The Broke Person’s Guide to Christmas

Christmas has a tendency to drive us all a little money crazy. If you’re someone on a tight budget, here’s what you can to make sure the season stays a merry one.

Dashing through the store, with a big old Christmas list, hoping you can save, cash clenched in your fist!

Christmas is in the air. It’s on the radio, in store windows, on your coffee cups; it’s even on the trees! And while your heart may be filled with Christmas cheer, your wallet could end up empty if you aren’t careful.

Between travelling, shopping, cooking, and reindeer wrangling, this can become the most costliest time of the year. You want to have a big Christmas (or Hanukkah or Solstice or Kwanzaa or any other winter holiday or summer holiday for all of our Australian readers) but a big Christmas costs big money.

So how you can you be like a Scrooge at the end of the movie without having to be like Scrooge at the beginning of the movie? Grab your sleigh and read on!

Set a strict budget.

This is good advice throughout the year, but it’s especially important to keep your head clear as the sugarplum fairies are dancing across your mind.

“Set a total Christmas gift budget based on what you can afford and then make your Christmas list,” suggested Alanna Anthony, founder of Financialdemics (@Financialdemics).

“Everyone on your list should be assigned a max gift amount. The total of the gifts for everyone on your list should equal no more than your max gift budget. Try to keep a small buffer just in case you forget someone.”

And when it comes to who is on that list…

Not everyone needs a gift.

If you’re one of those people who just loves giving out gifts, you can end up with a very big Christmas list. And if those people have deep pockets, then more power to them. But if those pockets are a little bit shallower, it might be worth making the list a little bit narrower.

“You can save on gifts for Christmas by reducing the number of people you buy gifts for,” explained Anthony. “For example, buy gifts for only the children and maybe grandma, but not for the other adults in your family. Or if you have a large family, you can propose a gift swap.

I’m pretty sure your family members will be happy to keep some money in their pockets or buy something they wanted for themselves.”

Shop smarter.

Even if a gift isn’t pricey, if it shows that you understand what that person needs, it can come across as very thoughtful.

“Focus on fulfilling a need,” recommended Steven Millstein, Certified Financial Planner and the editor of CreditRepairExpert (@creditrepairex).

“Practical gifts don’t have to cost a fortune and are often more affordable than vanity gifts. A gift which is thoughtful and practical will often be better received by the recipient as it fulfills a genuine need.”

Stick to cash.

Paying in cash doesn’t just look cooler, it can also help you save.

“Pay only in cash,” Millstein told us. “The best strategy to avoid overspending and ending up on debt from gift purchases is to pay with cash. Every time you get your wallet out and fork over cash you’re reminded of what you’re spending and you’re not racking up credit card debt.”

Millstein also suggested an option that’s sort of the opposite of cash:

“Use your reward points for gifts. Many credit cards will offer a rewards program which you can use towards gifts or gift cards. This is great way to save on holiday gifts.”

You could even use a mix of the two!

Remember the reason for the season.

As you tend to find out at the end of pretty much every Christmas movie, the true reason for the season is not money. It’s love and giving and all of that good stuff. And remembering what it’s really about can also be beneficial for your bank account.

“Oftentimes, society and culture tells us that we need to spend more money to show love,” explained Katie Ziskind, therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling. “However, the best things in life aren’t physical gifts or material possessions.

“Focus on what really matters, which is building genuine and meaningful relationships with your loved ones. Your gift of presence can be enough. Don’t go on social media or look at your phone when you’re around your loved ones. Give your partner a back rub and provide affectionate touch.

“We all want to feel loved and wanted, so the best gift you can give will be the gift of your love and attention. Also, try making something homemade such as a painting or crafting project that your loved one can bring to work. Every time they look at it they will think of you and feel loved.

“Also, instead of giving physical gifts, give experiences such as theater tickets, or concert tickets. Experiencing a shared a memory can be talked about for years afterwards. A physical gift can often get very old quickly only a few weeks after Christmas.”

From all of us to you, we wish you happy holidays and a comfortable bank account balance. Be like a magical snowman and stay Frosty!

To learn more about having a fun, fiscally responsible Christmas, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

What are your best tips for a more affordable Christmas? We want to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Alanna Anthony is a Certified Financial Educator and a Personal Finance Coach who has paid off $48,000 in debt. She started is the founder of Financialdemics (@Financialdemics).
Steven Millstein is a professional personal finance writer and contributor to many leading financial publications. His work has been mentioned in and linked to from USA Today, The Bustle, The Huffington Post, Benzinga, Yahoo Finance, and many other publications.
Katie Ziskind is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a 500-hour registered yoga teacher, and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling. Wisdom Within Counseling, near East Lyme, Connecticut, is a practice that uses a holistic, integrative approach. Art, yoga, music, and outdoor therapies are woven together with talk therapy. Additionally, Wisdom Within Counseling, is an LGBTQIA+ friendly and advocates for youth and adults. Teletherapy and distance options are available.

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