A Merry and Money-wise Holiday

There’s a lot of temptation to play Santa during the holiday season, but if you don’t have the luxury of elves and reindeer you ought to stick to a budget this holiday so ho-ho-ho doesn’t become no-no-no in the New Year. The budgeting rule of thumb is 50/20/30 – 50% of your take-home salary should go to essentials like housing (mortgage or rent), food, utilities and transport; 20% to your financial goals which are your savings, emergency and retirement fund, investments and loan repayments; the other 30% goes to lifestyle choices, for example entertainment, shopping, and charitable donations. Holiday spending falls into the third category so make sure December’s 50% and 20% are covered and then work out what you can comfortably spend this holiday from the 30% that’s left. Here are our 12 tips to help get you through the holidays with your savings secure.

(1) Make a list and check it twice: Armed with your shopping budget write a list of all the people you want to get gifts for, make sure to include everyone so you don’t make unbudgeted purchases later, start with immediate family, then extended, and then on to neighbours, friends and co-workers, even include your postman, newspaper deliveryman and garbage collectors if you plan to give them tokens. Once you have everyone down, figure out how much you’d like to spend on each person, and then tally the numbers. If you’ve gone over budget, start trimming.

(2) Gift yourself: It is better to give than receive … until we’re standing in the store face-to-face with the item we’ve been eyeing since July. Add yourself to your gift list so the gift you give yourself is budgeted for.

(3) Play secret Santa: This works great in large families or in the office, and allows everyone to receive at least one gift. Write each person’s name on bits of paper and drop them in a bag. Everyone will draw one name, and get the person selected a gift. You can set a max budget for the gifts to keep your spending on track. This is budget-friendly plus a whole lot of fun as each gift-ee tries to guess their gift-er.

(4) Early Mailer: Get your gifts and greeting cards for family overseas early and send by regular mail to avoid express shipping fees, this also saves you the worry about whether your parcel will make it on time. And remember e-cards, they are usually inexpensive or free.

(5) Remember credit will be due: If you’re paying for the holidays on your credit card remember that what you’re really doing is taking out a short term loan, be prepared to pay it back quickly, write a list to keep track of what you’re spending, don’t overextend yourself, and use the card that offers you the lowest interest rate.

(6) Do it yourself: Get crafty and thrifty with décor and gifts. For example, wreaths tend to be a bit pricey, a cheaper alternative is to get a tree that’s a bit bigger than you need it to be and trim the top off to make your own. You can also use your skills to sew a quilt, curtains, or make a cake or cookies for gifts. Or try one of our holiday favourites, a coupon book filled with gifts, like ‘1 free night of babysitting’, ‘1 breakfast in bed’, ‘1 at-home mani-pedi’ or ‘1 weekend tending to the garden’, it’s not only inexpensive, it’s really thoughtful.

(7) Green Light: Switch out your traditional lights for LED ones, they cost a bit more on the onset but use significantly less energy. Also use ornaments that are glass, mirrored, or metal, their reflective surfaces bounce the light around for a sparkly tree with less lights.

(8) Mutual Meals: We’re all familiar with potlucks, sort out a dinner menu and decide amongst your friends who’ll make what, and then have dinner at one house. Here’s a bonus tip, pick a host that’s better at socialising than cooking, since they’ll have the expense of set up and the task of washing up they don’t have to cook, and then have each person cook the dishes they’re best at. Share the work and share the delicious dinner.

(9) Buy Bulk: Partner with your friends and family and buy in bulk, this allows you to get raisins, currants and other items for your fruitcake for a bit less, you can also bulk buy nuts, candies and other nibbles for your holiday parties then split the packages and the bill.
(10) Don’t overbuy: This bit of advice immediately follows number 9 so you don’t get carried away. Your hosting instinct is to put out a plentiful spread with many options, but you’re stocking up for a 5-hour dinner party, not a siege. Get out the calculator when you are writing your grocery list, not only will it keep your wallet happier but you won’t need an engineering degree to help you fit the left overs into the refrigerator.

(11) Signature Cocktails: Keeping an open bar at your holiday parties can really add up quickly, create a signature punch that allows you to cut pricey liquors with other drinks, ‘tis the season for a homemade sorrel and eggnog anyway.

(12) Delay the Holidays: There are often great post-holiday sales, and that is often the best time to save on holiday decorations and gift items, so exchange gifts in January and stock up for your 2014 holiday décor after the rush.

Remember the reason for the season, we hear that all the time but that’s because it couldn’t be more true, spend less money worrying about impeccable décor, a four-course dinner and a well-stocked tree. Spend more time with the ones you love, because whether it’s cuddled together reading stories, dancing around the kitchen, singing carols together at candlelight, or volunteering to collect canned food or serve dinner to the needy, there’s something about the most inexpensive holiday moments that make them worth the most.

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