Avoid Christmas debt with these simple ways to save money during the holiday season.
1. Create a holiday spending plan
Before you can stay on budget, you need to know what you have available to spend. A simple spreadsheet is one place to start. "It really is about tracking all the categories of expenses," says Angela Self of Smart Cookies, a Vancouver-based money club. "You spend $50 on a person but then you add in the wrap, or taking bottles of wine to a holiday party—all of that needs to be included in your budget."
Some of the items Angela suggests people budget for include:
• Gifts, including hostess gifts
• Stockings and "Santa gifts"
• Clothing and accessories for holiday events
2. Downsize your shopping list—and stick to
Saving over the holidays also starts with being honest with yourself. If you have a limited budget, you may not be able to give gifts to all your friends' friends, or you may want to look for Christmas-themed colouring books at dollar stores rather than full out gifts.
3. Redo the timing
Sometimes savings can be found simply by changing the time of day: Meet family friends at a kid-friendly spot for breakfast rather than dinner, or organize a brunch or milk-and-cookies party rather than a full-out dinner.
4. De-glitz your agenda
Instead of buying tickets to the hottest kids' show in town, check out what local churches and community groups are offering in terms of holiday concerts. Go for a drive to admire the lights around town. Or just break out the board games and light a fire at home.
5. Give time rather than money
Rather than circling the mall for gifts to give the family with everything, try an invitation to enjoy an afternoon at the skating rink together instead. Giving new parents babysitting hours always makes a great gift.
6. Save on token gifts
Do your mom-friends really want that ribbon-wrapped candle or box of inexpensive brandy beans? Try a card with a note about something they've done for you or a way they've inspired you instead. Real appreciation doesn't necessarily involve packaged goods, and others may be thankful you've bucked the trend.
7. Get grateful
One way to refocus your holiday spending is to get in touch with the less fortunate. Have the family volunteer at a local food bank or soup kitchen as early on in the holiday madness as possible. You may find your kids' wish lists shrink.
8. Be a borrower
Looking for the perfect display for your heirloom ornaments, or kid-safe plastic and wooden decorations to substitute for glass orbs? Ask around; your friends might be able to loan or trade items that are languishing in their storage closets.
9. Partner up
Get your partner on board. Agree to exchange love letters and spend time together—or consider going in together on something you would buy in any case, like a family gym membership—rather than setting yourselves up for stress when the January bills come in.
10. Get real
If your kids want something that is beyond your family's budget, it is absolutely OK to say "no," and doing so will provide them with the language they need to avoid debt in the future. That goes for Santa, too: With all the boys and girls he needs to help out, even his magical ability has a limit.