If there's one thing scarier than a pre-Christmas to-do list, it's a post-Christmas credit card statement. You can avoid or alleviate the financial worry of paying for Christmas, says Janet Ferrando, an independent financial adviser in Toronto, by planning your holiday spending the same way you plan (or should plan) the rest of your family finances. "Knowing what you want and why you want it is the key to staying on track and reducing stress in everything we do," says Ferrando. "Christmas is no different."
16 holiday financial stress-busters
1. Sit the whole family down and list, in order, your priorities for the season. The first should be your overall goal (for example, "enjoy a loving, spiritually meaningful week with my family"). All subsequent items ("attend Christmas Eve church service," "take kids on Christmas-lights tour") should flow from that. You'll be surprised at how low "vacuum living room curtains" comes on the list.
2. Put financial estimates beside each point (many won't cost anything).
3. Flesh out your budget for the holiday. Include cards, decorations, gifts, food, entertaining and all travel expenses.
4. Keep your budget with your gift list to keep your spending priorities literally in sight.
5. If you don't have enough cash on hand this year to meet your budget, you have two options: slash your budget to match your resources or take on some debt. If you must do the latter, plan ahead how you'll pay it off.
6. Be aware that credit companies often raise credit limits at this time of year to encourage buying. Don't max out your card! You could end up with a whopping bill come January.
7. After Christmas, analyze. Did you stick to your budget? If not, why not? If it was absolutely impossible to meet your priorities with the amount you allowed, you'll need to raise your limit for next year. If you were simply sidetracked, write down why and how.
8. Determine your Christmas budget for next year and how much you'll need to save every month until then to avoid going into debt.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out even more ways to save during the holidays on page 2.
9. Once you've decided to scale back on gift giving, how do you tell kids who have come to expect a certain outlay? "Parents are a lot more aware than children of the cost of gifts they're getting," says Christine Langlois. "You could probably cut back quite a bit without them noticing – as long as the rituals and celebrations are the same."
10. Older kids, of course, can be prepared ahead of time if Christmas is going to seem more downscale. Include them in the discussions and let them be part of the solution. "You can explain to teens that finances are a bit tight this year or that you'd like to scale back on gifts in favour of other activities," says Christine.
11. Scale back transparently, suggests associate art director JoAnn McHardy, by buying a number of inexpensive items and wrapping them individually.
12. Keep to a tight gift-giving budget by being creative - and that doesn't mean making all your gifts. "This year my father is taking my granddad, who is now in a home, to the tavern for the afternoon. An inexpensive yet priceless gift for an aged, nearly blind man," wrote Diana Hyman of Tottenham, Ont. "Time together is the greatest gift of all, especially to our parents and grandparents."
13. Susan Chung of Toronto gives out gift certificates she makes herself for meals or evenings at her place. Certificates can be for movies and munchies, coffee and homemade dessert, or a home-cooked meal.
14. Are any of the gifts on your buy-for list "duty gifts"? Send a great card instead.
15. Party and dress-up clothes are notoriously expensive - and little used. Check out nearly-new options for everybody in the family at thrift stores like Ex-Toggery, Value Village, Once Upon a Child and local consignment shops.
16. Instead of splurging on decor, buy lengths of wide red and green ribbon at a craft store and tie bows on everything: doorknobs, banisters and the candelabra, suggests food and nutrition senior editor Beverley Renahan.
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