Christmas can be a time of joy, laughter and love - but it can also be a time of tremendous stress. Whether you love or loathe it, the festive season is a mind-bogglingly expensive time of year. The result is that people often end up feeling stressed, anxious and depressed in December, Dublin-based psychotherapist Deirdre Madden says.
But there are ways to bring the cost down and make Christmas that bit easier. Here, we offer some tips on how to manage money at the most wonderful - and most expensive - time of year.
1. Draw up a budget in advance and don’t be afraid to prioritise
Madden recommends planning in advance what you are going to spend in the form of a detailed budget.
“Be realistic in terms of what is affordable for you,” she suggests. “Make a list of what you can afford to buy and then make a priority list of what is most important.”
Sinead O’Moore, head of content at Everymum.ie, agrees with this. “Write a budget, write down who you need to buy for, and find gifts within that set range instead of panic buying at the end,” she says.
2. Consider ‘purposeful’ gifts
Ask friends and relatives for gifts you actually need rather than something that will end up gathering dust, O’Moore suggests. This year, she and her husband asked family to pay for their two-year-old daughter’s swimming lessons instead of buying toys she won’t use.
“Ask people to gift you something that you know will have a purpose and is of high value to you,” O’Moore says. She also practices what she preaches: this year, she and her partner are paying for a session with a sleep consultant for a couple who recently had a baby. “We’re giving them the gift of sleep, because that’s what they really need.”
Purposeful gifts can cut costs that would have cropped up at a later stage and save you money in the long run.
3. Ask guests to contribute something to the Christmas dinner
If you’ve been saddled with the unenviable task of cooking Christmas dinner for a large bunch of people, don’t be afraid to dole out jobs. That way, the cost is lessened for the host.
O’Moore acknowledges that it can be seen as stingy, but she says that everyone could do with being a bit more aware of the high cost of cooking the Christmas dinner.
“It shouldn’t have to be down to the host to ask,” she says. “If you’re being invited somewhere, make sure you’re saying not ‘what can I bring?’ but ‘what am I bringing?”
Madden suggests the host asks a guest to look after dessert, and another to look after the starter, to help bring the cost down.
4. Don’t buy a present for the teacher - but if you have to, get creative
Siobhán O’Neal White of Mams.ie has four children, so knows all too well the pressure of buying gifts for teachers. While teachers are undoubtedly deserving of all the recognition and attention they can get, the pressure to buy Christmas gifts can feel extreme - and can be a huge burden to families with less money.
“If you’re feeling stressed, I’d say make a really nice card with your child for the teacher, or bake a few cupcakes and bring them into the school. Don’t put yourself under financial pressure. It’s supposed to be a happy time of year, but it becomes so stressful for parents.”
5. Shop around and plan ahead to avoid food waste
One of the biggest ways people waste money at Christmas is through food waste, financial literacy expert Frank Conway of Moneywhizz.ie says.
“You really need to question how much you are buying,” he says. “The cost per item is one thing, but the amount of waste that comes on the back of that is the other thing. Go for quality over quantity.”
He also recommends that people try going to shops they haven’t gone to before - particularly those who exclusively shop in more expensive supermarkets.
"There's huge choice now in Ireland, and the likes of Lidl and Aldi offer very good value," he says. "There's quite a lot of value to be had across all the retail providers out there so don't be afraid to use them."
6. Do a ‘Secret Santa’ in your family or workplace
Buying gifts for a whole host of people is incredibly expensive - especially when there are children involved - so doing a ‘Secret Santa’ can help lessen the burden. That way, everyone is tasked with buying one gift for someone else, meaning the cost is lessened for everyone.
Conway and his family often do Secret Santa at Christmas and he highly recommends it. Meanwhile, O'Neal White and her siblings have an arrangement where they only buy Christmas gifts for their godchildren. "We're trying to be sensible about it," she explains.
7. Consider making gifts, and if money is too tight, be honest
Madden suggests that people consider making gifts or coming up with creative ideas instead of going out and buying things. The internet is awash with ideas on creative Christmas gifts that can often end up having more meaning and longevity than something bought in a shop.
But it’s also important to try and be open and honest with people if money is too tight for gifts.
“You could skip gifts altogether and celebrate in other ways by coming together with people,” Madden says. “If you’re really under pressure and you’re on a tight budget, be honest with people and let them know that you can’t afford to buy gifts rather than putting yourself under unnecessary pressure.”
8. Avoid emotional and impulsive spending
It can be so easy to fall behind on Christmas planning, and many of us end up scrambling to buy gifts, puddings and wrapping paper at the last minute. But this gives rise to what Conway calls emotional and impulsive spending, where we unwisely purchase things that we don’t really want or need that we could have gotten cheaper elsewhere.
“What happens is that people tend to blow budgets because it’s an emotional time of year,” he says.
The result of impulsive spending is that people end up paying a small fortune on post and packaging on a gift coming from abroad, or they end up buying something in a shop that was on sale down the road.