Found yourself in the red this January after a too-festive season? Lisa Templeton has some advice on keeping costs low next time around
It’s a bit of a dilemma. The festive season is all about gifts, good food with family and loved ones, parties, and getting away. This is our fun time, except it costs us. And starting a new year in the red with a pile of bills isn’t that much fun, after all.
So how do we balance a memorable festive season with extra costs, such as petrol, travel, gifts, entertainment, accommodation and food? Basically, it’s like anything else – prepare for it, budget for it and stay in control.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you get all caught up in the festive-season whirl, sit down and work out how much money you have to spare. Add up your regular monthly costs (such as your rent or bond, car, food and insurance) and then consider any costs you will have to cover in January, such as school fees. Always retain a little cushion of money for anything unexpected this month and the next.
Once you have added your regular costs for December and January, you can work out how much (or how little) you have to spare for festive-season expenses. It is not worth causing yourself stress over a time that should be a celebration, so be realistic and think laterally around some of your costs.
WHAT ARE THE EXTRA EXPENSES?
Food is a core part of celebrating and often we want to spoil those we love, but catering for others or eating out can get expensive. Give yourself a realistic food budget and pore over
the cookery books to work out some impressive meals that don’t cost a fortune, or consider pot-luck meals – where everyone brings a dish – if the budget doesn’t stretch that far. Be careful where you eat out, and what you order. Limit drinks, for example, which add up.
’Tis the season to buy lots of presents, whether we are celebrating the holidays or just visiting relatives. Choosing the right gift for everyone can be stressful enough without worrying about having to fork out loads of money. Could you narrow down your list? Must you give individual gifts? Maybe consider giving families a joint gift, such as a board game, movie tickets or a treat basket, or think of making or baking gifts. You could also team up with other family members to help you with filling all those stockings.
Many of us are on the move, going on holiday or visiting family. But travel is expensive. Remember to add up all your costs around travel – fuel and oil for the car, food on the road, bus or air tickets, and accommodation. There are many easy ways to cut back on holiday expenses, such as carrying tap water, taking padkos, staying in self-catering or camping venues, and making sure that your tyres are topped up and your windows are kept closed to improve your fuel economy. Let your budget dictate your choices.
With many of us away from work, and the children on school holidays, this is a great time for day trips and treats with the family. Look to the budget to see what you can afford – a movie night or lunch somewhere – and beyond that, look at things you can do for free. The sun is shining, the beach is hot and the parks are waiting. There is so much to enjoy without blowing money and you will enjoy the costly treats so much more if you know they are budgeted for and your spending is in control.
This is definitely something you can embrace without breaking the bank. Try out low-cost, effective decorating tricks, such as using brown paper as a runner down your festive-season table or stringing up popcorn to hang from windows. Get inspiration from websites such as pinterest.com and rope in your children to help with budget decor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Don’t forget this is a time to enjoy all we have and to be grateful for family and friends. You don’t have to go into debt to make it happy and memorable. Just keep reminding yourself that you will enjoy it so much more if you are not stressed about cash flow come the new year. Then look forward to 2016 and all it brings – with your debt under control.
• Write down your detailed budget on paper and show it to your family to get their buy-in on holiday spending.
• Keep an eye on your bank account to check you are not overspending.
• Don’t take anyone shopping with you! We all know that shopping with a friend, sister or kids can lead to temptation.
• Hide your credit card. Take cash when out for a meal or shopping and stick to the money you have on you.
• Pay yourself first. It’s important to keep paying into your savings. If you get a bonus, put at least half into your bond or savings too.