Christmas can be insanely expensive. And for us, that’s probably not going to change. As much as I want to save more and more, I’m not about to give up Christmas.
For the last two years, MongrelPunt and I have had Christmas together as a family. Last year, we had our little baby with us. These last few years we’ve been doing Christmas on our (my) terms. I roast a crazy amount of potatoes. I strangle our tree with all the tinsel I can find. I eat a cheesecake by wandering past the fridge with a spoon every five minutes and I enjoy myself without guilt. It’s just me, Mongrel Punt and Baby Mongrel.
But it is still expensive. In the year we started having Christmas in our own house, I indulged by getting a big fake tree and a whole bunch of decorations. I seriously dragged Mongrel Punt to a store called The Christmas Cave about five times last year. I go a bit bonkers in The Christmas Cave. I can’t help it. I want every colour scheme and shiny bauble that is in my line of vision. So we brought home a bit of a haul.
But I also promised him that those decorations will be re-used every year, until baby mongrel starts making more for me out of paper and macaroni. Really, the re-usable stuff wasn’t the thing that hurts our budget (I’m ok with being in denial about this). It’s the damn presents.
Christmas is a commercial holiday. Money will be spent. But it’s also a good time to exercise caution and restraint (says the woman who is desperate to have a face-full of cheesecake).
According to the Commonwealth Bank, people spend about $345 more on Christmas than they plan to. Worse, 60% of Australians don’t bother setting a budget for their spending.
Like a large number of Aussies, we screwed up this year. Royally.
Mongrel Punt and I have never actually talked about presents or the limits we put on them. We don’t buy for many people really. We cater for the mongrel gift exchange – a few friends, my parents, his daughters. But we end up spending quite a bit. Of course, the concept of “quite a bit” is relative. I come from a family where Christmas was about the food (what a surprise), and the presents were a fun and cheap addition. So $10-$50 would be my range, and I buy people dumb/silly stuff. Mongrel Punt prefers a more flexible budget and a more personal touch to his gifts. Basically, I act like a fifteen year old boy, and he is a thoughtful adult.
I discovered this when we were doing our Christmas shopping this year. In previous years, we sort of just took care of things in a mad rush. This year we planned our shopping in advance. Except we forgot to have the rather important discussion about how much we would spend.
So we had that conversation in the middle of a giant shopping center:
MOF: We already have something for person x.
MP: Yeah, but I’m going to get them this as well.
MOF: Why? We’ve already spent $50.
MP: Because that was just a part of their present, right?
MOF: Oh. Oh dear.
There’s not much that can be done about the budget this Christmas. We compromised, and with some guilty memories about Mongrel Punt suffering in the Christmas Cave, we broke out the debit card. But everything will change next Christmas because we will be regularly putting away money in our brand new ‘presents and frivolity fund’. Yes, it’s ridiculous that we need this, but I don’t want to be penny pinching and ruining fun events because I don’t want our savings to dip.
So now that the money for next year is taken care of, what about the actual restraint part? We have none. We are so awful at it, I can only hope that a firm budget will keep us in line. When we shop, we see something that Cousin Jake would like and we get it. Then we go looking for something for Uncle Gary, but find something else that’s perfect for Jake. So we buy that too. Instead of putting it away for Jake’s birthday, we decide it will go in his stocking. And so on…
How do we stop this? It’s a boring no-frills solution. We must stick to a budget. What’s realistic per person? There needs to be a firm upper limit that doesn’t stretch. If you don’t spend all that money on that particular person, then roll it over into next year’s Christmas budget. Heck, just make your money jar your Christmas fund and you’re sorted.
People who are extreme about Christmas often fall into two camps – those who insist that everyone gets a card and presents no matter what, and those who insist that Christmas is awful and commercial and therefore they are boycotting. The latter is fine – there’s no need to be involved, but don’t ruin it for other people. And be consistent. You really shouldn’t reject Christmas one year and then expect presents from your family the next. If you need to bow out of Christmas because you’re broke then say so. Or do biscuit packs. Bake some small biscuits, wrap them in the cellophane and distribute them. Seriously. There’s effort and time involved here, and not a lot of money at all. If you’re able to pipe icing initials onto the biscuits then even better.
And the people who go into debt over Christmas? Often these are the same people who are upset when they don’t receive a lot from others. They get caught up in the presents, and equate gift giving and receiving with love. They pretty much have to learn the hard way that gift giving isn’t an even exchange.
This kind of thinking is hugely problematic, because not everyone feels that presents=love, and not everyone can afford to indulge other people. Think about it – there might be mum, dad, grandma, grandpa, sisters, brothers, boyfriends/girlfriends, cousins, in-laws, best friends, close friends, colleagues, neighbours, mentors and of course, all of the kids. Let’s say the average spend is around $20 per person. That’s insane for anyone let alone someone who is in debt.
If you are broke or in debt and you are buying presents for all your cousins, neighbours and colleagues, then STOP. If you have a large family, then make Christmas about the kids rather than the adults – upsetting for the older folk? Well then do a Kris Kringle. But above all, make a budget, don’t go into debt, and don’t be guilted into making a monetary display of love. Be smart about your money and your relationships rather than getting swept up by the financial sinkhole that is the ‘magic’ of Christmas. Hold onto your cash.
Unless of course you’re buying me something from The Christmas Cave.