How to avoid the debt hangover with these Xmas shopping tips

Co-author: Ellie McLachlan 

Christmas is just around the corner and, being the biggest spending time of the year, there’s constant pressure to spend more than you can afford. Here are some handy tips to help you hit the shops and still avoid debt hangover. 

Christmas presents – size does not always matter

Buying presents doesn’t always have to be an extravagant affair. There are plenty of ways to have a lovely Christmas break, without overdoing it.

Though we tend to buy, spend, eat and drink a lot more than we need to or should over the Christmas season, it’s surprisingly easy to cut down on all these expenses, if you don’t want to blow the budget.

For example, you could reuse the decorations from last year or even make your own instead of buying new ones.

Set Christmas spending expectations for your kids

asb turns money matters into childs play

A child’s Christmas wish list can go on forever – they have pretty good imaginations! So educate your children from the start that Christmas is not only about presents. Make them understand that most kids do not have the things they have, and it’s important to spend time with family and friends.

Combine practical gifts with the more expensive ones they are desperately wanting, and explain that sometimes the greatest gifts come in the tiniest packages. Sometimes one really nice gift is worth a lot more than a dozen little gifts.

If you don’t want to go down the path of clichés, then simply set them a dollar limit. Do it early – in November – and they can have hours of fun (and angst) pricing potential gifts and working out how to allocate those precious dollars for the best effect.

Buy the necessary stuff first 

If you have Christmas-related costs that are non-negotiable (an accommodation booking, for example, or Christmas food you’ve promised to make), buy them before you spend your money on anything else. That way you can cut back on the “extras” if you need to.

Obviously, you’ll need to buy things like gifts and food for your Christmas day meals, but perhaps give the flashy drinks and decorations a miss this year. You could always make your own, especially if you’ve got kids with a knack for arts and craft.

Save with home-made Christmas gifts

Be creative and make your own handmade gifts. There’s no doubt these will show the amount of effort you’re willing to put in and, in the end, will add quite a personal touch.  There are many simple and inspiring tutorials on the internet, so log on, and have a go!

Quality over quantity wins the day

A home fit for your family

Understand that sometimes the best Christmas gift you can give is quality time and not necessarily money. Elderly relatives immediately spring to mind, as do the Christmas work undertaken by various charities. Some examples of this include donating old blankets for a blanket drive or volunteering to help collect donations. Doing something for others can contribute a sense of accomplishment, charity, and satisfaction. Get the kids involved as well.

Buy Christmas gifts online

Instead of buying gifts from the first store you step in to, have a little shop around and give online shopping a try; you’ll be surprised by what you might find. Not only does online shopping save you a lot of time, but often it’s easier to find a bargain using online comparison tools on sites like PriceMe or PriceSpy.

The second-hand market, in particular, is growing in popularity, so check out sites like TradeMe or even Facebook Marketplace to score yourself a good deal.

Leading on from that, if you’ve got some junk lying around that you know you’ll never use, consider the option of selling it. It might be exactly what someone else is looking for, and you’ll save money along the way.

Run a Secret Santa

Running a Secret Santa with family and friends, rather than everyone buying a gift for everyone else, will considerably reduce the number of gifts you need to buy.

This has the advantage of:

  1. Not cluttering up your life with a lot of small things that you don’t really need.
  2. (Hopefully) ensuring that you receive one really nice gift that you actually want.
  3. Saving you money!

How does a Secret Santa work?

There are a few different ways you can run a Secret Santa, but generally all participants’ names are written on slips of paper, placed in a hat or a box and shuffled around. An approximate dollar limit is usually set (which can be as high or low as the group decides). Each person takes it in turn to draw out a slip of paper. The name written on that piece of paper is the person they must buy a gift for.

Budget for Christmas

Plan ahead and set a written Christmas budget. Once you’ve done so, make sure to not exceed it. Without a plan it’s easy to fall into the compulsive buying trap during this tempting season. Include gifts, decorations, parties, holidays and clothes in this budget and once you’ve set it, search around for bargains, sales and discount offers.

As hard as it may be, decline offers from people who have pricey festive plans.  Or, even better, suggest cheaper alternatives such as picnics, or beach days. You don’t need to avoid socialising altogether, you just might have to get a bit more creative with the ideas.

Pay for Christmas with cash

A great way to stay out of Christmas debt is to avoid relying on credit cards. Try to pay in cash and avoid using your credit card too much over the festive season. It’s too easy to rack up a debt for later if you buy on your credit card.

Studies have shown that often when paying with cash, people tend to be more careful about each dollar they spend, because the physical decline of the money in their wallet is a great visual reminder to be careful!

When using a credit card, people don’t have the physical cash on them and it’s harder to keep track of purchases made. However, there are apps to help you keep an eye on your credit card spending, so it all depends on your personal self-control as to whether credit cards can work for you.

Also, make sure to be cautious about ‘buy now, pay later’ retail offers such as Afterpay, unless you know for sure that you can manage the payments before the interest rate kicks in.

If you do decide to use your credit card this Christmas though, remember the golden rule: pay off your card in full each month, to dodge the credit card interest. And don’t forget to make sure you aren’t paying too much in interest by being on the wrong credit card to begin with! Canstar offers free comparison tools, so you can quickly scan the market.

compare credit cards with Canstar

If you’re going to run short, phone the bill issuer and negotiate a payment plan.Once the Christmas bare necessities are bought, pay all your bills that are going to fall due in the month. This will reduce the stress of non-payment, keep your credit rating squeaky clean, and give you a much better idea of what you can truly afford to spend on “extras”.

If you don’t have any bills due soon but you know they’re on their way, try setting aside as much money as possible so that when they do show up, you’re not caught out.

To finish…

Last, but not least, it is important to remember you can have a great deal of fun over Christmas, irrespective of how much you spend. And saving money doesn’t mean you have to stay at home either. Every city and region has lots of free things families can enjoy – from swimming, to outdoor movies, to walks.  Do a little bit of research – you might be surprised with what you find! Enjoy your Christmas break with a stocking full of presents, not a stocking full of debt.

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