Budgeting and Saving

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Practical Tips to Avoid Debt During the Holiday Season

With a week to go before the big day, you’ve got the big bushy Christmas tree, the perfectly wrapped presents, the festive turkey with all the fixings, and all of the other details that come with the holidays. From dinner parties to dressing up and decorating the home, it’s no wonder at all why the holiday season induces stress and panic for Canadians who are dealing with debt or trying to make their savings goals by year-end.

Canadians are geared up to spend a steep $1,593 this year over the holidays, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report. But these spenders – mostly Millennials – are worried about their credit card debt piling up, the report warns.

If you’re paying off debts and are accustomed to a monthly budget, figuring out how to fit in Christmas spending can feel like a daunting task. Fifty-five percent of Canadians say they’re cutting back on holiday gifts and spending out of fear of getting further into the red, according to a separate Equifax Canada survey.

If you’re wondering how you’re going to pull off avoiding your credit card and adding to your debt during the holiday season, we’ve got your back. Here’s our list of practical ways you can steer clear of extra spending during the holiday season that covers different vantage points from economical, creative, and even personal.

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Make Sacrifices in Your Day-to-Day Routine

If you’re looking for wiggle room in your budget to free up for festive spending, the first place you’ll need to look is in the discretionary parts of your budget.

Your fixed expenses include rent and utilities, while your discretionary spending is a bit more flexible and includes groceries, shopping, entertainment, and eating out.

Holiday entertaining on a budget.

Knowing that December will be a particularly expensive month, make sacrifices in your regular routine. Forgo your morning Starbucks coffee and skip on lunches out, or opt to bring in a thermos and a packed lunch from home instead.

Because December is such a busy month packed with holiday parties, workplace potlucks, and a constant stream of snacks and meals on offer, you may not even miss your everyday spending routine when you trim your discretionary spending. You can vow to cook cheap, simple meals at home during the month to offset all of the dinners out or at friends’ houses. Both your bank account and your waistline will thank you.

By strategically making sacrifices in your monthly budget, you’ll automatically give your Christmas spending some buffer room and avoid going into debt.

Create New Family Traditions

Since when did Christmas have to be about a mountain of presents?

Set the tone for your family’s priorities each Christmas by introducing new family traditions that offer experiences, sentimentality, and fun.

There are no set rules for family traditions – you can choose activities that are near and dear to everyone’s hearts. Some families love to go ice skating – with hot chocolate and marshmallows – on a frozen canal, while others look forward to baking and decorating cookies, or building gingerbread houses while classic Christmas movies play in the background.

If your family is looking for new traditions, consider giving back to the community by volunteering at a soup kitchen or helping with the local food drive.

Have you noticed a pattern with these traditions? They don’t involve Christmas wish lists and unwrapping presents and the focus is on a family activity instead. Not only is ushering in new family traditions a great tactic to save money and steer clear of debt – ultimately, it’s these activities that forge long-lasting memories and the nostalgia that comes with Christmastime.

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Make Gifts to Add Sentimental Value

You don’t necessarily need to splurge on expensive gifts to tell your loved ones you care about them. At Christmas time, it’s genuinely the thought that counts.

When possible, think outside of the box and make custom-made gifts that are tailored to your family and friends’ passions and interests. If your siblings are eager for you to share your chocolate chip cookie recipe, buy the dry ingredients, such as flour, brown sugar, and chocolate chips, pour them into mason jars, and decorate with ribbon, holly and a handwritten recipe card attached to make a thoughtful gift they can put to use right away. You could do the same for your classic minestrone soup, for example.

If your dad loves fishing, buy a simple tackle box and fill each section with candies, such as Swedish fish, gummy worms, Twizzlers and other fishing-related treats. You can add a message, letting him know these sweets will give him the sugar rush he needs so he’s ready for the big catch.

The ideas are endless, from getting a favourite photo printed and framed for a friend to making your partner “love coupons” for a massage, a home-cooked dinner, or a free pass on doing the laundry.

Put your skills to work whether it’s sewing, knitting, or crocheting tote bags, scarves, cozy socks, or quilts for your family to painting, drawing, or making Christmas cards for a personal touch. Those of us with a green thumb can even make an arrangement of succulents for a co-worker’s office or an herb garden for a loved one who likes to cook.

Making gifts shows you’ve put thought and time into your gift-giving – and it’ll save you quite a bit on your Christmas spending. Rather than rush out and buy a last-minute gift, if whatever you’re making won’t be quite ready in time for Christmas, let your loved one know it’s coming for New Year’s.

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Get Into the Habit of No Spend Days

Personal finance aficionados swear by No Spend Days at least once a week to keep their budgeting and savings on track.

A No Spend Day is precisely what it sounds like – a day in which you don’t touch your cash, debit or credit cards. You simply rely on everything you already have, from the gas in your car to get to work, your pantry of food staples and ingredients in your fridge for meals, and your Netflix account for entertainment.

