Finance guru Frances Cook shares nine ways to stay on the budgeting nice list at Christmas
Christmas, that joyous time of year for biting your tongue around family members, getting into debt, and receiving strange gifts to immediately put on Trade Me. Well, at the very least, you don't have to suffer the debt. Here are ways to save money, make money, and hopefully enjoy the family time more than ever.
Pick your friends - or opt for a Secret Santa
Sure, it's nice to feel like Santa, doling out presents to everyone in your life. But there's a reason that Trade Me has a surge of listings every December 26. If you don't know someone that well, you're likely to pick something that will have them faking a smile, rather than lighting up with joy.
The easiest way to save money is to cut down on how much you buy in the first place. Buy something sentimental for those you're truly close to. Buy one awesome toy for each child in your life – they'll be inundated with presents from everyone they know, so you don't need to buy them more than one.
For everyone else, consider doing a Secret Santa or just spending time together. I know I'd prefer a wine at the pub with friends, rather than tacky plastic to find a home for. You'll probably find your friends greet your suggestion with relief – they don't want to be obligated to find presents for everyone they know, either.
Send cards instead of gifts
If you can't stand the thought of not giving something to everyone, consider a gift where it really is the thought that counts. A card with a meaningful message inside can be far better than a box of chocolates or a meaningless novelty gift. I still treasure a card from a former colleague, left on my desk before the Christmas break, with a sweet and thoughtful message inside. Needless to say, even though we've both changed jobs since then, we're still in touch.
If you're making it rain for presents … rein in other spending
If you really, truly, must buy everyone you've ever met a present, that's your choice. But do everything you can to make sure you're spending cash, not charging up credit cards you'll be paying off until April.
Maybe you could reduce your food spending. Plan ahead for meals and make sure you're stocked up on cheap staples. Hit the farmers' markets; the good thing about a summer Christmas is we get lots of fresh food going for a steal.
Or maybe you can reduce your transport budget. Help out your summer fitness plans by walking or biking anywhere you can - or at least taking public transport. You'd be amazed how much you can save purely by ditching your car.
Electricity prices change all the time, so it's a good reminder to see if you're getting the best deal. Nip along to powerswitch.org.nz or whatsmynumber.org.nz to see if you can make a saving without giving up anything at all. My favourite kind of saving.
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Make like Santa, with a list you check twice
Everything looks different when you pull it out of your head and put it down on paper. So note down all of the people you want to buy a gift for and the social events you want to contribute to. This will help you figure out a reasonable budget for each one and also save you from accidentally buying three presents for the same person.
Now's the time to pull out all of your tricks. Ever been given a gift card for a place you wouldn't usually shop at? Consider it a discount on gifts you could buy other people. Compare prices online; earlier this year, PriceSpy released research showing some stores charge as much as 40 per cent more than their competitors. A quick google could save you big-time.
Like living on the edge? Consider waiting until the last hour before shops close on Christmas Eve. Many start putting out their Boxing Day sales then. Just don't blame me if the shops close early, they've sold out of what you want or the stress makes it a meaningless victory. This one's only for those prepared to risk it for the biscuit.
Share the hosting responsibilities
This one not only saves money but also stress and is likely to be a welcome suggestion with your family. Rather than insisting on hosting everything at your place, with all of the food and drink costs that come with it, share around the social responsibility.
There really is only an upside on this. You get different styles of food, it spreads the burden of travelling to each other's houses and everyone gets at least one stress-free get together, where they're chatting instead of hosting.
Make money from the other Christmas big-spenders
Still got your unwanted presents from last year? Or nice things you simply don't need any more and have been meaning to "Marie Kondo" them out of your life? Sell it online or in a garage sale to all the other people looking to buy presents right now. Look at that, Christmas lunch just got funded.
Or make money from the Christmas busy season
As the silly season ramps up, both people and businesses start to become overwhelmed. If you're looking for extra cash now could be the time to mow lawns for those with visiting family or take on the Christmas gift-wrapping station at your local store. It's prime time for a side hustle, if that's what you're after.
Get prepared for the next round
Start putting aside $20 a week for next Christmas, right now. Make it an online-only account, with low or no fees, that you can't access from your card in a moment of weakness. Even better, stash it with a different bank, so that you don't see it and aren't tempted to dip into it. By the time Christmas rolls around next year, you'll have a $1040 slush fund to look after presents, food and celebrations. Peace of mind is the best present you can give yourself.
Frances Cook is the author of personal finance book Tales From A Financial Hot Mess. (Random House NZ, RRP: $35).