The silly season is almost upon us and it’s a time when many of us start to get anxious about the amount of organising we need to do before the holidays and the not insignificant matter of how we are going to pay for everything.
New Zealanders spent a record $6 billion shopping in December last year, the highest ever monthly figure recorded by Statistics New Zealand. That’s a whole lot of coin going out the door.
Gift giving is one of the most common non-negotiables for females, along with good food and grooming. These are the things that we like to spend money on, that make us feel happy. We feel we need to make these things happen and if we can’t, we feel deprived and stressed. Money worries are the leading cause of insomnia in females and often peak around this time.
On the other hand, for males, their non-negotiables (which are seldom gifts!) tend to focus around socialising, hobbies or alcohol. All of these expenses also tend to peak around Christmas.
For those of us that are self-employed – December/January can also coincide with less cash-flow in our business which can make things a whole lot trickier and make us feel considerably poorer.
Moderation is key, as well as being money-smart.
Here are my top 12 tips for making the most of your limited finances over this cash intensive time:
Set a budget for the upcoming months, factoring in presents, special food, entertainment, travel and so on, along with your normal everyday payments. If there is a deficit, you will have to think of ways to make sacrifices or cut-backs.
Make a list of everyone you need to buy for and put a dollar limit by each present. Take the list with you when you shop and try and stick to it. My clients go into Christmas knowing exactly what they have budgeted for the season. It gives them clarity and they make it work.
Cash is powerful. Use it, you’ll spend less. You know where you are, how much you have left and it places a natural limit on how much you have to spend.
Try to avoid credit cards or store cards. Even if you can pay it back in January, it’s likely you’ll spend more than you wanted to and easily lose track of where you are at with your finances. If you can’t pay it back in full, ask yourself, “Do you really want to be paying the price of the gift plus 20-30% interest on top of this?” The answer should be “no”.
Start early. Don’t be that person running madly around the mall on Christmas Eve looking stressed and panic buying. The earlier you start, the more likely you’ll be able to get a bargain and find a special present. Special and thoughtful does not have to equate to expensive.
Organise your overseas gifts even earlier! I know how much the express fees sting – you often end up paying more than the gift in postage. Check out nzpost.co.nz/christmas for this year’s deadlines. Consider buying gift cards rather than bulkier presents as they cost less to post or if the recipients are overseas you can also try buying online in their country.
Trade Me is your friend. Rid yourself of the gifts of Christmas past and items that you no longer need by selling them on Trade Me. One of my clients had a spring clean and sold unwanted toys/bikes/kids clothes and made $2,000, a nice cash injection pre-Christmas. It kind of feels like free money. You might even pick up some bargains for your own gift giving. It’s amazing how many people sell brand new (usually unwanted) gifts on Trade Me, for half the price.
Redeem your vouchers before you lose them or they expire. Up to 25% of all vouchers expire before use due to people not redeeming them in time. Dig them out of your wallet and put them to good use on items you need. Also check your frequent flyer and loyalty points — this is the time of year to use them instead of cash. You can use them not only for gifts but also food to help ease the financial burden of the season.
Make your own gifts, decorations and other Christmas paraphernalia. I’ve lost many an hour to Pinterest which has a virtual feast of Christmas ideas. Get the kids involved. Get out into the garden and do some planting in pots – herbs and flowers make beautiful gifts. Kids also love baking and crafting and it keeps them busy. Win-win. My kids are prolific artists and I use surplus artwork from kindy/school for gift wrapping paper. Kids artwork make special and beautiful gifts as well, just get them framed, laminated or made into calendars to give to grandparents and family.
Avoid spending to save. We do a weird thing when we see a sale tag. We focus on what we are saving and not on what we are spending. Be clear, you never save money by spending it. Only buy something if you need it! Avoid going overboard with food spending. A huge amount of waste can be avoided post-Christmas if you stick to your plan and cater carefully for your friends and family.
Many families have an agreed limit on how much to spend or who they are buying for, like only buying for the kids, or doing a Secret Santa. Start negotiating your limits with the family now. You’ll find pretty much everyone is in the same boat and relieved to have boundaries!
Whether visiting friends/family or hosting yourself, everyone bringing a plate or pot luck is the way forward. This shares the load, everyone is happy they are contributing and no one person or family is overloaded.
Christmas is a special time of year. It is about gift-giving, but more importantly it’s about the people you are with, not spending beyond your means and having to pay for it for the next 12 months or beyond. Planning in advance and sticking to a budget should be about enjoying this time and minimising financial stress and pressure. If you are having trouble getting your finances in order, seek help, it’s never too late.
Words: Katie Wesney
Katie Wesney is a chartered accountant and registered financial advisor. She is a financial personal trainer and owns the enableMe franchise in Takapuna. Katie has more than 15 years’ experience working in the business and financial industry. She is also a busy working mum with three young kids who are four, six and eight, and is dedicated to improving New Zealander’s financial wellbeing.