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Right-size your holiday budget

Useful tips to not Scrooge yourself during the festive season.

Buying the perfect gifts, hosting glorious parties and seeking out amazing memory-making family adventures can make for a magical holiday experience. But it can also leave many household budgets stretched to the max. All that merrymaking can quickly lead to financial pain when credit card bills start rolling in.

In a 2017 survey, nearly two-thirds of respondents felt that holiday spending was out of control, with more than half saying they expected to spend more than anticipated.[1] So what’s the perfect balance between fun and fiscal restraint? Here are a few tips to help stay festive without breaking the bank.

Plan ahead

One of the hardest things for most people is finding extra money to cover additional holiday expenses. Creating a budget and using easy savings strategies can help alleviate some of the spending pressure. Take a positive first step by figuring out what you can afford to spend and then talking to your bank about setting up a special savings account with automatic weekly, biweekly or monthly deposits.[2] Open communication is also important. You might find that other members of your family are also keen to keep spending in check. Consider throwing an “It’s Not Christmas Yet But …” fall shindig where the family can determine what is financially reasonable for everyone, or whether this is the year to start new traditions.[3]

It’s the thought that counts

Science finds that gift giving triggers the release of feel-good endorphins, and enjoying this psychological boost doesn’t necessarily rely on spending a certain dollar amount. Achieving this feeling of euphoria is all about the joy you see on another person’s face when they open their gift. So maybe it’s time to bring some creativity to your gift-giving routine.[4] Consider a more personal touch by packaging up festive containers of homemade shortbread or creating your own unique handmade presents for friends and colleagues. Gift giving shouldn’t be about the dollar amount, but rather the thought behind the gift.[5]

Kids can be a bit trickier, but you can still control the mountain of presents. A unique way to limit the wrapped pile under the tree is by following the four-gift rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.[6]

Charitable giving

In the spirit of “It’s better to give than to receive,” helping others is a wonderful way to enjoy the spirit of the season. Consider setting aside a certain part of your seasonal budget to buy something for a child

or family in need. Giving the gift of your time is another great way to help the community. Consider getting the entire family involved packing care boxes at the local food bank or helping at a toy drive.[7]

Affordable family fun

Spending time with family and friends is one of the best parts of the holiday season, but making cherished memories doesn’t have to cost a lot. Research fun activities happening in your community such as parades, tree-lighting ceremonies, outdoor carnivals, community caroling events and skating parties. These events are often free with a food bank donation. Check your local community events calendar for dates and locations.[8]

Budget-savvy feasting

As food prices continue to rise, finding extra money for fancy holiday feasting can be a challenge. The average Canadian family of four now spends close to $12,000 annually on groceries and dining out, and special fare for parties only adds to this major expense.[9]

To trim your budget, watch store flyers for sales and take advantage of price matching. A number of apps are now available that help you to quickly determine the best price for items on your grocery list. Consider a potluck theme for your next festive celebration, and sample a variety of cherished recipes prepared by your friends and family. (Tip: Give your guests some guidelines so you don’t end up with 10 cheese trays.) And finally, plan for homemade over store-bought. The convenience of grabbing that veggie tray and some prepared dips from the deli section can take a huge bite out of your festive food budget.[10]

With a little planning and a shift in mindset, celebrating the holiday season can be completely enjoyable without adding to your financial debt load. Consider speaking with your advisor about more strategies to help with your household budget. 

© 2018 Manulife. The persons and situations depicted are fictional and their resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. This media is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide specific financial, tax, legal, accounting or other advice and should not be relied upon in that regard. Many of the issues discussed will vary by province. Individuals should seek the advice of professionals to ensure that any action taken with respect to this information is appropriate to their specific situation. E & O E. Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the prospectus before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated. Any amount that is allocated to a segregated fund is invested at the risk of the contractholder and may increase or decrease in value.

[1] www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/two-thirds-of-canadians-feel-holiday-spending-is-out-of-control/article37233998

[2] www.thebalance.com/before-you-open-a-christmas-savings-account-2385653

[3] www.mymoneycoach.ca/spending-money/holiday-spending/how-to-create-holiday-spending-plan

[4] www.redballoon.com.au/hub/why-gift-giving-makes-us-happy

[5] www.huffingtonpost.com/brittany-policastro-/5-ways-to-rethink-gift-giving-this-holiday-season_b_8719470.html

[6] www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-37822791

[7] https://globalnews.ca/news/1697528/top-charitable-holiday-gift-ideas

[8] https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/easy-family-holiday-traditions-on-a-budget

[9] www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/annual-food-bill-for-canadian-family-in-2018-expected-to-rise-by-348-study/article37311778

[10] www.dummies.com/food-drink/entertaining/christmas/how-to-plan-christmas-dinner-with-a-budget