Avoiding the New Year Debt Hangover

“Oh, it’s perfect! You should really get even if it costs a bit extra.”

“Dear Santa: I want a beach ball, IPAD, …”

“It’s just for stocking stuffers.”  “That will be $278.43”

I’ve heard or read all of the above statements in the last week or so and what concerned me the most was the idea that because its Christmas it is ok to spend a lot of money and go into debt.  News flash: Canadians are drowning in personal debt, so adding more debt for ANY reason for MOST people is a BAD idea.  It’s sort of like drinking too much at the office Christmas party, it might seem fun at the time, but the hangover and fall out from it can be painful.

Ok, I know I’m odd that we save starting in January every year for the holiday season, so I pay off my entire credit card balance on January 1st with cash (dear savings account: I love you on that day!).  Yet what do you do when you don’t have any cash saved?  Well rather than waiting until next year to start behaving I’m going to make the following suggestions to get started right now.

  1. Rein In Expectations – Sit the family down and have a talk that you are fixing this crappy cycle of over spending and paying it off after the fact.  That will mean keeping this holiday a bit lower key this year.  Less spending now means you can get off this ride as soon as possible.  Think about actually NOT dreading opening your credit card bill in January and how wonderful that could feel.  That is a good present for yourself.
  2. Don’t Buy EVERYONE a gift – The mailman, your hairdresser, your children’s teacher….DO NOT NEED GIFTS.  Unless you are really good friends with them skip it.  Slash your list down to close friends and family.
  3. Start Gift Exchanges – Talk with your extended family about reducing gifts for the adults and focus on the kids….heck if the kids are getting older you might want to start a gift exchange for them.  It’s better to buy one or two nicer gifts and skip the other six, not to mention better on your wallet.
  4. Consider Going Digital for Christmas Cards – Unless you have a real need to send out cards consider trying using Facebook to post your Christmas Letter and scan in the pictures there. Or try one of the many digit card options out there…heck some of best cards I’ve gotten in the last few years were online.
  5. Go Potluck for Parties – When attending or hosting a party consider doing a little potluck to keep your costs reasonable…not to mention you often getting much more interesting food that way.  In my family the person the hosts Christmas day supper does the turkey, stuffing and gravy…everything else is brought over by the other families (way less stress to prepare the big meal).

Then for the most adventuresome consider proposing the more radical approach…no gifts at all.  Or limit it to handmade gifts…pick what ever works for your family.  I know I’ve kept our Christmas budget the same for five years and never once went over…the secret?  Tracking the spending, so if I go over on one gift, I have to go under on the next one.  It works for us.

Recall the Christmas is about being generous (but that doesn’t have to include your wallet).  Give others what they really want: your time.  Consider making an effort to visit with family and friends, host a sledding part, do a board game night…make the season a fun time without the stress.  Trust me they will love it.

So how do you avoid the debt hangover? Or what do your family or friends do to make the holidays fun?

3 thoughts on “Avoiding the New Year Debt Hangover”

  1. I actually love buying gifts for friends and family, and have a ridiculously long list. But I keep the budget for most of them quite low — it’s fun to find gifts that don’t look like they cost as little as they did. And when I find a great gift idea for a low price, I will buy several for several friends and relatives. As you do, I keep close tabs on what I spend, so if I go over on one, I will go under on another.

  2. I have tried to do the no gifts thing every year for a decade or more now, which SHOULD be easy – I/my friends are grown people who really don’t need anything, my spouse is from a non-xmas-celebrating faith, I live thousands of miles from my immediate family, I have no children. Instead I choose and send meaningful and high quality christmas cards made by local artists/charities and give money to my favourite dog rescues.

    And yet, every year, some people with whom I have made an agreement not to share Xmas presents send me “something small that isn’t a big deal” or “something I saw and just couldn’t resist” or “just a couple of bottles of wine I picked up” which then requires me to go and get them “something small” at the very last minute.

    It drives me bananas! People! If someone says they don’t want to exchange presents take them at their word!

  3. @guinness – just because someone gets you something doesn’t mean you have to do the same. I’ve had a no gift policy for years. I refuse to feel guilty if someone else chooses to get me something. It doesn’t change my policy at all. And if you never get them anything in return they’ll probably stop giving you gifts and the problem is solved.

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