Plan for a stress-free Christmas

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Although it's a cliche, remember that at Christmas it really is ...

The thought that counts

You might think we'd all be used to Christmas rolling around each December 25 and be able to celebrate the season without derailing finances.

Yet every year many Kiwis find themselves in financial strife by February when the bills roll in.

It doesn't have to be that way.

To survive Christmas and the summer holidays without denting your credit card, think ahead, make a plan and stick to it.

The earlier you start the more time you'll have to enjoy the festivities and fun times with family and friends instead of fretting about the bills.

Putting some smart strategies in place now will ensure you celebrate a fabulous Christmas and avoid waking in 2013 with a debt hangover.

Gifts for all

Gifts are one of the most fun elements of Christmas but also one of the most stressful. There are decisions about how much to spend, who to buy for, and what to buy.

To ease your stress, plan ahead.

List who you need to buy gifts for and assign a budget to each. Carry the list with you and buy gifts as you see them over the weeks leading up to Christmas rather than in a single major shopping expedition.

You're more likely to make good decisions and stick to your plan.

The more thought you put into a present the less people think about what it might have cost.

The excellent event planner at can help you work out how much you need to save for Christmas.

Entertaining children

The holidays can be expensive, even if you're not going away as you feel compelled to spend money on trips and entertainment.

Decide ahead of time how much money you have to spend on movies, trips and activities, holiday programmes and toys and decide how you're going to allocate your funds.

If your children are a little older, involve them in the process so you are planning activities you know they'll enjoy and they gain an understanding of keeping to a money plan.

Remember, most parents are in the same boat, so consider sharing activities and childcare with friends and family members.

That way the holidays will be kinder on your wallet, and the children will have activities to look forward to and friends to play with.

Avoid food fights

At holiday time you're likely to be hosting and feeding friends and family. To cope with the extra food expenses start stocking up on non- perishable food items early and shop around to find the best deals. Organising and paying for the family Christmas meal can be a cause of tension among family members, but starting the conversation early can ease the stress levels.

Rather than lumping the cost and all the responsibility on the host, spread the load by asking everyone to bring a favourite dish. People love to show off their speciality meals, so give them the opportunity at Christmas.

Stay on track

The key to enjoying Christmas is to take control. Be open with your family - no one wants their loved ones to be stressed about money, especially at Christmas.

Meals and celebrations needn't be complicated. Make the most of the barbecue season rather than cooking expensive meals. Get everyone out of the house and save costs with outdoor activities such as picnics and beach days.

Most of all this year, make your Christmas memories all about fun rather than financial worry.

David Kneebone is the spokesman for Sorted, a Kiwi guide-to-money website.

- Hamilton News

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