The most wonderful time of the year is on its way. The kids will be jingle-belling and everyone will be telling you to “be of good cheer”.
So why are many of us anxious, filled with guilt, stressed and come out of this most wonderful season, deeply regretting the debt we’ve racked up and skidded through the whole season without one ounce of joy?
Three simple words explain what happens – we lose control.
So the following is a sample plan, no apologies, yes it is a financial plan, to help keep control of the whole season and find the joy that is there under the visa bills and piles of guilt.
The goal of this plan is to enjoy Christmas, the marshmallows for roasting and all the mistletoe-ing!
So, as with all financial plans, the first thing to write down is the goal. Let’s call it
Recipe for a Breakeven Christmas.
Then, with input from the whole family, list what is important to you all this season. Be realistic and let the children understand the parameters you are working within. The best gift possible is to give the children the tools to be self-sustaining in the future. So don’t keep the fiscal side of Christmas a mystery.
If this is the year that you have to break with tradition and not take that plane trip to see Grandma, come up with ideas to make sure that you’re still together: phone or Skype or exchange photos. Find out what is most important for each member of your family. Often it is taking time to experience something together–not the latest and greatest techno-gizmo–that makes Christmas so special.
If you have a large adult family it is not realistic to buy gifts for everyone. Gift exchanges can be so much fun. Children’s expectations come from their parents so with enough preparation and involvement in the process they will be able to share the joy. One large family in Ottawa chooses a modest gift for each child which they helped choose. Then, on Christmas Eve, Mum and Dad, load up enormous work socks with wonderful delights: candies, a full size chocolate bar, a can of favourite pop, the biggest oranges in the store, a brand new comb, new markers. Nothing is expensive and dad gets new socks later on too.
The fun of Christmas is being creative within your resources.
Now that you have the list of what you would like your Christmas to look like, make a timeline of when you believe your Christmas expenses will arise and when outside influences are most likely to impact your finances: school parties, gifts for those around you, work party, relative visits, charity gifts. Surprises are a good excuse to lose control, so account for everything. What are your financial obligations?
How much extra will you probably need?
Divide this by twelve weeks. Then, starting NOW–find this amount each week and keep it in a special savings account. Where do you find the extra money? Clip coupons and put the savings into the account, save grocery store points for the turkey, cut out a discretionary expense. Maybe look for a small part time job, but remember: that time is probably the best gift you can give your family so doing something together to save money might work even better. If you cannot find the extra money go back to the list and trim it. Trim as often as you need. For example: instead of cooking for the whole extended family, have a Christmas pot luck. Someone else might be itching to make the cranberry sauce.
The best discipline is transparency, so go back to the family and let them help with ideas. Review together at the end of November and share the tasks ahead. This ensures no sneaky spending!
Then on Christmas Day allow time to sit back, watch the hearts that are glowing and taste the glory of this Christmas. The ones of long, long ago are OK but this year will be the best.
(Don’t forget to let us know how you did too)