COMMENT:

A written plan and a budget is the very best way to survive the silly season with your finances intact.

It should include a breakdown of everything needed: the menu, presents, cards, trees and sundries such as decorations. Decide how much money is available and assign a cost to each major category and item. The more detailed the better.

If the amount you plan to spend adds up to more than the total money you have set aside, then start pruning.

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That might mean trimming presents. It could also be checking out websites that break down the meal into serving sizes. No reason to buy 2kg of kumara when 1.5kg would do.

It's also a good idea to order your lists in terms of most important to least, so you can cut from the bottom up. Otherwise keep it all but shave a little off every item.

Plan templates are available to download and may include a calendar to ensure you're not paying more in petrol than you need to because you forgot something essential at the mall or supermarket.

Some tips I follow myself are:

Go BYO

Talk to family about "co-hosting" the celebration so you can divvy up the costs. An article last month asking whether guests should be charged for Christmas dinner polarised readers. I liked reader Tracey Hancock's comment that her family bought a Christmas food box and split the cost. Anyone who quibbles about that ought to be dumped from the Christmas list. If, like me, you live in the most suitable venue for the whānau to celebrate Christmas then you shouldn't be footing more than your share of the bill, unless you need your ego massaged. At the very least outline what you want every guest to bring.

Give the guilt a miss

If someone you know compares the cost of what you've given with their present, then you're the one in the right. If you're worried, broach the problem. Tell them you're budgeting this Christmas and you're only giving a: a token gift, or b: a gift of a specified value. An alternative is to suggest a secret Santa where each adult receives just one gift. But do make sure you give something the other person genuinely wants or, if you don't know who you're buying for, everyone can use.

Use an alternate wrapping paper

I watched the international student who is living with us wrapping presents to take home to Italy last week. She used old copies of the Herald from my recycle bin to wrap the gifts, in preference to the wrapping paper I offered. The outcome was stunning and this is the last year I buy wrapping paper.

You don't even need to buy string. Harakeke (flax) does the trick.

I've since found hundreds of ideas online for Christmas decorations made with newsprint. The point here is: don't buy Christmas consumerism. There are many ways to DIY. Even a natural Christmas tree can be constructed with ease from driftwood.

Give IOU notes

IOU a shopping trip together to buy your present. This really does milk your money for more pleasure when giving. That is providing you don't throw in a lunch or other expensive treat when you're out together.

Compare prices

It's always worth googling, checking on Trade Me and using price comparison sites such as PriceMe and PriceSpy.

Buy second hand

It doesn't always mean used. I've sold plenty of our cast offs on Trade Me that look new. Even if they don't only the truly small minded would care.

When it comes to the big day crack out the candles and the Christmas music. They'll get everyone in the mood and hopefully draw their attention away from any cost-cutting measures.