As we relax and unwind over the holidays, it is easy to loosen our grip on our finances. With most retailers already in full festive season swing and Black Friday only days away, being caught up in the excitement of the upcoming festivities is only natural. From now until after new year, we are being urged to shop, spend, buy, spoil and splash-out, making it difficult to keep finances in check. Here are our top 10 tips to ensure that your budget doesn’t go on holiday this Christmas:
If you have a financial plan in place, your festive season spend should have already been budgeted for. Even so, it is always a worthwhile exercise to map out your anticipated festive season expenditure as this will help you keep tabs on where your money is going. In the hype of Christmas, it is easy to lose control of costs and a detailed budget is vital for financial survival over the season. With many people being paid earlier than normal in December, January can be a particularly long and stressful month. Your festive season budgeting should take into account the costs of January as well, especially if you have school-going children. Allow room in your budget for unforeseeable events such as tyre punctures, additional guests and spur-of-the-moment adventures. The key to festive season budgeting is finding a balance between your holiday goals and your longer-term finances.
Don’t borrow to spend
If you haven’t already saved up for this festive season, the worst thing you could possibly do is borrow money to spend. Credit and retail card debt is expensive, not always transparent and riddled with terms and conditions. Borrowing money now to cover festive season costs will leave you with a financial hang-over in January, so avoid this completely. Opting for a frugal Christmas this year means you will be able to start saving early in the new year for next year’s festive season.
Control your online impulses
Online shopping is a great way to browse, compare prices and shop for Christmas presents. However, it is easy to lose track of one’s online purchases and get carried away with the online bargains and specials. Events such as Black Friday and sites such as onedayonly.co.za blur our logic and cause us to rationalise unnecessary expenditure. Be intentional and specific about what you want to purchase online.
Put heart into your gifting
Hand-made or locally made Christmas gifts, together with personalised messages and wrapping, are so much more meaningful than store-bought and wrapped gifts. It is more important now than ever before to support local businesses, craft markets and pop-up gift stores. A meaningful, handwritten card or letter is a priceless gift. Plan your gifting ahead of time and put careful thought into choosing thoughtful, locally-made and environmentally-friendly gifts.
Don’t bank on your bonus
There is no legislation forcing employers to pay year-end bonuses to their employees and, in a struggling economy, the annual bonus is often the first perk to fall away. Our advice is to prepare your festive season budget as if you are not going to receive a bonus. If you do happen to receive a bonus, use it smartly to pay off debt and reduce your monthly costs next year. Bear in mind, of course, that any bonus received will be taxed at your normal tax rate.
Starting your Christmas shopping early means you have time to look around for specials, compare prices and find the best deals, whilst at the same time avoiding last-minute panicked purchases which can also be expensive. Take time during the month of November to do some Christmas shopping, using a gift list to control spending. In last-minute shopping frenzies closer to Christmas, people often tend to purchase gifts that are way more expensive than they had budgeted for or purchase gifts for people they hadn’t originally considered buying for. Once again, careful and timeous planning can save lots of money.
As soon as children are old enough to understand, talk to them about your Christmas budget. Setting a price limit on gifts will help manage expectations and avoid disappointment. As children get older, seek to spoil them with ‘experience’ gifts rather than material possessions. Material things, such as a new cell phone, soon form part of our every day lives and the novelty wears off quickly. On the other hand, experiences become part of who we are and can be consumed together with friends, family and special people. Research has proven that the joy of experiences lasts significantly longer than the joy of receiving a material possession. It is also a good opportunity for parents to ‘walk the talk’ by demonstrating to children that material things simply don’t make you as happy as memorable experiences do.
Manage your convenience costs
Take-aways, restaurant dinners, Uber rides and festive season ‘spoils’ add up quickly and can really unhinge your holiday budget. Avoid being swept up in the hype of festive season where every retailer is tempting you outright to ‘spoil yourself’ and ‘blow your budget’ this season. Choose your holiday activities carefully and include them in your budget plan. Eating our is enormously expensive and can be a massive drain on your budget. All local food retailers have fabulous discounts and specials over this period, and there are so many fantastic ways to entertainment at home over the summer months.
Beware of scams
With more cell phone and bank card transactions than normal over the festive season, it is easy for us to fall victims of scams during this busy period. In particular, be careful of ATM and online banking scams. Rental agencies have also cautioned against rental scams where fraudsters advertise fictitious holiday homes for rent. The festive season usually sees a rise in fake online shops and social media scams offering discounted goods, services or holidays. Sadly, is also a rise in charity phishing scams over this period. Be overly cautious, double-check every transaction and report anything that appears suspicious as soon as possible.
While Christmas is a time of gifting and spoiling for many of us, the vast majority of South Africans are struggling financially and may not be looking forward to this season. There are so many charities and NPOs that need our help – whether in the form of time, money, resources or skills – providing us with endless opportunities to get involved and give to those less fortunate than ourselves. It was Anne Frank who wisely said, ‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’
Every purchase you make today is a withdrawal against your future financial freedom. Spend wisely.