Christmas has become incredibly commercialised. From as early as August, festive advertising is fair game. So when you’re faced with a constant barrage of things to buy, how can you possibly stop yourself from splurging?
Years ago, you got an orange. (If you were lucky and didn’t end up with a lump of coal, that is.) I won’t pretend that was ever my experience, but Christmas was a time for family and festive fun – kisses under the mistletoe, board games by the fire, and a deep feeling of goodwill to all.
And then, so slowly that you didn’t even notice, Christmas became about iPads and ponies. It’s all about the excess. (I’m guilty of falling for this myself.) Every which way you turn you’re told to spend more, more, MORE lest you be a letdown to your loved ones.
But it’s high time that bubble burst. Whether you’re short on savings or you just feel that Christmas needs to be turned down a notch or two, there are some ways you can stick to a budget and stop yourself from overspending. After all, you want your biggest surprise to be under the tree, not on your credit card statement.
And so you make a list and check it thrice. (Santa ain’t got nothin’ on you.) You write down everyone you (feel you) have to buy for, not forgetting that one cousin who always calls over on Christmas Eve with all her kids, even though you don’t see them for the 11 months in between.
Then you take a long hard look at yourself and your bank balance, and you start scratching off as many people as you comfortably can. You really don’t need to buy for everyone you’ve ever clapped eyes on, so keep your list short and sweet.
While you’re at it, consider eliminating Christmas cards from your budget too, or at least cutting back. If you truly do feel it’s necessary (and, again, you’ve shortened your list as much as you can), see how many you can hand-deliver. I mean, have you seen the price of stamps these days? 😛
Decide how much you really want to spend, and on whom. Extravagance and debt are sooo 2017, so do yourself a favour and keep it realistic. There are plenty of great gifts to be had for reasonable prices, so don’t fool yourself that it’s triple digits or bust (‘cause it'll end up being both).
Also avoid the trap that I seem to have fallen into – thinking you have to one-up last year in terms of the expense. The only thing you have to outdo is the thought that goes into the gift, not the ticket price.
Next, you get your thinking cap on and come up with some ideas for things the people on your list might like. A good friend of mine has this all wrapped up (Christmas pun totally intended) by picking a theme for each year, such as board games, and then chooses gifts accordingly. (She is my hero.)
Here are some other themes you could try:
- homewares (think cosy throws and sets of candlesticks);
- memories (such as picture frames or albums, a service for digitising old photos, or a little trinket that symbolises one of the happiest moments you shared);
- scents (like candles, perfumes, and colognes); or
- food and drink (maybe making up or buying small hampers of their favourite things).
Going forward, keep a note on your phone or a list in a notebook and, throughout the year, jot down ideas as inspiration strikes or when someone mentions something they like. That way, the next time it comes to buying gifts, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Remember too that you can go down the handmade route. I realise this isn’t for everyone, and Pinterest has brought us a long way from the humble mix-tape of my youth, but there are still great DIY options that require very little skill.
For instance, for Sam’s first Father’s Day, I made him a scrapbook. I printed out all the pictures I had of him and Scout together, as well as some cute clipart images. I then found a beautiful poem online and printed one line per page. Each double spread of the scrapbook had a line of the poem on the left and some pictures on the right.
I’ve also made photo books for family and, for our fourth wedding anniversary, I made Sam a candy bouquet using BBQ skewers and an old flower vase. It took hours and almost made me tear my hair out, but it was worth it. 🙂
Not all your gifts have to be handmade, but get creative if you can. It’ll take more time, but both you and the recipient will be thankful you did it.
Assuming you still have some gifts that will have to be bought, hop online to do some quick comparisons. Companies will be competing for your business, especially as they try to hit their end-of-year financial targets, so shop around for the best price.
Also remember to check for coupon codes. My first stop is always the company’s social media accounts. That’s where they’ll be enticing people with good offers. If that proves fruitless, I Google it. There are plenty of sites out there with a list of all the latest coupon codes and, though a lot will be duds, you’ll find the odd one that works. If all else fails, I sign up to their newsletter to see if they send a ‘thank you’ discount or a code for free shipping (after which I’ll swiftly unsubscribe).
I also have the “Honey” extension on my browser which will pop up at checkout if it thinks it has a coupon code and, at the click of a button, will automatically enter all the ones it has on file. 99% of the time, none of them are valid (in my experience), but sometimes they throw up some savings. And some is better than none. 😉
Another handy little trick that occasionally works is putting something in your online basket and then waiting a day or two. There are some stores that will email you (assuming you’ve signed up with them so they have your details) offering a discount if you complete your purchase. It only works in a handful of situations, but it’s still worth a try.
The great thing about having your list is that you won’t have to spend hours trawling around for something. Or, in an effort to make up for the fact that you didn’t put as much thought into it as you could have, spending a little more than you were willing to pay.
Also, by shopping online (preferably in your pyjamas) you’re avoiding the frenzied, panic-buying state that other shoppers will have whipped themselves up into. There’s nothing quite like the glow of twinkly lights to hypnotise you into thinking everything around you is a must-have.
Bonus? You’ll save on parking and the inevitable stop for a spot of lunch too.
When you’re searching for your gifts online, don’t forget places like eBay and Craigslist. They may not be somewhere you’d ordinarily think to shop, given that a lot of the contents can be second hand, but I once found an amazing gift on eBay. It was exactly what I’d been looking for, brand new in the box (an unwanted wedding present), and it cost me a third of what I would’ve paid in a store. To say I was excited was an understatement, and the recipient was thrilled with it.
Don’t be afraid, either, to re-purpose things you already have on hand. On occasion, I’ve re-gifted things I had no use for (having already hung onto them for quite a while). Why have something hanging around taking up space when someone else could be putting it to good use? (Just be sure you don’t re-gift it to the person who originally gave it to you!)
Another great way to save money is to skip the wrapping service and expensive gift bags. They may seem like convenient extras, but they all add up. Instead, make an evening of it, either alone or with friends. Pop on some Christmas music, grab some snacks, gather your supplies together, and get wrapping. (This is another area where re-purposing works a treat. I always save gift-wrap, gift bags, boxes, ribbons, etc. from stuff I receive, and then re-use. Waste not, want not, folks.)
The only exception to this is if you’re getting a gift basket of, for example, cosmetics or skincare products. In those cases, you should let the sales person work their magic. (It’s usually free anyway.) With the addition of tissue paper and some cleverly placed samples, they can have the simplest of gifts looking splendiferous. Stand back, and let them work their cellophane magic.
If you still have to buy supplies, hit up a dollar store. No-one’s going to notice your wrapping paper isn’t top quality (especially if you stick a nice bow on it), and it’s only going to get ripped apart anyway. Ditto cards. Better yet, get your kids to make some or, if you’re crafty, make a few yourself. Those are always the most special.
One final thought (though, actually, it should be your first), is to start this process early. The later you leave it, the more likely you’ll be to give into the panic and buy something expensive. Giving yourself plenty of time helps you stay on-script so you can find the most meaningful gifts at the best prices.
Christmas comes but once a year, so don’t stress about it. And certainly don’t spend the other 11 months of the year paying for it.
Do you have any tips to add? I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads so leave them in the comments!
And if you’re stuck for gift ideas, I’ve got you sorted there too: