Halls not decked with boughs of lolly? These money tips might help

Christmas is one day. Don’t let it ruin your new year

‘Make a list and check it twice – what do you still need to buy?’ Photograph: iStock

‘Make a list and check it twice – what do you still need to buy?’ Photograph: iStock

 

Is the cost of your Christmas already racking up? With two weeks to go, it’s easy to get snarled in festive spending. If your halls aren’t decked with boughs of lolly, here are some tips to avoid the January blues.

Make a list, check it twice

Yes, make a list and check it twice – what do you still need to buy? Divide it into gifts, food, clothes and socialising. If you have limited funds left, what can you cut? If the estimated cost tips you over-budget, it’s time for a rethink. Christmas is one day. Don’t let it ruin your new year.

Whether it’s a night on the tiles or a high-street gander, cash is king for the budget conscious, says Michelle O’Hara, south Leinster regional manager for the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs). “Take cash out, don’t use your card, even if it’s a debit card. You are more likely to stop and think before you handover a €50 note than if you simply tap or stick your card in.”

And you don’t have to go to every party. Even dropping one can make a difference. Opting out of drinks rounds lets you imbibe at your own pace, sparing yourself cash and a hangover.

For visits to friends and relatives, check out the big supermarkets’ websites and buy ahead with offers like “three for €10” on selected sweet tubs from SuperValu, or Prosecco from €7.99 at Lidl. Simply printing out photos of shared fun and popping them in an inexpensive Flying Tiger, Ikea or Dealz frame can trump a pricier gift.

If it’s Christmas clothes you need, think again. Last year, royal Kate Middleton rewore a teal Catherine Walker coat to attend church alongside the Queen on Christmas day – a coat she had first worn almost year earlier. I know! Sustainable fashion is more than a passing trend. Having new things feels good, but so does the moral high ground.

Gifting amnesty

So, you’ve always bought a gift for your siblings? But now you’re all coupled up with kids, locked in a cycle of mutual giving, exchanging unwanted and unused gifts in a widening circle to fulfil seasonal obligations. Someone shout “Stop!”.

... All of the research would tell us that the relationship between the parent and child is the most important thing

How about introducing Kris Kindle or Secret Santa? Each family member buys and receives one gift. Families can set a limit on spend and you can all say exactly what you want. And leave the kids out of it, that’s Santa’s job. Everybody spends the same amount; you each get something you want and you reduce waste. Job done.

If it’s too late to call a truce for this year, make a pact to change in 2020. Consider your positive impact on the planet as a gift to the grandchildren.

Food glorious food

You’re not shopping for the zombie apocalypse. The shops are only closed for one day, folks. Look at your family’s schedule and meal plan accordingly. Make a list before hitting the aisles and stick to it. Check the dates on purchases. If everything has to be eaten by December 27th and you’re at granny’s until then, your money is going in the bin.

Neighbours dropping in for sherry? Check out Aldi’s website where you can filter its party food options by price. There’s nothing that says “thanks for putting out our bins” more than 22 mini spring rolls for €1.89, or a cheese selection pack for €3.99.

Will anyone notice if the cranberry sauce is the budget own-brand option? Does the paté ever get eaten? What about that giant blue cheese wheel? Yes, that 6.5kg leg of Serrano ham for €49.99 would make an impressive centre piece, but who’s going to eat it? Amid a growing awareness of the threat of climate change, overabundance is becoming synonymous with waste. The pendulum has swung the other way. It’s not mean, it’s green.

All I want for Christmas

The best things in life are free. No really, and there’s science to back it up, says Dr Yvonne Quinn, senior clinical psychologist at the Tree House Practice and mum of four. “Parents are under huge pressure to provide lots of materialistic things for their children, whereas all of the research would tell us that the relationship between the parent and child is the most important thing.” All they really want for Christmas is you.

“Building a tradition is a really lovely one because it connects us to each other, it provides a sense of comfort and it brings a really warm and connected feeling to our family.”

We know that the 0-3 period is all about brain development and the thing that shapes and influences that most is attuned parenting

Whether it’s a holly hunt with the little ones on Christmas Eve, running, jogging or walking your local Goal Mile on Christmas Day, a charades contest after lunch, heading to the woods on St Stephen’s Day or braving a New Year’s Day swim – make your own tradition.

Ready-prepared gift packs are not always inspiring, but any wine shop can make up a tailor-made gift box for you. Photograph: iStock
File photograph: iStock

“It doesn’t have to cost money,” says Quinn. “All children want is attuned and present parenting and you can do that for free.”

Santa baby?

Of course, most children will be expecting something under the tree. The sweet spot is a gift that’s right for their age, piques their developing brains and doesn’t break the bank.

The good news is that, for younger children, Santa is off the hook. “In terms of toys, the under-threes really don’t need anything,” says Quinn. “We know that the 0-3 period is all about brain development and the thing that shapes and influences that most is attuned parenting.” That’s a parent who is tuned in, present and who is making eye-to-eye contact.

“All of those things are going to be much more beneficial rather than lots of boxes and toys under the Christmas tree.”

For the four-to-six year-olds, it’s all about promoting play. In choosing a toy, it’s the child that should be doing the playing, not the toy. Think imaginary play, messy play, and sensory-based play. Paints, Play-Doh and kinetic sand are all good for focused concentration and helping children to master regulating themselves. Dress-up materials and toys that promote fine motor skills tick the box too.

“These small things don’t cost the earth but I suppose what they do require, and this is perhaps where parents struggle a bit more, is the parent to join their children in play in a way that a screen doesn’t,” says Quinn.

School-age kids love self-directed play and anything that they can take charge of themselves. Board games are great for turn taking and problem solving and they also bring the family together.

You can find yourself in debt but you might also be dragging a close family member with you

Getting letters to Santa written early allows parents to manage expectations right from the start. “Parents need to step in and set boundaries and limits for their children,” says Quinn. “A really nice way to develop your Santa list is around ‘something you want, something you need and something you can wear’. This can help families to set limits so they feel a bit more in charge from the get-go, that’s important.”

If letters to the North Pole are long gone, remind the kids that Santa can’t carry everything on that sleigh and so will be picking what he thinks will be the perfect gift.

Cash in the attic

Foot spa in the attic, anyone? George Foreman grill? Slow cooker? It’s time to play Cash in the Attic. We’ve all received unwanted gifts we’ve never used. Don’t let them go to waste. Adverts.ie, eBay and donedeal.ie or your local online marketplace will link you to buyers, topping up your Christmas fund. Otherwise, spread the love by donating unused clothes, toys or cosmetic gift-sets to your local charity shop. You may be helping a person in need with their Christmas list.

Avoid waste

If you are buying a gift, make it a useful one. A grocery or coffee shop voucher or a book of postage stamps in a heartfelt Christmas card won’t be wasted and will warm the recipient’s heart well past Christmas day. New consumer-friendly laws mean gift vouchers are now valid for at least five years, you don’t have to use the voucher in one go and more than one gift voucher can be used in one transaction.

Neither a borrower...

The big tip from Mabs in these final shopping days is to avoid borrowing, especially high-cost borrowing. If a shopping splurge is giving you night sweats, an online loan is rarely the answer. Loans requiring a friend’s or family guarantor can be particularly tricky. One such provider has a fixed APR of a whopping 49.9 per cent.

“You can find yourself in debt but you might also be dragging a close family member with you,” says O’Hara of Mabs. Remember fashion catalogues that offer “purchase now, pay later” credit is a form of expensive money lending too.

Stay within your means. If you can’t, and need credit, check out the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s credit card Money Tool to compare fees and find out how long it will take to clear your balance. There are still some providers offering 0 per cent interest on balance transfers. If you can’t afford to pay your Christmas credit card bills in full, you could take advantage of one of these offers in the new year.

If Christmas is a turkey

If you are feeling the stress, the Mabs national helpline (tel: 0761 07 2000) is open until 1pm on Christmas Eve and again on Monday, December 30th. Its network of offices reopens on January 2nd.

“We can assess your finances and, with your permission, we will negotiate with creditors directly, to come up with a plan to repay the debt,” says O’Hara. “That’s the cure piece, but we will also work with you to prevent it happening next Christmas.”

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