Everyone is guilty of doing it. Many repeat the same mistake year after year. They get caught up in the buying frenzy, especially as it seems to begin earlier every year. So why do we overspend at Christmas?
“One key reason is we’re trying to make up for a sense of deprivation,” says Sarah McMurray, a professional money coach who started the business Relating to Money a few years ago. “Meeting our own expectations of what we’ve been told or sold about how to get that festive glow of Christmas all drives it.”
Sarah’s observations and tips for avoiding those white knuckle moments when opening the bank or credit card statement later in January make perfect, pragmatic sense. “Three things are spent at Christmas. We spend our time, energy and money” she says. When we get short on time and energy we compensate by throwing money at the problem which she says, “won’t necessarily get us the result that we were hoping for.”
Plan ahead by considering your money, time and energy budgets she says and beware of ‘Pinterest pressure’. “There’s this kind of Martha Stewart pressure now to make your own gifts. You’re working full-time, have a family and you need to be making soulful gifts presented to the standard of Pinterest.”
Be realistic, sit down with the diary and be aware of making trade-offs and compromises is the best strategy Sarah says. “You might have a Sunday afternoon free if you’re lucky, but if you don’t get your gifts made in time then you’re facing the prospect of being up until 3am in the morning on Christmas Eve trying to get the things to look good.” No thanks. Been there and done that. Be mindful of your time and money, the money coach warns. Start having conversations about what Christmas means as early as you can. Approach everyone you care about to contribute to a discussion about “what makes Christmas for you?”
It might be champagne for breakfast, or the scent of fresh lilies that fills the house in the morning, mum’s homemade Christmas pud or having a real Christmas tree. Whatever it is she says — plan, discuss and review — especially those things that have slipped through the cracks like last minute ‘guilt buying’.
Buying gifts for girlfriends is nice one year but it can turn into a burden. ”Remember, anything you’re feeling as a burden they’ll probably agree is a burden too.” Be upfront and say, “let’s meet for drinks but let’s agree no gifts.” Sarah can’t imagine anyone disagreeing. Another idea she advises is a gift buying criteria agreed within the family so that “you get something you want, something you need and a book — all to avoid bingeing on presents.”
Grandparent guilt was a hot topic canvassed too. Sarah describes a recent visit to a party shop that sells expensive mechanical carousel centrepieces. The retailer told her that “no parent buys those for their kids but Grandma does.”
So often grandparents justify it by saying to the coach, “I love them so much but don’t get to see them,” so they splurge on the biggest gift to show the love. For some people gifts are a love language. Sarah admits, “so you can’t cancel the gift but be realistic.” Her approach is to ask the tough questions. What are you really saying with the gift? What behaviours are you setting up? How much time and resources do you actually have to really go shopping for that?
Sarah shares common insights from her clients: “Christmas shopping is a woman’s job because we make the happy memories for our family. Men will help but won’t offer.” says Sarah. “You’re the one that realises that to have a nice breakfast, someone has to go out and buy strawberries on Christmas Eve.”
It’s corroborated by a similar scientific study on housework in Psychology Today she says. “Even men who deem themselves the most liberated and supportive of their wives don’t initiate a conversation around sharing housework and childcare.” Christmas is the same she says. “Give them direction. Plan ahead. Make a list of tasks and have ‘that’ conversation before you tear your hair out.”
“Kids like experiences,” she says. Parents may think that their kids need that iPad or latest and greatest toy, but according to Sarah their answers may surprise you. “Often kids say they like it when we go to see the lights on Franklin Road. They dial up stuff from their childhood.”
The point is to sit there and come up with a list so everyone gets at least one wish that gives them the feeling of Christmas. “For me I don’t mind what we’re eating but what makes Christmas is the feel of the crepe paper hat on my head and I don’t care if no one else is wearing one.”
Personally, donning Santa hats is the tradition in my family. Ragamuffin ones from years gone by, sparkly sequin numbers or fluffy pom-pom ones. My kids know it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without throwing on one of those hats before we open presents. All the money mentoring overrides the fear of Christmas being meagre or lacking and gives hope to a festive season minus the buyer’s remorse. “It’s quite subtle but a lot of Christmas pressure is targeted at women, or we subconsciously take it on, or it’s a combination of both.”
Words by: Sarah Sparks
How to Avoid or Deal With The Christmas Hangover
Download Sarah’s free holiday planner off Relating to Money. Take control of your finances by using the calendar and spreadsheet to identify what you need to spend money on and how much money you have. Knowing your full financial position in advance helps get through the holiday season with balance and joy.
So you’ve gone overboard and it’s time to mop up the financial damage? Accept it’s happened and know it’s not the end of the world. It can be dealt with and cleaned up. Whether you’ve resolved to save more, get out of debt, or quit having blowouts, the key to sticking to these goals is following a budget and tracking your spending. Try free apps for Android or iPhone like GoodBudget, Pocket Expense or You Need A Budget (Y.N.A.B) to understand your cashflow, spending habits and payment schedules