Christmas is coming! Parties, family get-togethers, over-the-top decorations and lights, and even more parties are all big possibilities. But do you have the money to cover it all?
The downside to Christmas (other than late nights, expanding waistlines, and family get-togethers) is that it’s all too easy to go crazy and break your budget before the Fat Man starts laughing.
This list will prove just how simple it is to end up penniless by Christmas Eve (or earlier). We just ask that you use it as a warning, rather than advice.
1. Let’s Have a Party
Everyone loves a party, but throwing one just for the sake of it and finding you’ve broken the bank is a bad idea. The problem is that people do it, year after year, and find their bank accounts drained.
“But it’s Christmas!” they say. This overlooks the importance of always having some money put away for an emergency. It ignores bills that need paying and trips that might be necessary. We’ve all done it.
“It doesn’t matter, I get paid next week!” The problem, of course, is that next week is at the end of a 7- to 10-day run of parties. You don’t want to miss those because you broke the bank on your own shindig, do you?
If you want to throw a party, you certainly should. But plan it early, buy what you need within a strict budget, and don’t let it influence the rest of your seasonal plans.
2. Buy Massive Presents
Another way to mess up the Christmas budget is to go over the top and buy huge, outlandish gifts for children and adults alike. Don’t spend a ton of money on super presents if you can’t afford it.
We all know children like the boxes as much as the contents. We’re not suggesting you head down to the local supermarket, IKEA, or stationary shop to source some boxes far larger than the gifts you’re giving. Consider, instead, the quality of the gift and its value to the receiver.
When it comes to buying gifts, as we shall see below, the secret is in preparation and planning.
3. Prepare a Feast of Medieval Proportions
Christmas has meant many things over the years, and our current fascination with trees, gifts, and men in red and white suits stems from the 19th century. But then, as now, one of the main activities at Christmas is feasting. This intense approach to culinary campaigns has its roots in the winter festivals of old, and the gathering of food to survive the “Bleak Midwinter” made famous by the Christmas carol.
I’ve been guilty of overspending on the Christmas roast, and I suspect you have, too. It’s easy to do, but having multiple birds or joints of meat is potentially wasteful. That’s before we consider the range of accompanying vegetables, sauces and sides, desserts, and even drinks.
If you want to keep your food budget down, consider the size of the bird, the number of people expected, and cooking from scratch. Also, make sure you have space in your freezer for the leftover chunks of meat, and remember to freeze them the same day.
4. Party Hard!
There’s a party every night. You have a big circle of friends, and/or a large family, and you don’t want to miss out. You’re going to be at every single nighttime bash, and you won’t skip a minute (other than to drink far too much and have a poorly considered kiss under the mistletoe).
Another bad idea.
If parties cost money to hold, they also require money to attend, and bring a few drinks along, even if you abstain from alcohol. Then there’s the day after. Do you have the time and energy to attend a string of parties? If not, you’re pushing it, either by taking time off, or turning up at work and performing poorly. Or both.
In short, partying hard is not the action of a fiscally responsible adult (or teen). So choose your parties carefully — and stay at home to enjoy Christmas movies when you can.
5. Crazy, Crazy, Crazy Lights
That guy who puts dozens of lights around his house every November (or worse, doesn’t take them down all year long) is not a good example of sensible spending. On top of the initial expenditure, there’s the replacement bulbs and electricity to consider.
Don’t be like this guy. You want some lights up at Christmas? Fine, but keep it modest, and within your budget. Don’t break the bank for something you’ll only see (lit up, at least) for four weeks of the year.
6. Buy Too Many Gifts for Too Many People
My wife starts her Christmas shopping with the January sales, and finishes in the last week of November, if not earlier on Black Friday. With careful planning, and a list of recipients, we’re able to make sure the right people get the right number of gifts.
For instance, our children get 10 presents. Siblings and parents get two each. Then there’s the gifts we buy from our children. Your family may differ — this isn’t a problem. The key is ensuring a uniform spread of gifts and money, based appropriately around your relationships.
Accidentally buying too many gifts for your dad might seem cute, but if it upsets your budget, it can cause problems — the sort your dad wouldn’t want you to have. And you can make things more personal by designing your own cards, too.
7. Last-Minute Gifts
Gift buying is important. But not vital. If you didn’t get gifts in time for Christmas, don’t go crazy at the last minute. Not only is it stressful heading to the mall or city center to find gifts, it’s time-consuming. There’s also the added risk of buying more than you intended, either because you suddenly think it’s suitable, or because the sales have started early.
Planning your Christmas shopping is vital. Get it wrong and there is a very real chance that you will find yourself in debt by January.
That’s certainly not a great start to the New Year!
8. Forget Your Bills and Responsibilities
Another way to find yourself without a penny in late December/early January is to forget your existing responsibilities, just because it’s Christmas.
“Aww, it’s Christmas, bills can wait!” is not a sensible or acceptable response to monthly charges. Mortgages, rent, utilities, car payments, and insurance are all necessary; you made a contract to pay them on time, so you should honor that.
If you have a direct debit payment set up and spend the money reserved for bills, you’re risking the status of your credit score, as well as attracting bank charges.
At Christmas, as with other times of year, live within your means. Consider spending your time in other ways, such as with some Christmas-flavored DIY projects.
9. Overspend on Your Credit Card
One of the letters you won’t be looking forward to receiving this winter is your credit card bill. But if you decided to get your shopping done early, there’s a good chance that you opted to put it on your card.
While this might initially seem like a wise move, overspending is likely to land you with a big bill in December. That’s absolutely the wrong time to be receiving a large bill!
To avoid this, spread your Christmas shopping throughout the year, and don’t rely on your credit card.
10. Christmas: It’s Not About You
All in all, you’ve got to remember the basics about Christmas. It’s not about the gifts, or the food, or the decorations. Forget the lights and crazy decorations and other nonsense. Even if you’re not religious, or a Christian, Christmas is still about spending time with the people you love, and appreciating what you’ve got.
In short: it’s not about you. Christmas isn’t your ego trip. So don’t waste money you don’t have on gifts and food and decorations you can’t afford. As with every other month, stick to your budget, and feel that glow of satisfaction when you have money left over to save at the end of the month.
Don’t let hard cash hubris ruin Christmas.
Have you had a bad Christmas because you failed to control your spending? Got carried away by Santa’s sleigh? Tell us about it in the comments.