"Jingle bells, Christmas sells presents by the sack.
"Better start your saving now or Santa won’t be back!"
This Money Doctor strapline song doesn’t have the best ring to it, does it? But with 21 weeks to go until Christmas Day – that’s less than 150 days! – it’s worth paying heed to the lyrics.
On average, each Irish household spends €2,585 on Christmas every single year. That’s almost half a month’s wages, before tax, for a couple working full time or if both are on the minimum wage, it represents one and a half month’s income for that couple.
Have a think about your own bank balance at the moment: Could you afford to fork out a chunk of change that size at the last minute?
But think about €120 a week. Could you spare that? Save it every week for the next 21 weeks and that’s the full €2,500 in your pocket by Christmas. Although more realistic when broken down into smaller chunks, for most people, that’s still a significant amount of money to be down each month.
Here are some tips to help you get on track in time for the holiday season:
Make a list
For every family member, every friend, every colleague: everyone.
Like Santa, make a list of every single person you need to shop for, then stick to it. But it’s not just people: make a list of what you’re getting for each person, too. This can be a tough one, but that’s often due to the last-minute pressure of Christmas shopping.
There is nothing worse than heading into a shopping centre with money burning a hole in your pocket and a big question mark in your mind over what to buy a loved one. You will make the wrong choice. You will overspend. Don’t do it.
Set a budget and shop early
It’s lovely to wander the streets beneath the twinkling Christmas lights and get your gifts wrapped at the checkout counter – but it’s much more relaxing to buy a couple of gifts at a time throughout September, October and November.
Set yourself a goal of covering Granny and Grandad one weekend, your eldest child the next, your best friend after that… It’s much easier to keep tabs on what you’re actually spending this way, rather than taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and hoping your card isn’t declined when you’re in your tenth shop of the day. Which brings me to my next point…
Invest in envelopes
The best way to ensure you’ll stick to your budget is to leave the credit and debit cards at home. Get out the cash you need the day before you’re due to shop; then, put it in an envelope and take only that money with you on your shopping trip. If that idea makes your toes curl, you are exactly the person who needs to do it!
Stalk the sales
With the advent of Black Friday, many people get caught up in the madness and think they HAVE to shop on the last Friday of November – what if they miss a "bargain" otherwise?! Sales can be great, but don’t be desperate.
Remember your list and stick to it. Most retailers advertise their best offers well in advance, so if you’ve known for a while that your son wants a VR headset, add it to the list and wait.
Don’t run riot and buy everything in sight because it looks like a good deal – oftentimes stock is brought in for sales that isn’t worth what you’ll pay. Ask yourself: would I buy this at any other time of the year? Then go with the honest answer.
Count the pennies
For the more generic gifts and tokens of appreciation for everyone from babysitters to coaches and 'unexpected' house calls, buy in bulk where you can.
Many retailers offer '6 for the price of 5' on bottles of wine - 25% off when you buy 6 with some retailers - as well as 'Buy one get one free' on things like chocolates and biscuits. It will save you panic-spending €25 on a last-minute bottle of port because you’re too embarrassed to buy a bottle of plonk for someone...
Be kind to yourself
Anything you save will be a help by the time Yuletide rolls around. It’s a tricky enough time of year without piling on the pressure of money worries or meeting a certain savings goal. Pat yourself on the back for starting early and let yourself enjoy the day!
Forewarned is forearmed – start the saving programme, make your list and check it twice!