As I started to dust my decorations off for the holiday season, I was genuinely excited about buying my friends and family some gifts and kicking off the season. As I cleared out my closet and started assembling my Christmas tree, I stumbled on a credit card bill that I received at the end of January. Then all those holiday memories really came back – the uneasiness when I got that bill in the mail, the worry of how I was going to pay it off and the relief when the final payment was made. Great – there goes those excited feelings. Really, I want to avoid what I like to call “the January Blues”.
I’m not sure if many of you feel the same or not but I find it really hard to manage my spending around this time of year. I want to so much – as I know what will happen come January, with disappointment setting in about all that I owe. However, I just find it really hard to resist buying the special people in my life gifts I know they will love, indulging in a few more nights out than I normally would and buying all the best yummy food there is. The holiday season in Canada breeds indulgence all around – don’t you think?
When I got my credit card statement I had to reflect if all that spending was really worth it. What did I remember most about this time of year, really? Well, I remember all the happy and excited face on my little nephew when I gave him that gift he didn’t expect to get. I also remember a lot of laughs with a few friends I hadn’t seen a while. Then, something suddenly dawned on me – if most of my memories were about emotions, why did they have to cost me so much and add to my blues in January? It got me wondering if I’m alone in my quest to be without the January blues…so I started to investigate…
As I normally do, I surfed the web and saw that many of us go through the same highs and lows in the months surrounding Christmas. First, in November, there’s anticipation for the Christmas season that’s approaching. Then, as December 25th approaches there are local events, holiday parties and sales going on everywhere that we look. Then, once all the Christmas celebrations are out of the way we have more in the form of Boxing Day sales, New Year’s Eve and other festivities. It’s about two months of going out, eating and shopping. There’s no wonder that when January hits we’re all bummed out – the fun has gone but so has all our money.
Most of us don’t just spend money on presents either, although this certainly makes up a big chunk of our excess spending. I know I always end up buying extra outfits for the different functions and parties, I always have higher food bills even on the nights I’m not cooking, then there’s the grocery bill for Christmas Day, especially those years where I’ve hosted the meal for our family.
The exhaustion ends in a climax with the stress of the January credit card bill arriving and us realizing just how much the silly season has cost us. Don’t get me wrong – I love this time of year. I love the catch-ups, the gift-giving and the champagne. However, this year after thinking about it, I think that I’d love it more if I set my expectations early, made a plan and stuck to it as closely as possible.
Since I’ve consciously thought about this stuff right now, I feel that I’ve got an obligation to myself to be a smart mom this year and avoid entering 2014 with a financial hangover. Here are some tips I found that I’m going to follow:
1) Creating a budget: I’ve already started this but I plan to set a budget for Christmas presents, then I will make a list of everyone I’m buying for, what I want to buy them and the amount the present should cost. If these presents exceed my budget, I’ll either have to shorten the list unfortunately, choose a different present or see if I can find a used version on eBay. I’m sure that I’ll make it work.
2) Make a family deal: trying to save money is not a rare things these days so I’m thinking of having a discussion with some of my friends and family about it. I’ve heard that some large families or circle of friends do Kris Kringle, where each person buys for only one person. This way it can reduce financial stress and means the gift can be a more valuable present, rather than a lot of lower-priced ones. You can also maximize this by keeping an eye out for the best deals. Although you want to manage your money you should always be keeping an eye out for the best deals too.
3) Setting a spending limit: I’ve done this before during my university days where money was slim. We can all set price limits for the gifts we’re going to buy one another. Also we could always agree that instead of buying gifts this year, we’ll all go out together for dinner, to a show or some other experience to celebrate. Even better, if you decide to hit the town, why not look out for a daily deal for a nice restaurant in your area. Nowadays, in the Groupon world that we live in, you can get a lot of value from some of the restaurants that are right in your own neighbourhood.
4) Pot luck: this was one of my favourite things to do as a kid. Remember, where everyone brought something to the party you went to? If you’re hosting Christmas lunches or parties, ask your friends or family to bring something. You might set a menu and ask each person to bring a plate or you might simply ask people to bring a course. As adults we forget that most people want to help so it’s great to ask everyone if they can pitch in a bit – I’m thinking this will help me financially but also time-wise for the Christmas party I’m having in a couple of weeks.
5) No more clothes: I realize that I don’t really need a new dress as I have many that have never seen the light of day already. However I love shopping and if there’s an excuse to buy something, I’m there. If you know that you don’t really need that dress, try to stick with what you’ve got. Holiday party dresses can cost a lot and this way you can save some of that money for other gifts or as a savings from the holiday season. If I feel that I really have to get something, I guess I can always hit the thrift shop where someone else’s trash can be someone else’s treasure.
These 5 simple steps seem very easy for me to integrate into my holiday shopping. I’m hoping that by following these 5 simple steps I’ll be able to avoid those January Blues I’m so worried about. Most of all, I’m hoping that by doing a few simple things to take control over my spending more, I’ll be able to kick back and enjoy the season like I really want to!!