Christmas Spending Survival Guide

Co-author: James Hurwood

If you’d rather not start the New Year with a new debt, here’s a Christmas spending survival guide to help you smarten up your holiday habits.

What a great time of year it is. All of the 2016 elections are finished; it’s summer (if not officially, then at least temperature-wise); there are plenty of public holidays on the horizon – and people are more likely to be in a good mood. What’s not to love about the lead-up to the festive season?

Perhaps the only small cloud attached to the seasonal silver lining is the amount of credit card debt we will stack up over the summer break.

If you’d rather not start the New Year with a new debt, here’s a quick Christmas spending survival guide, to help you smarten up your spending in three main seasonal areas.

More Budgeting & Saving Tips from CANSTAR

1. Presents

Many of us have a number of gifts that we need to buy – some big and some small. But if you don’t shop smart, your gift shopping might leave a rather nasty hole in your pocket. Here are some tips on how to make gift shopping a little easier on your wallet.

Christmas presents

Don’t wait till the holidays to buy

Which sounds more attractive; spending hundreds of dollars within a single week in December, or spreading that same amount across several weeks and months of the year? If you can sort out at least a few of your purchases throughout the year, your wallet will thank you when it comes time for doing the bulk of your holiday shopping in November and December. You could even take advantage of the mid-year sales to do a majority of your gift shopping, and leave yourself with very little that needs buying in the lead-up to the 25th!

Plan your spending

A lack of planning is your budget’s absolute worst enemy; there’s nothing more risky than walking into a shopping center with no pre-determined budget or idea of who’s getting what. Take half an hour out of your evening at home to sit down and sort out how much you can afford to spend on gifts this season, list the people you need to buy gifts for, and figure out what you could get them within your budget.

We’re not encouraging thriftiness at the expense of your loved ones, but everyone knows that fun shared experiences and thoughtful gifts make more of an impact. Spending a lot of money will not make your friends and family feel more loved, but thoughtfulness will. With a bit of Googling or catalogue reading, you may find something that isn’t overly pricey but still makes a splendid gift.

Use good old DIY ethics

If you’ve got a knack for craft, or can cook and bake up a storm in the kitchen, why not give homemade gifts rather than spending money? Hampers filled with handmade knick-knacks and baked goods make for a wonderful gift, especially if they’ve got a variety of interesting and useful things within. Cookies, candles, bookmarks, decorative ornaments… The list of things you could make is only limited by your imagination.

Do a family-wide Secret Santa

If you and your immediate family are confident that you could make it work, why not try a Secret Santa? Not only would it be much easier on the family wallet, but it would potentially encourage a bit more thought being given to what’s being bought. It can take some serious brainpower to find a gift that could be just as well-received by a mother as it could by a young child!

Resist the urge to treat yourself

Gift shopping around Christmas time can easily transform into an unbridled shopping spree, rather than a focused and disciplined exercise in gift-buying. Resist the urge to indulge in the latter by only entering stores you need to, and avoiding that most dangerous of exercises, window-shopping. If you conduct your gift-buying with a strict “in and out” mentality, and leave once you’ve got everything on your list, you’ll be in the green when it comes to your budget.

2. Holidays

A summer break holiday is often on the cards for families, but they’re often more expensive than you’d think, and can become unworkable on top of the other costs of the holiday season. Here are our tips for making sure your summer holiday is both enjoyable and affordable.

No debt holiday

Go camping

If you and your family are the outdoorsy or adventurous type, why not go camping? While you’ll still incur a handful of costs (petrol, site fees, food, etc.) a camping trip is still generally quite a bit cheaper than other types of holidays. Check out these campsites rated highly by CANSTAR staff members or these 7 amazing national parks in Australia.

Essential Camping Gear Buying Guide

Make use of bargain holiday sites

You might be able to afford a full-price summer holiday, but a bit of a discount goes a long way towards your Christmas budget! Have a look for a bargain on sites such as Lastminute, Wotif.com, and Airbnb or Stayz, where you might find the same or a similar holiday for a lower price. Shopping around never hurt anyone!

