Expert tips on budgeting for Christmas

SECRET SAVER: As you head into this year's Christmas season, ensure you have clearly budgeted for the cost of gifts, entertainment and travel. Photo: Shutterstock
SECRET SAVER: As you head into this year's Christmas season, ensure you have clearly budgeted for the cost of gifts, entertainment and travel. Photo: Shutterstock

Do you have a spreadsheet detailing the mountain of presents and food you have to buy in the coming weeks? It's no wonder many people dread some aspects of the festive season.

If budgeting for Christmas has you feeling more fragile than a vintage bauble, fear not - help is at hand.

Leah Oliver, wealth coach and founder of Minnik Chartered Accountants, has helpful tips on planning the cost of Christmas for this year and the years to come.

"It feels like all we have to do is blink, and Christmas is upon us," she said. "Our days are filled with work, school, homework, sports commitments and other activities. And this year, we have COVID-19 in the mix and, for some of us, a seriously harsh lockdown. All of a sudden, the silly season is now starting to approach.

"Christmas is such a busy time. Planning the holiday; buying the gifts; entertaining the family and friends; entertaining the kids (and their tribe of friends) on school holidays; feeding the masses. Do we plan for this time financially? In a majority of households, the answer is no."

Oliver said she'd observed a tremendous increase in the use of credit cards and mortgage offset drawings during this time of year.

"There is a definite sense of 'get it now, deal with the consequences later'," she says. "Unfortunately, this leaves families in a situation where for the first three to six months of the new year, they are recovering financially from the impact of Christmas.

"This then leads to a vicious cycle as it doesn't leave much time before the next Christmas rolls around. And so they inevitably end up in the same position next year."

So how do we fix this situation? The answer lies in understanding your personal financial affairs.

Planning the cost of Christmas

Treat your personal family life like a business. Start by tracking your everyday household cash in and cash out. This will allow you to see a clear picture of what surplus you have to work with.

Divide your Christmas expenses into separate categories and add these to your household budget. For example, holidays, gifts, kids activities and entertainment.

After these expenses have been accounted for, you should always be in a "profit" or "surplus" position to ensure sufficient funding is still being directed to your investments. If this figure is negative, it is clear that you are reaching for credit cards and debt to fund your lifestyle.

Get into the habit of keeping your credit card aside for emergencies only (real emergencies), and wean yourself off the ever tempting buy now, pay later providers. Post celebrations, your bank account will thank you for it.

If your household finances are still a little tight, your situation can be improved by:

  • bringing in alternative income streams;
  • enhancing existing income streams;
  • replacing high energy, weaker income streams;
  • pulling back on expenses that are unnecessary or excessive.

"It is remarkable the change we see in families who embrace this concept and take control of their financial position," Oliver said. "Until you can accurately identify your actual personal income and expenses, you will always be spending on things without knowing if they are affordable at that point in time. In other words, flying blind with your money."

Don't let another year go by dealing with the financial stress of Christmas on your family. Plan well in advance, embrace the new year in a positive position and enjoy the festive season.

This story Saving for the silly season first appeared on The Canberra Times.