Holiday cheer on the cheap

By Gerald Ford

Plan a picnic, bake a cake and don't compare Christmases.

That's the advice from budget adviser Todd Button for cash-conscious Kiwis this month.

"Memories are more valuable than stuff," Button said. "Try packing up a picnic and going to the river or the beach."

Christmas can bring extra financial stress on those already struggling, with the extra cost of presents, visiting family members and putting on the expected Christmas spread.

But budget advisers say there are ways to cut down your holiday spend by being inventive and realistic about your budget.

Try to give what Button calls "interesting presents", things that are "made or found, instead of bought".

"Made presents could be anything from baking a cake to something more craft-oriented ... try to stay away from spending money."

While Christmas is "always going to be a little bit expensive", Button says "it doesn't have to be over the top".

For some families, Christmas spending results in crucial bills like rent not being paid or credit cards hitting their limits, but the ideal alternative is to save up beforehand.

"A lot of my customers are in my Christmas Club," Button says.

"They feel good; they've saved [the money], they're not using their credit card.

He also advises people "not to try to keep up with the neighbours - not to worry about what the neighbours are doing.

"Some people out there find it tough, and Christmas does increase the pressure," he says.

"There is big pressure to appear to be doing right by their families, but if they're honest [about the situation] their families would probably say: 'I don't need this present ... I don't need all this attention.'."

Salvation Army officer Lieutenant Stuart Tong says parents can teach their children that it's "more blessed to give than to receive" and encourage them to make cheap and easy gifts, such as fudge.

In his own family, the children "get into making chocolate-chip cookies and handing them out to extended family".

"It's probably just getting away from the commercial side of things and looking at what's the true meaning of Christmas," he says.

As well as providing inexpensive gifts, Salvation Army Family Stores raise money through sales to support Christmas hampers and gift parcels for children.

"The store is doing well, which is good, but it's a sign of the times."

- The Aucklander

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