By Frank Conway
According to a number of national reports, many Irish families spend approximately €2,700 on Christmas. As such, it is important to plan and set a budget if you wish to keep your family finances in order… and avoid a spending shock in early 2020.
The following tips have been developed as a guide to make the festive season a truly family one and less of a debt-filled one.
1. Gift List
While it may sound a little too formal for Christmas, creating a list is a proven way of setting goals successfully; Christmas can be expensive, a list provides a high degree of structure. With a list, you simply set out the overall plan of what you will buy (and what you can afford). Additionally, a Christmas list will help reduce stress in the lead-up to a time of year that can generate a lot of financial and social stress.
2. Time Tricks
Starting early means you will have plenty of time to not only shop around but also avoid any last minute express shipping costs if you buy online. This is often where families can get caught out… and blow a family budget when panic-buying takes over.
3. Ban the Guilt Gifts
OK, we all know how much gift giving has expanded over the years but often, we are as much influenced by savvy advertising as we are by our own convictions. Forget the advertisers; they won’t pay your bills when they arrive after the holidays, be prudent and buy smart and don’t buy out of guilt.
4. Vanishing Vouchers
Vouchers can sound like a really convenient way of expressing Christmas wishes but they have experienced ongoing problems in recent years where issuing retailers have gone out of business…and cards become worthless. While some retailers have been great, do you really want to take the chance of a voucher becoming worthless? Also, some popular gift cards, One4All is one example, begin taking a percentage of the card value monthly if you fail to activate it within the first 12 months of receiving it. This will lead to a rapid decrease of the value of the card via ‘administration charges’. So if you give (or receive) gift cards, make sure they are used promptly.
5. Spread the Joy
Why not consider buying some token gifts for your Gift List before Christmas and having a family fun day after Christmas to bag some bargains at the post-Christmas sales to secure some of the more expensive items. It’s a great way to show you care… without depleting your finances.
6. Kid Kraft
Unlike adults, young children can have an amazing appreciation for the simple act of unwrapping gifts. But before you think you might get away with a nicely wrapped box, not so fast. The point here is that it can be OK to hold back on buying certain branded items and go with more practical options, the level of appreciation can be just as great! Plus, you could also wait for some post-Christmas sales to bag an bargain… and spread the joy!
7. Web Wonders
Every good purchase begins with good research and the web provides a world of analysis, from best products to deals. A simple trick is to begin with your list and use some of the top comparison sites, like Amazon.com and eBay.com to check out what deals are to be had (including local ones). You might just find that your local retailer can match the best deals, before or after any shipping costs are added on. Also, if you are planning gifts on the expensive side, check out what reviews they receive. This is especially true of weekend-breaks, hotels, travel gift vouchers and even electronics. Better to pay once for quality than several times over for questionable quality! Finally, if you are shipping products from outside of Ireland, remember, there are a number of services that can help you avoid expensive shipping costs by tricking the sales retailer shipping processes. AddressPal from An Post provides a handy, low-cost shipment option from the USA or UK for Irish shoppers. ParcelMotel is another option.
8. Crimbo Cash
We can all be guilty of even the smallest level of hoarding. So, why not consider becoming a bit of a retailer yourself? Here, you might want take a look around your home and consider selling some items you no longer use or require. Check out eBay or DoneDeal for ideas, similar products to even get an estimated value. Also, its a really good way of recycling old items that you no longer need but which might be of use to someone else.
This year, you can make a real difference in the financial literacy space. Use the Christmas shopping period to get children involved in the budgeting, planning and buying process. Here, we are not specifically referring to the gift-buying side of Christmas spending but rather, food and decorations for example. Get children involved in comparison shopping for Christmas food items. It’s a great starting point for get kids to consider spending and value for money.
10. Return Rewards
Make sure you keep all of your receipts in order. You never know, your receiving party may just want to switch that gift for a different colour. They will need to act quickly and having receipts ensures a fast and secure return experience for them.
11. Consider others
There are many charities to choose from, making a donation to a cause that you feel makes a real difference can be a great way to help where it matters most. So, review your options and choose carefully but do look for charities that serve those over the Christmas period that make a real difference in the lives of others.
12. Become a volunteer
If you do not have the ready-cash to make a donation, why not consider giving time. There are many volunteer groups that offer fantastic services to the most needy in our society and even an hour of your time can make a real difference in the life of another.
Frank Conway is a qualified financial adviser and founder of MoneyWhizz, the financial literacy initiative. He is author of Ireland’s Essential Guide to Personal Finance.