THE year is flying by. After dealing with the back to school money challenges, the next significant hurdle in sight is Christmas. Like a flash, Christmas will be upon us.
For many people, just the thought of the extra stress of this time of year can lead to latent depression. An early plan will allow us all to make the most of the Christmas season while reducing the stress on our personal finances.
Over the years, Christmas has become the time for renovating the home, buying new furniture and appliances, enjoying the food and drink of the season, and buying gifts for family and friends. Generally, Christmas spending is much higher than the same period in the average month.
Some employers cooperate, too, by providing pay advances or bonuses during December. The problem with many shoppers is that they tend to go overboard and spend more than they can afford.
The barrage of advertisements and Christmas competitions in the media starts the pressure to spend indiscriminately. Here are pointers on controlling that stress this year.
Budget: Let us stick to a tried and proven way of getting through the Christmas season by preparing a budget well in advance. This budget should reflect both your expected income and planned expenses.
Yet, if you have been relatively consistent in maintaining a budget all year, you may be able to afford to spend an additional amount which would have been saved over the past months in order to make Christmas special.
It is important to list all your planned spending in as much detail as possible. You should list the individual expenditure on all the extra Christmas fare, from the new furniture and appliances to the Christmas parties, cards and gifts.
If you are under unusual financial stress this year, have that talk with your family and friends. They may be as relieved as you would be to arrange a gift exchange system instead. Another reasonable way of reducing the cost of gifts is to declare up front that you will be only giving to children, say, under 18 years of age.
Once expectations are made clear up front, there appears to be less chance of disappointment. So, a basic ground rule for preserving the seasonal goodwill and peace is to discuss and agree on any unusual gift behaviour with the planned recipients early.
Affordable Gifts: It is useful to set a price range within your budget for each gift before starting to shop. Sales clerks are quite helpful with ideas when you can tell them your price range. It is also one of the best ways to stick to your budget.
You can stretch your budgeted spending by considering gifts that are not hard on the pocket. For example, you can arrange a joint outing to the circus or cinema for children. If you have the time and interest, the home-made gifts such as cakes, sweets, jellies, wine, clothing and other craft items can make precious presents.
Arranging a get-together for family and/or friends and serving the food and drink of the season can be your special treat.
Time can be a premium. The precious gift of your time, service and knowledge is also desirable in other ways. You can commit to doing a special chore or service for a week, month or even the entire year to come.
Remember Charity: In all your giving, do remember those in need, the homeless, the shut-ins, the sick, the disabled, the hungry and the abused.
It takes little of your time to volunteer to help the needy, and to encourage and cheer them through your presence.
• Louise Fairsave is a personal financial management adviser, providing practical advice on money and estate matters. Her advice is general in nature; readers should seek advice about their specific circumstances.
This column is sponsored by the Barbados Workers’ Union Co-op Credit Union Ltd.