For many of us, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year — and it’s also the most expensive.
The cost of gifts, food, drinks, and entertaining the family soon adds up, and when the celebrations are over, many will be left holding a hefty bill in the New Year.
“Spending for the sake of it, shopping unnecessarily, and buying things simply because they are on sale are the most common mistakes people make at this time of year,” says money expert Michelle Hutchison from finder.com.au.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! With Christmas just weeks away, you still have time to budget and avoid a financial hangover. Here’s all you need to help your bank balance survive the season.
Start planning early.
Get off on the right foot by setting up a dedicated savings account. “At the start of the year, put a dollar figure on how much you’ll need for gifts, food, and entertaining costs, and then create a savings plan that will help you get there, such as a Christmas fund or an automated savings account,” says Peter Horsfield, financial planner and founder of Smart Advice.
It’s great if you already have that money, but there’s no need to panic if you haven’t started your yuletide savings. Cutting back on social outings and unnecessary purchases — such as coffees and clothing — between now and the big day will help generate some last-minute cash flow. And if all else fails, “You can take advantage of credit card promotions or zero-fee balance transfers that are currently on offer,” Michelle suggests. “They’re a great way to buy what you need, and pay it off over time — sometimes with no interest for up to 12 months. Just remember to read the terms and conditions so that you fully understand how the card works before signing up.” And remember, it’s never too early to start saving up for next year.
Set a budget.
“If you’re armed with a budget and shopping list, you should be able to avoid overspending or buying things you don’t need,” says Michelle. Figure out how much you’re likely to spend, then set and stick to a limit. “If you’re unsure about how much to put aside, look at what you spent last season and use this as a rough guide,” she advises.
Next, write a list of the absolute essentials — decorations, food and drinks, travel costs, and also everyone you’ll be buying presents for — and allocate an amount to each expense. “It’s important to stick to your fixed budget because it will help keep you in check and ensure that you don’t have a holiday blowout,” says Peter. If you can’t control yourself, try shopping with pre-purchased gift cards and leave the credit card at home so you’re not tempted. “If you’ve accumulated any frequent flyer or reward points, you may be able to save money by cashing them in,” Peter suggests.
Find deals online.
“Shopping on the internet can be less tempting and less stressful than going to a mall with all the traffic and congestion that comes at this time of year,” says Michelle. Many websites — such as topbargains.com.au, finder.com.au and catch.com.au — offer heavily discounted daily deals and coupons for products or experiences.
There’s no obligation to buy right away, which means you won’t get roped into seasonal marketing propaganda at the supermarket. “You really need to watch out for this because it may end up costing you more if you buy things you weren’t planning to,” says Michelle. On the flip side, you need to take delivery time into consideration. “While some shipping may be next day, others may take a week or two, especially from overseas,” she points out.
Share the load.
Just because you’re hosting Christmas doesn’t mean you need to do everything yourself. Ask guests to bring a salad, dessert, or bubbly, and keep a list of what everyone’s bringing so you can plan the rest of the meal around it. This takes some of the pressure off you, and it involves others in making the day special, too.
“It’s a much cheaper option and takes the burden off whoever is hosting the meal,” Michelle points out. Likewise, you don’t need to spend a lot to feed the clan if you buy in bulk. “There are plenty of discounted supermarkets – including Costco – that specialize in bulk-selling goods, as well as farmers’ and fresh food markets that sell bulk fruit and veggies much cheaper than the supermarket,” she says.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.