Ho Ho! that special time draws near again. We prepare to get down on bended aggregate knee before our loved ones' retail desires and families nationwide craft festive narrative.

Even I, staunch childless cynic of the small town, like a bit of Christmas.

I relent on my year long anti-gift stance, and do tinsel and tree.

There is quite a lot of swearing in amongst the singing to carols while I decorate, and a fair bit of glitter ends up stuck in the vacuum cleaner.

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I de-stress by buying all the presents required on Amazon in 35 minutes in one monster effort at 11pm after a soothing Chablis.

For many families, and those with tight budgets, the spirit of human kindness can come at a high cost towards the end of the year. Savings cannot hope to match assumptions.

December 1 hits the diary with more than a couple of "Buggers" as the $20 a week that was supposed to go into the kitty for Santa Claus got snaffled away on Whatever, and Stuff, and Ooops.

Banks issue far more credit cards and lift the limits of existing lines in the last four weeks of the year than at any other time.

In January, after the binge has ended and the hangover begun, the real fun starts.

And, you know, in our playgroup pretend adult worlds, we ought to be shocked, just SHOCKED, to find ourselves in this position, having spent more than we earned. Good grief! By rights, come the new year, we should be throwing our hands into the air in (mock) self-outrage and confessing our financial sins. But we never do. You know who you are. I know who we are. It is all of us.

Humanity has survived for six million years chiefly because we are hopeful. In this case we stumble and crawl through the annual money quagmire, crying dollar bills and bleeding cash, yet we always seem to make it to the other side of the bog.

We pick ourselves up, scrape off the worst, and carry on, doing exactly the same again next year under that familiar duress.

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Here is my top tip to avoid driving yourself into a holiday heart attack: nail down the expectation. It is a wildly unpopular idea with some, who insist on heaping surprise after surprise on their victims.

I am calling them victims, whatever their age, because either way you have sent them into a trap.

Kids shall presume ever towering fortunes for no toil of their own are the norm and the older crowd now feel guilty because they cannot match your offerings. Set a Total Spend.

Simple. You then convey this to anyone you are giving a gift to. Sure, it is not traditional etiquette to email Uncle Eustace and tell him in bold he's only worth forty bucks, but neither do we wish to be back living in Victorian England roasting chestnuts over a smoky grate in a garret waiting for miracles. This is your money.

Once you have blown the nativity doors off by setting up the plan, you must STICK TO IT.

Stickability is assisted if you can negotiate reciprocal Total Spend agreements.

Then there are no giant revelations on the big day and everyone knows where they stand.

Does it take the spontaneity out of Christmas? Ms Ritchie says "Hell no!" and "Money in the tin!"

- Caroline Ritchie is a former AFA, sharebroker and portfolio manager. She runs Investment Stuff, a sharemarket based investment coaching service. Visit her at www.investmentstuff.co.nz. This column is not personalised financial advice.