It just makes cents: Practical ways to survive the Silly Season without breaking the bank

Did you hear that? I did, too.

It’s the collective groan from all of us Xmas shoppers that emanates from somewhere deep inside when we overspend during the holiday season. It echoes off the walls of crowded shopping centres in an almost muted din. It’s resonates in the office just after the 1-day sale e-mails come through (because pressing that “BUY NOW!” button is just so easy.

It haunts all of us. My hands get clammy and I wince just think about logging into my bank account to check balances in early January. The damage isn’t going to be pretty.

The funny thing about over-spending during the Christmas Season is that most of the money we spent is guilt-money. The commercialisation of a holiday which is about family, spending time together and being thankful together has left a bad taste in my mouth.

As a kid, there’s nothing better than Christmas morning.

Rushing out to the front room before dawn to see the huge load of presents a jolly fat man in red velvet had left for us the night before. When I close my eyes, I can see the excitement in my younger brother’s eyes as a kid. I can feel my heart racing ever faster as we unwrapped gift after gift.

As an adult though, there’s a precarious balance that needs to be met: instilling in the young the joy of the holiday while not blowing the family budget for the year ahead. Looking back on Christmas now with the filter of adult financial responsibilities, a looming mortgage and other obligations I realize that my parents must’ve been stretched every year around the holidays.

But they never let on. They are saints.

I, however, am not a saint.

I am a realist and know that Christmas this year will be more about less. By that I mean we will be making sure our child has a great holiday. That there’s magic in each moment. Sparkle. Glitter. Laughter. Family.

In years past I have stretched our budget to near breaking points to ensure everyone we knew (and some people we only kinda-knew) got a gift. Most gifts were purely tokens. But at $20 a pop, the tokens sure added up.

This year I’m cutting out the fluff. No tokens. I’m only buying gifts for close family and friends (their children, actually). Our time is our most precious commodity, so without sounding like too much of a hippy, we’ll be giving out a lot of that as our gifts to our loved ones this year. It’s free. It’s the opposite of stressful when you spend it with friends…and it’s more valuable than any Xmas themed bauble.

Here are a few tips for saving a few bucks this Xmas:

1)      Set yourself a budget – and stick to it. If you don’t have any extra money for this time of year to spend on gifts, that’s okay. Just try not to put yourself in a negative financial position for the sake of pressure from advertisers that is everywhere you look at this time of year.

2)      Only buy gifts for close family and friends (in fact, cut it down to just the kids). That usually means only 5-8 people. Believe me you’ll save heaps by not buying too much of the “little things”.

3)      Do a family gift exchange. Draw names from a hat and set a limit to how much you’ll spent on that one person. It takes the stress out of having to buy something for everyone.

4)      Make a shared meal, a family BBQ or a Xmas Day swim the focus of the Holiday – not the receiving of gifts.

5)      Bake! There’s nothing better than a nice batch of brownies, a dozen chocolate chip cookies or some cupcakes. They’re cheap, cheerful (literally) and they go down a treat with young and old alike.

6)      Let go of the guilt of HAVING to buy something for everyone you know. It’s self-imposed and you’re not a Scrooge for wanting to spread good cheer instead of go bankrupt.

7)      Most importantly, remember that there are TONS of ways to make gifts that are as cheap as chips. When all else fails, there’s Google (“cheap and creative ideas for Christmas presents” is a good place to start).

8)      Have fun. No matter what, enjoy your time off work. Your time with family. Your time celebrating. All of these things are free.

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