It’s a great way to keep your spending under wraps, use what you have around the house, and stop yourself from accumulating more. Some people even enforce No Spend Weeks.

Sprinkle a few No Spend Days into your holiday season – it may not be as difficult as you think, especially if your fridge is overflowing with leftovers, and the whole family is indoors by the fireplace. These No Spend Days add some balance to your spending habits – as one day comes with Christmas shopping, buying groceries, or spending on entertainment, then the next few days can be easier on the wallet.

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Have Your Christmas Gifts Do Double Duty

Some presents are the gifts that keep on giving – even in the savings department. Parents who are stretched thin on their budget could gift their kids with a surprise summer vacation or March break getaway. The kids will love their Christmas present of a family trip, and your family can allocate their budget for Christmas gifts towards the travel fund.

Gifts like vouchers to the local zoo, the museum, or the water park also do double duty as a Christmas gift and an excursion for a later date.

Couples can do the same – more often than not, a loved one may be happier to receive an experience like a getaway to the spa or a long weekend break than a material possession. The countdown to the trip is also exciting for the whole family.

For busy parents with kids, Christmas is also a great time to gift your little ones with the things they need from new clothes for school, sports equipment, or books and other gadgets.

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Redeem Your Gift Cards and Rewards Points

Our wallets hold more than cash, coins, and bank cards. They’re also a treasure trove of gift cards, credit notes, loyalty cards, and credit cards with rewards points.

While you may have received gift cards to treat yourself at birthdays or other holidays, now may be the best time to redeem them to pay for December’s long list of expenses whether it’s for the season’s festivities or for everyday items during the month.

The same goes for your loyalty cards and rewards points tied to your credit cards – look into trading them in for discounts on your purchases, free travel or hotel stays if you’re visiting out-of-town relatives, or for gift cards, electronics or other items that would make a nice gift.

Remember, vintage is back in too – if you have the time to scour the racks in vintage shops, and you know your loved one has an affinity for throwback sweaters, vinyl, or antique furniture, you never know what hidden gems you may find.

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Cut Back on Spending on Holiday Dining

The tell-tale sign of an indulgent Christmas is a tight pair of pants post-holidays and a couple of extra pounds. Between hosting family gatherings to catching up with friends at expensive dinners, pant sizes go up and bank accounts take a dip.

In a CIBC Christmas poll, 40 percent of Canadians said that buying food and alcohol to entertain their family and friends is what pushed them over their budgets. Another 32 percent said that eating out was their most worrisome expense over the holidays.

Rein in the spending on eating by suggesting festive get togethers at home instead of eating out – this swap alone will save everyone money by avoiding restaurant-priced meals and drinks. You also won’t be rushed out of the venue and can eat, drink, and be merry on your own clock.

Friends and family can also suggest a potluck meal, so each loved one can bring wine, snacks and nibbles, sides, and other dishes. Those hosting can be in charge of the turkey.

Consider a Gift Exchange

Gone are the days of buying everyone in your family a Christmas gift. Try to emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to gift-giving by suggesting a Secret Santa exchange among family members instead.

Write down the names of everyone taking part, and have each family member draw a name out of a hat so they know who they’re buying for. After that, agree to a maximum amount that can be spent on gifts.

On Christmas Day, instead of receiving a handful of gifts, you’ll receive one gift that your loved one has picked out especially for you.

If it’s too late to arrange it for this year, start suggesting it for next year and firm up the plan in January. This swap is often a major stress-reliever for families, so they can focus on enjoying the holiday season instead of accumulating and wrapping handfuls of gifts for everyone.

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Do It Yourself

If you’re shelling out at the kiosk in the shopping mall to have your gifts wrapped, or you’re paying a premium for prepared charcuterie boards and chopped veggies, you could opt to do the legwork yourself to save money.

If your finances are tight, it’s worth your time to take on these extra steps to cut back on your spending. Every little bit counts, after all. Homemade cookies are cheaper, tastier, and add to the Christmas cheer too!

Plan For the Year Ahead to Stay Out of Debt

The wisest thing you can do to keep yourself out of debt during the holiday season is to better prepare yourself by setting aside funds throughout the year.

Coming up with around $1,600 is a near impossible feat to pull off in one month’s – or one week’s – time, guaranteeing you’ll dip into credit and go into debt to cover your Christmas expenses. But if you aim to spend $1,600, and start saving roughly $145 each month beginning in January, you won’t have to worry about making ends meet by December. Even setting aside $50 a month could get you a $600 head start on holiday shopping.

Future-proof your finances. You know the holiday season comes by every year, so make sure you’re prepared for it.

Related articles:

How to Save $465 in 30 Days
Start Planning for Christmas in July – Here’s How
Why Looking Back at Old Credit Card Bills is a Good Idea

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