MoneyTimes - December 3, 2013

Posted by Jill Kerby on December 03 2013 @ 09:00




There has been a rule in this house for quite a few years: Christmas doesn’t usually begin until the second week in December and the tree most certainly does not go up before the third weekend of the month.

So far, so good.

Limiting Christmas to a few weeks keeps it special and meaningful. While I am a confirmed fan of Christmas, I stopped being a fan of the excessive spending that can happen long before the Celtic Christmas Tiger arrived in the early 2000s and witnesses too many people who, when their credit card bill arrived in January, regretted the foolish, extravagant buying the previous month.

Regular readers of this column know that the best way to control spending and enjoy the celebration is to not lose control right from the start. No matter how early your Christmas begins – and I know plenty of people who buy things throughout the year that they put away for Christmas in order to spread out the expense – a proper budget and a plan is the key.

With no little ones waiting for Santa’s arrival in our house anymore, gift-giving focuses on practical stuff and a special treat.  With The Child going on a cheap ski holiday with his college in January, he’ll be getting new gloves and goggles (Lidl provided the new ski jacket for his birthday in November), and the elves will make sure that his dad’s skis, which The Child has inherited, will be sharpened and waxed and ready for the slopes.

I’m going to make his favourite fudge and will put a little stack of DVDs in his stocking (and maybe some nice aftershave!)

Everyone else on my shopping list this year is going to get baked goods, the sweet, old family recipes that I only make once a year but that everyone loves. I will also recycle my large book collection by giving everyone a book that I will choose with care to suit their interests or hobbies.  

There are all sorts of other ways to keep a Christmas spending budget down, and Kris Kindle is a long time favourite: everyone gets to pull a name out of hat and there is an agreed spending limit. Whether this works out at €10 or €100 you do your best to buy something the person will like and that suits them. Some families do a Kris Kindle ‘services’ draw that involves no money:  everyone offers to ‘do something’ for or with the person whose name they draw. 

For example, if you pick out Granny, that might mean offering to do some gardening, or to chauffer her to church or the shops. If you pull out your sister’s name, and she has small children, babysitting duties can be arranged, or you can offer to bake all the birthday cakes for the next year. (Good luck with the teens, though I know someone who took the 18 year old whose name he picked, out for several hours of driving practise in the run up to the boy getting his full licence.)

If you are planning to hit the high street this month, here are my top tips for keeping your purchases within budget and not succumbing to last minute buying panic”

-       Make a budget.  How much can you afford to spend for the tree and decorations and wrapping paper, Christmas dinner and other meals, alcohol, snacks, entertainment, gifts, travel costs.

-       Make shopping lists. Mark down everyone you wish to gift. Consider their likes and dislikes (not yours) and jot down some ideas beside each name.

-       Use the internet to check out prices/availability, especially of toys.

-       Consider a ‘theme’ of gifts – books, DVDs, CDs, subscriptions (a family gift of an annual Netflix subscription?)  Indoor and outdoor plants, fancy chocolates, jams, chutneys and other lovely jars of foodstuff are always welcome, and you can always make some of these yourself.  I’ve given lovely candles, soap, picture frames, and I’ve recycled tree ornaments and pieces of jewellery and many books that I no longer use, wear or read. A dear friend now gives away pieces of furniture, paintings, china and silver at Christmas to her grandchildren for their “bottom drawers” or to help furnish their first homes.

-       Be organised.  Get into town early. Park near the shops and make sure you have plenty of change for the meter. Bring a snack, small water bottle.

-       Choose a single payment method – cash, debit card or credit card, not all three.

-       Don’t bring spouses or children along with you unless they agree to be human pack horses, bringing bags and packages back to the car, or home.

-       Don’t overdress and wear comfy shoes. Use handbags with an anti-pickpocket strap across your body.

-       Don’t shop on an empty stomach or when tired. You’ll only end up overspending.



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