Diana Clement 's Opinion

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement: How to spend less while enjoying Christmas more

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MasterCard says that almost a third of women buy gifts for 10 or more people. Photo / Getty Images
MasterCard says that almost a third of women buy gifts for 10 or more people. Photo / Getty Images

Santa is not very kind to my bank balance.

There can be few Kiwis who don't spend more in December than other months. Some people say that Christmas has got out of hand. We seem to spend excessively at Christmas and the landfills feel our pain in January.

According to a MasterCard survey, Kiwis' outlay at Christmas will leave 53 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men feeling stressed when they should be relaxing and unwinding. So here's my 12-point guide to spending less while enjoying Christmas more:

1. Cut your present list down.

MasterCard says that almost a third of women buy gifts for 10 or more people, although men buy fewer. Do you really need to buy all those presents? Honestly? Some people give gifts to boost their self-esteem or to show love for others, which makes it difficult to buy less. They can still embrace gift-giving without busting the budget.

Bring the issue out into the open, have a discussion and set some gift-giving rules. That may be one gift per adult of no more than a certain price. Or it could be drawing lots to give to one other rather than everyone. The secret Santa approach is a great way to make giving fun without spending a small fortune.

2. Get clever about gifting.

A cleverly targeted present is far better than a generic one. Think about the recipient. What would that person actually want or use? Don't think you have to spend a certain sum of money. I love it when someone buys me a simple gift that hits the mark. I'd rather have that than an expensive white elephant. Don't forget that wonderful American tradition of re-gifting. If you have items in your house you've been given in the past but never used, consider who might actually want this gift and pass it on. The great thing about re-gifting is that you're a: getting some value out of the gift that was given to you - even if it wasn't what the giver intended; and b: saving the money of buying a present.

3. Manage expectations.

The average spending on children at Christmas is $88, according to MasterCard. Expensive gifts don't teach children good money habits. If children get everything they want they'll be sorely disappointed when they enter the workforce and have to manage their own budgets. There are many ways to manage their expectations down. That could be by directing their interest to something else, giving them money towards a gift, or simply explaining the cost to them. I'm thinking of doing exactly that with one of my offspring after finding that the All Whites shirt he wants is $99.99 - three times what I paid for an England shirt last year. One great thing about kids is that you can buy them things they need anyway (school bags, soccer boots, uniforms) and they'll still be excited when they unwrap them.

4. Use your vouchers.

Many people lose vouchers or they expire before they get around to using them. I've heard that up to 25 per cent of gift vouchers are never redeemed. I asked NZ Post for the exact numbers with Prezzy Card, but that information is commercially sensitive. To make sure you're not in that 25 per cent, check your wallet and home for unused vouchers. Find them and use them to buy presents. Fly Buys points expire, so use them on presents. I make sure that I don't spend Fly Buys points and ASB True Rewards on items I wouldn't otherwise buy. Rewards points are not found money. They can be spent on groceries, petrol and other essentials.

5. Cut the supermarket bill.

Do you really need a turkey and ham? Or a Christmas cake as well as Christmas pudding? You're bound to be given chocolates in December, so why buy them as well? Don't supersize everything you buy. A small bag of nuts, for example, is enough for most families, Write a Christmas grocery shopping list and stick to it. Food websites such as Allrecipes.com include features that allow you to change serving sizes so that you're only cooking for the number of people coming, and include recipes on a printable shopping list.

6. Cut waste.

A vast amount of food gets thrown away after every Christmas. If you're guilty of emptying your fridge into the rubbish bin after the 12 days of Christmas expire, consider cutting either the number of dishes or the size of dishes. If you follow my next tip - not to drink too much alcohol - you might have the energy after dinner to carefully store the leftovers. Look for recipes to use the leftover turkey and other food.

7. Put a lid on the booze bill.

Alcohol is expensive. As Sir John Kirwan said as NZ Herald guest editor this week, why do the good times always need to be around alcohol? I was looking at Christmas shopping lists recommended online and was surprised how many of them recommended buying wine and beer and liqueurs and spirits. Can you really drink that much on Christmas and Boxing days? Do you need to? The Kirwan approach is to have enjoyment around life - that is, Christmas in this instance - not alcohol.

8. Make a bee-line for Trade Me.

You can both clear your house in anticipation of Christmas and buy cheap gifts on Trade Me. Most of us could make quite a bit of money by selling off the ghosts of Christmas past from around our houses. The things we've either bought or been given in years gone by, but no longer use. Trade Me's smartphone apps allow you to take a photo with the phone's camera as you're listing the item. High-value items are well worth selling and December is one of the best times of the year to offload virtually anything. Don' leave it too late. My experience is that Trade Me dies between Christmas and the end of February - because people are either away, or don't have money left to spend.

9. Be clever about shopping.

This is the time of the year to look for sale items, go to outlet malls and look for deals on one-day-deal sites. Two of my Christmas gifts are items from Diamond Photo, bought on GrabOne for less than half their face value. I wouldn't have bought them at full price, but am very happy with the offer I got.

10. Don't send cards and presents.

Send Christmas letters and messages via email. It's cheaper. Also, think twice before sending presents. If you're not going to see the person, do you really need to send a present? If you do, why not choose a gift card, which only requires an envelope and stamp to send. If the recipients are overseas then consider buying online in their countries - it's cheaper than sending parcels from here.

11. Make your own gifts, decorations and other Christmas paraphernalia.

There are endless sites on the internet telling you how. I saw a lovely idea for turning dead light bulbs into tree baubles by brushing them in glue and dipping them in glitter. Wrapping paper can be replaced with leftover wallpaper, fabric or coloured tissue paper.

12. Set a budget.

If you can't keep your Christmas spending under control, then set a budget and write lists. Check the lists before spending. That will encourage you to juggle your spending to fit. It's better to buy less and be happy rather than overspend and regret it.

- NZ Herald

Diana Clement

Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Diana Clement is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and careers. She has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years in both New Zealand and the UK. Diana has contributed to a large number of local and international publications. Her pet topic is the secrets of saving money.

Read more by Diana Clement

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