It’s such a great feeling being in good shape – both physically and financially. You have more energy, flexibility, enthusiasm and generally just feel better about yourself. But it’s not always easy, especially approaching the biggest spending speed-bump of the year, Christmas.
To make sure you don’t hit the hump too hard, and can start the New Year in good nick, here are some tips to keep the budget in shape over the next four weeks.
Keep a limit on gifts
Whatever the size of your family or group of friends, it’s very easy to go overboard with gifts. Even when strictly setting out to buy a few little things, invariably it ends up costing way more than you thought.
The key here is to make a budget and stick to it. Take a minute now to write down who’s getting a gift this year and spread your budget accordingly. Have discipline and only spend that amount on each gift. End of story.
If there’s something special that absolutely must be bought, chip in with others to keep it affordable for everyone.
A popular alternative to spreading the budget is Secret Santa. This is where you draw names out of a hat and buy a gift for that one person, which means everyone gives and receives something, but keeps costs down.
And don’t waste money on wrapping paper. A lot of places offer free wrapping, otherwise the cartoon section of the newspaper or brown paper with a ribbon does the trick. It usually gets thrown out anyway.
The other big holiday expense is meals, so if you haven’t got your kitchen budget sorted, get onto planning it today.
Remember the biggest hit to the savings are usually unplanned meals, so plan ahead and buy the essentials in bulk. If you’ve got a plan and hit the shops with clear meals in mind, the savings can be huge. Libby’s always been great at this in our hungry household of four kids.
And if you’re hosting a Christmas lunch or dinner, don’t hesitate to ask for a hand. Again, plan out what you’ll need so that when people ask what they can bring, you have a good answer on hand. An extra bottle of wine or dish to share makes a big difference.
Most people want to contribute something if they’re coming over, so it’s a nice way to involve everyone too.
Holiday around home
Holiday entertainment and trips don’t have to stretch the family budget. In fact, summer’s the best time of year for cheap entertainment, steering you clear of indoor shopping centres and online shops that find their way into your wallet.
If there are essential items you need, by all means hit the post Christmas sales for a bargain, but prioritise getting down the beach, going the park for a picnic or taking a trip to an outdoor film festival.
It’ll leave the bank balance better off and also help you relax, which is what the holidays are meant for.
Make use of reward programs
A lot of credit cards, health insurance funds and motor vehicle memberships have perks and benefits that members don’t use. Cheap movie tickets, free travel insurance and affordable foreign exchange options are just a few of the benefits I’ve come across, but I wouldn’t know about without looking.
So get all your cards out and take an hour to flick through the membership benefits online to see where you can save this season. There’s a good chance you’re missing out on some great year round deals here.
On the flip side, don’t let fees add up over the holidays. Pay with debit cards and cash where you can and always plan ahead to withdraw from your own bank ATMs. It’s simple stuff that can make a big difference.
Now this all sounds pretty straightforward, and it is. Yet, come the silly season, people still lose track of their financial fitness and wake up with a New Year debt hangover that could have been easily avoided. So plan ahead now and show some discipline – it’ll help lay the platform for a financially fruitful 2014.