Pack smart

If you are indeed planning on heading away for a holiday, don’t be blasé about your secondary expenditures; plan a budget for your groceries and stick to it! An easy way to save on unnecessary spending is to pack smart – why spend $15 on a bottle of sunscreen or a hat when you can just remember to pack it in the first place?

Also see if there are any ways you can save on fuel and groceries by way of coupons. The key point here is that a bit of forethought and careful planning can save you many dollars down the track.

Go on a road trip

Accommodation expenses can often be the (rather significant) straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to holiday planning, so why not avoid them altogether? Hire a campervan and go on a road trip around the state – or the country! While it definitely takes a specific kind of family to make this one work, it’s certainly a viable option.

And as we’ve written about here, many hire car companies need their vehicles moved from one centre to another. So you could make money and avoid accommodation costs just by driving their campervan from one city to another.

Have a stay-cation

It sounds a bit underwhelming, but you might be underestimating just how much fun there is to be had from putting aside a week to have at home doing absolutely nothing. Stock up on games, movies, and activities like cooking special meals, and you might have more fun at home than you would away!

3. Parties

It’s called the silly season for a reason. How much can you spend on fun? We’d say the answer is “whatever’s left after everything else is paid for,” but some may not be so confident in their ability to reign in the spending when it comes to holiday merriment. Here are our tips for smart spending in regards to Christmas season partying.

Christmas party

Limit your spending from the get-go

If you’re the type of person that leaves home with strict rules on expenditure but becomes spend-happy after a few drinks, save yourself the temptation and leave the cards (both credit and debit) at home. Take out a pre-determined amount of cash and put that in your wallet to physically limit the amount you can spend on the night.

Don’t lie to yourself

When you don’t have any money, but have just received an invitation to go out, it can be tempting to get a bit “selective” about how you view your finances.

“I don’t have any money in my transaction account, but I haven’t got a balance on my credit card this week, so I’m fine to go out!”

Don’t do it. If you’ve got no money, be an adult about it and admit that you’ve got no money, and therefore can’t go out. You’ll thank yourself after the FOMO (fear of missing out) has faded the next morning, and so will your wallet.

Avoid the cocktails

If you’ve got money and are planning on hitting the town, don’t be exorbitant for the sake of it. Why pay $20 for a cocktail when some bars sell basic mixed drinks and beers for a fiver? Buying cocktails seems even sillier when you consider the fact that many of the more colorful ones are surprisingly low in alcohol, and rather high in sugar. While we don’t encourage picking drinks purely for their alcohol content, there’s something to be said for getting bang for your buck when it comes to alcoholic drinks.

Use a future night out as incentive for responsible spending

If you’re planning on going out on Saturday, but it’s only Monday, that’s five whole days where you could potentially overspend and leave yourself unable to enjoy your night out. Use the night out as a carrot dangled in front of you to encourage responsible spending throughout the week. Not only will you have ample cash to spend on the night out when it arrives, but you might even be able to put some money into your savings if you were especially frugal.

Consider your health

If the prospect of being broke isn’t enough to help you reign in your party spending, why not consider your health? If you’re going full-out and having anywhere from 3-8 drinks on a night out once or twice a week (at least), your body will be feeling the strain from that kind of excess, especially if you’re coupling it with unhealthy dietary choices or a smoking habit.

Give a thought to your health before going out for the third time in a week, and not only will your body be grateful, but your wallet definitely won’t be too upset either. You’ll even get cheaper health insurance if you drink and smoke less.

Compare Health Insurance

Well, there you have it! Those are 15 of the best money-saving tips we could come up with for the holiday season, and to be honest we’d be incredibly surprised if your finances couldn’t survive the Christmas season after reading this article. Good luck, and happy holidays!

More Budgeting & Saving Tips from CANSTAR

Hero Image by Kokkai Ng (iStockphoto)

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