How to survive Christmas spending

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2013
Christmas Santas
Reuters

WATCH OUT: You can’t avoid Christmas, but you don’t have to let its sheer scale trample all over you.

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The C-bombs are flying thick and fast.

Every time I hear the word, I cringe. Even the kids are picking it up, and you can guarantee that mum's been throwing it into every conversation.

Christmas is coming.

I've avoided discussing it until now, because every man and his dog are doing a great job of reminding us there are only 17 shopping days left!

But as the biggest spending event of the year, it would be remiss for us to keep ignoring the reindeer in the room.

Some recent research by MasterCard shed some light on just how much of a burden Christmas can be for struggling families. Most of us are planning to buy gifts for somewhere between four and nine different friends and family members.

The kids get the lion's share of the loot, with an average spend of $88 - and a quarter of households plan to spend more than $150 on their little darlings this year. Partners are next, with an average spend of $86, followed by parents and in-laws ($48), siblings ($32), other family members ($23) and friends ($22).

Let's say you have two kids, a partner, parents, in-laws, a sister and a couple of close friends to cross off the list.

Based on the MasterCard survey, you're looking at shelling out more than $500 on gifts.

If you come from a big tribe - like my own family of seven - things very rapidly get out of hand. Add on the cuzzies, the aunties and uncles, the grandparents . . . it never ends.

Often you end up getting each other almost meaningless gifts like cash, vouchers or chocolate because it's just so much hassle and expense.

It's no wonder MasterCard found more than half of us are stressing out at a time when we're meant to be filled with festive joy and exuding goodwill to mankind.

Tellingly, more than a quarter of us are planning to tighten our belts and spend less this year.

But how do you do so without turning into a fully-fledged Grinch?

Our immediate family has more or less abandoned gift-giving, instead focusing on the important stuff - eating, drinking, and trying not to murder one another.

Giving up gifts is probably not an option for many, but there are less drastic measures.

This year our closest group of friends is doing a Secret Santa, where you get secretly assigned one person to buy a gift for, and get one in return.

If you adopted this with your family, you could spend $100 on a decent present and still be saving $400 or so.

You get both the joy of giving and the thrill of unwrapping a prezzy, without the politics of worrying about who you need to buy for, and the escalating costs.

The kids might need a bit more leniency, and will be less than impressed if Santa brings them just the one gift.

But spending up a storm on the real littlies doesn't make much sense. Designer clothes might look cute on a 4-year-old, but he doesn't know the difference, and they won't even fit in a year or so.

Fancy, complicated toys aren't necessary either. Anyone who's spent time around small children knows they have an amazing capacity to turn simple toys or ordinary household items into never-ending creative props.

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Another option is to spend time making your own gifts, rather than buying them.

It adds a touch of love, and saves a packet. One friend made her own Limoncello (yum!) and distributed it to friends and family. In previous years, she'd done her own batch of marmalade and various other goodies.

One of the most disturbing findings from the MasterCard survey was that more than a third of us are loading up our credit cards to help manage seasonal spending. If you want to avoid the debt-trap, think about talking to your family about adopting less lavish gift-giving habits.

That means you'll be less stressed out on the big day, and perhaps even tolerate your father-in-law when he's had a few sherries and starts ranting about the decline of modern society. That - as we all know - is what it's all about.

- Sunday News

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