By Liisa Tatem, CPA, CA, CBV, CFDS, FPSC Level 1®
Christmas can be like a runaway sleigh. You’re bundled up and warm, enjoying the dips and turns of holiday fun, when you realize that your budget bounced off the sleigh into a snowbank and you’re careening out of control into a ditch of debt. You wake up January 1st with an empty wallet and a massive holiday headache.
Heavy-handed metaphor? Maybe, but if you’re like many Canadians, I bet you can relate.
Professional services firm, PwC Canada, predicts that Canadians will spend an average of $1,507 this holiday season on travel, gifts and entertainment. An annual survey by Ebates.ca predicts gift spending at around $570 for the average Canadian and up to an average of $710 for Canadian parents.
But let’s not forget all the hidden expenses that often aren’t part of those predictions. Holiday clothes for everyone (often even the family dog), hostess gifts, office potlucks, more frequent take-out dinners (because there isn’t time to cook), school Christmas concerts, extra charitable donations (school food drives, point-of-sale requests for donations while shopping), baking supplies, and more money spent on gas as your bustle around town. Even hosting a holiday party for friends, in addition to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, can quickly up-swing your December expenses significantly.
With Christmas just around the corner, I have some ideas and strategies that can help you stay in control of your holiday “sleigh ride.”
Truly Experience Gratitude
Most people are grateful for what they have. They appreciate that they have a career, health, family, friends, and a home with all the “stuff” to make life comfortable. But at the same time, so many of us don’t take the time to really feel that gratitude.
Being truly grateful has been shown in studies, time and time again, to make us feel more positive towards our lives. It can improve emotional and physical health and even impact our careers. And while the spirit of Christmas encourages us to be grateful for all that we have, culturally we have turned Christmas into an event that we have to pull off with great panache and expense. Holiday stress is becoming normalized—if we aren’t frantic for time and stressed over money, we mustn’t be putting the right effort into the holiday.
Taking time for gratitude may well become something that you enjoy all year long. Here’s what to do:
Make it a daily habit: Couple a few minutes of gratitude with something you already do each day. You can practice gratitude on your daily commute, during your exercise routine, while you walk your dog or as you brush your teeth. Think of one or two things you are grateful for and why. They don’t have to be big things; in fact noticing all the small things in your life makes you more attentive to all the good surrounding you. Try to come up with new things every day.
Stay mindful as you shop: Before you purchase anything, think about why you are buying it. Are you buying it to make yourself feel better about something? You know it won’t really help, and may in fact make you feel worse. If it’s a gift for someone else, is it something they really need? Could you do some activity together instead?
Share your gratitude: If during your daily gratitude ritual you find yourself being grateful for something that a family member, friend, or co-worker did, let them know that their actions are appreciated. Again it can be little things. You could mention to a neighbour how much you appreciate their Christmas lights.
When you truly experience gratitude, you can take a breath, and know that your life, just as it is, is enough. And most importantly, that, that warm fuzzy holiday feeling we’re after, comes from being together, not from what we’ve wrapped up in a box with a bow. It’s from the laughter at the party, not the new outfit we’re wearing.
Have a Plan and Be Creative
Decide how much you can afford to spend in total and then divide it up into categories like groceries, gifts and entertainment. Track your spending daily so you know if you’re on budget or not.
If you realize you got caught up in the season and went overboard on some of your gifts, take a breath and see if you can return some things before the regrets set in come January. Maybe you can find something less expensive, and include a heartfelt note that will likely resonate with the recipient long after the holidays.
Perhaps those rewards points you’ve been collecting all year can help keep your expenses in check. Depending on what loyalty cards you use, you may be able to use points for gifts and groceries.
Some of the best gifts don’t come from a store at all. If you can sew or knit, you can make wonderfully personal gifts. If time is short, you could bake cookies or breads. What about all those photos on your phone? There could be a great memory with a friend in all those files. Print it out and put it in a frame and you’ll have a gift you’d never find at a mall.
Ask for Help
It can be great fun to have house guests at Christmas, but not if you get weighed down with all the work and expense. Let house guests know in advance that you would appreciate a contribution to the food budget. It can become a fun part of the visit if guests are responsible for at least one of the dinners.
Even if people are coming just for the holiday meal, asking them to contribute a side dish or dessert is not out of line.
Don’t Try to Do It All
Holiday movies, visits to Santa, parties, concerts, more parties, craft shows, brunches, lunches and still more parties. No one can do it all. Don’t let “Cheer” pressure make you attend every event and activity, especially if they are going to leave you with a spending hangover.
Do the things that mean something to you and to your family. Making a snowman in the backyard, or cutting out paper snowflakes at the kitchen table, can be a lot more fun than an event that requires kids to dress up and sit still for hours.
Despite all the holiday frenzy, Christmas doesn’t have to be a runaway sleigh. With mindfulness, gratitude and creativity, you can bring that sleigh to a gentle stop, and head indoors for hot chocolate by the fire.