It’s beginning to look a lot like (a debt free) Christmas

678732_santa I know, I can hear you groaning. There are still three whole months until Christmas and you don’t want to even think about it yet, right? But believe me, Santa will be here with bells on before we know it.

When we think about Christmas, we usually think about spending time with family, lots of food, singing carols and of course giving gifts, but it is also a time when many Australians dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt with the old credit card.

Here are some stats on Christmas credit card spending in Australia:

  • Australians spent around $22 billion over the 2009 Christmas period
  • About one third of credit card debt for the average person is accrued just over the Christmas period
  • It takes the average person around six months to pay off their Christmas / New Year splurge
  • At the beginning of 2010, Australian owed a whopping $45 billion dollars on their credit cards

Does frugal equal Christmas Scrooge?

Avoid debt by having a frugal Christmas? Does that mean disappointing the children, family and friends? Do I have to look forward to $2 Shop presents? What about the iPad that I asked for?

The perception that I often come across is that if you budget, keep the decorating modest and golly gosh, even make your presents, then you just haven’t gotten into the spirit of things.

Phooey.

In fact, if you’re reading this, then you already know this is rubbish. Christmas is not about how much money you part with. Yes, giving and receiving gifts is fun, along with eating until you’re stuffed like the turkey on the table, but it’s more about enjoying the festive traditions you create yourself.

Start your own family tradition

The unique way that you celebrate Christmas will be what you and your family cherish and remember long after the gifts are forgotten. Can you remember what you got last year? The year before? I bet you can remember what you did to celebrate Christmas though. A frugal Christmas rich in family tradition will be better than an expensive gift giving bonanza.

You might decorate the tree in the backyard, instead of buying one for inside the house. Or you might use a potted tree, watching it grow year after year. You might go away or have Christmas on the beach. You might have a family tradition of 12 days of crafting decorations. Or driving around looking at Christmas lights around your town rather than decorating your own house with lights (that’s one of our traditions).

You can have a frugal family Christmas tradition, without all the stereotypical trimmings, and still celebrate in style. After all, the overweight, bearded Santa in the red suit was made up by Coca Cola. If a soft drink company can influence the way we celebrate Christmas, then we should be able to make our own traditions.

Frugal doesn’t have to mean going without, though. Below are some ideas for enjoying Christmas on a budget (even if you do want that iPad) without the credit card hangover.

Start saving for Christmas if you haven’t already

If you’re one of the super organised, you will have started your Christmas fund way back in January. If you’re more like me and saving for Christmas is a good intention that doesn’t eventuate, then now is as good a time as any to save for the silly season. The more you save now, the less you go into debt later.

Jot down a rough Christmas budget and don’t forget to include things like parties and nibbles and decorations as well as the gifts, divide this up by 10 and that’s how much you need to save each week before Christmas.

Present and accounted for

Now is also the time to think about gifts for family or friends so that you can keep an eye out for bargains or make them yourself.

Start by writing a list of people you need to buy gifts for and note down any gift ideas (the June newsletter included an excel gift list template). Write down everyone you can think of and then consider whether some people on the list will suffice with a card or some homemade biscuits. If you have a huge family, consider discussing having a Kris Kringle or only buying for the kids.

Next, set a budget for how much you want to spend on each person and try to stick to that budget.

Start shopping around now, keeping an eye out for bargains, there are sales all the way up until Christmas. Alternatively, try online. It is particularly important to shop now if you are considering ordering items online from overseas.

Get Crafty

I make a lot of gifts myself. They are always well received. Most people appreciate the time, effort and thought that go into homemade gifts. The ‘rules’ still apply to making homemade gifts: personalise it. Make sure the recipient will be delighted when they open their present. Match the gift to their hobbies or interests and you can’t go wrong.

What if you don’t know what their interests are? Think about conversations you’ve had in the past with the recipient and mine those conversations for clues as to their interests. Scroll through their Facebook page. Look at the things they link to or ‘like’. Browse their book collection. Ask someone who knows them. Or ask them directly. Just some ideas.

Don’t forget the gift wrap and Christmas cards. Try plain brown or white paper and decorate it yourself of get the kids to decorate it. Jazz it up with ribbon. Wrap presents in fabric so that it can be reused. Make your own cards and gift tags or print some free from the internet.

And then there are the decorations. My grandmother used to collect pine cones and wrap tinsel around them. While she died many years ago, we still bring out those pine cones every year. It’s a special reminder. Make your own bunting, paper garlands, wreaths and table decorations. Bring the outside in by using items found in nature to decorate your home for Christmas.

For more ideas on homemade gifts and decorations, check out the links in this month’s newsletter, or the handmade section on the blog.

Food and festivities

When it comes to planning for Christmas, we (or at least I do) tend to focus on the gifts and forget about the rest of the kit and caboodle that goes along with the big day. Food, drink, decorations, entertaining all add up.

So to avoid a big grocery bill at Christmas, rationalise what you want to consume over the season.  Start stocking up now on non-perishables like drink or tinned goods that you intend to eat over Christmas. Keep an eye out for meat specials to freeze for the big day. Buy an item or two each grocery shop to put away for Christmas and it will take the sting out of the Christmas food bill.

Consider what nibbles and other food you can make yourself and prepare in advance to take the hassle out of last minute preparations. You could stock up on ingredients for these too.

I know that three months is a long time from Christmas, but by thinking about it now, saving and planning ahead, you avoid the hefty credit card bill afterwards, which is a nice way to start the new year.

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