immediately. If you are not confident that you can use a credit card responsibly, then use cash and avoid the temptation to overspend.
CariDollarsAndSense would like to take this opportunity to extend best wishes to you and your family for the Christmas and the New Year. We also thank you for your support and encourage you to use our Knowledge Base, or contact us if you’d like to become a client. We’d love to hear from you.