How to afford Christmas

02:35, Nov 27 2012
Christmas presents
SAVVY SHOPPERS: You don't need to break the bank to have a fun Christmas.

Christmas is always a special time of year, but it certainly takes on new meaning when there are children running around the house. Their excitement at decorating the Christmas tree and hanging their stocking is only surpassed by their wide-eyed amazement the next day when they marvel at how Santa made it down the chimney to deliver their presents.

Celebrating the festive season is an essential part of the Kiwi summer, and even though Christmas rolls around at the end of December each year, it is a time when our finances can be easily derailed, especially as your family grows.

It doesn't have to be that way, and as Christmas nears there are things you can do to ensure your family can enjoy the festivities without starting 2013 in debt.

The present puzzle

We all enjoy giving and receiving presents, but it can get out of control at Christmas, especially if you're buying for extended family, friends, neighbours and even the postie. Gift giving can be stressful, but if you set a budget for each present you need to buy you'll be the one in control when you hit the mall.

Once children are part of your Christmas you may want to review your present-buying plans. Many families introduce a secret Santa system for the adults and allocate a maximum amount to be spent. Every adult receives one present, which means the stress and cost involved from buying multiple presents disappears, and the children become the focus of the day.

Santa's sack

Children look forward to unpacking their stockings on Christmas morning and seeing whether or not Santa has brought them anything from their list. For parents however, stocking fillers add to an already long list of Christmas expenses.

While they are a magical treat for the kids, stockings don't need to break the bank and it's a good idea to prioritise their importance and set a limit for how much money you want to spend.

No matter what limit you set on spending on stocking fillers, there are gifts to suit. Smaller gifts such as candy canes, balloons and stickers are often as well received as a larger gift. Remember, you can set the stocking tradition in your home so it doesn't have to take on a life of its own.

Hosting hiccups

Whether it's Christmas lunch, a BBQ on Boxing Day or New Year's breakfast, Kiwis enjoy getting together to eat over the holidays. Summer is the perfect time for socialising with family and friends, but if you're hosting an event catering costs can easily get out of control and you spend more time in the kitchen than talking to any of your guests.

To manage extra food expenses keep an eye on supermarket specials and take the time to shop around and stock up on non-perishable items.

If you're hosting, don't be afraid to share the load and ask guests to bring their favourite dish. Talk with your family before Christmas about what you'd like them to bring. That way everyone contributes and you won't end up with four pavlovas and no salads.

Crafty solutions

If you're blessed with creative flair, think about adopting a do-it-yourself approach to gifts and decorations. Christmas cookies, truffles and jams all make wonderful gifts and people will appreciate the time you invested.

Involve the kids and ask them to make tree decorations, crepe paper chains and Christmas cards. Not only will this make your money go further but the kids will love the chance to do arts and crafts and see their handiwork around the house.

Cheap thrills

When the kids are on school holidays they often rely on Mum or Dad for entertainment. Even if you're not going away, holidays can be expensive when you add up the costs of movies, trips to the pool and dairy runs.

The best approach is to work out how much money you have to spend on activities and allocate your funds accordingly. Think about other parents who are in the same situation - you may be able to share activities and childcare, and the children will enjoy the hanging out with other kids.

Remember that there are a lot of summer activities that you can do with the family at little or no cost. The beach, a picnic at the park, a treasure hunt or obstacle course in the backyard will keep the kids occupied without being hard on the wallet.

Use goals to stay focused

Whatever your financial goals may be over the festive season, use them to stay focused and to avoid splurging more than you'd planned. Boxing Day sales are a great time to pick up some bargains for the kids, but only if your purchases match a list of items you already needed.

No one wants to start 2013 in the red. If you put in place some smart money strategies and stick to your plan, you'll enjoy the holiday season with your family without the niggling burden of extra debt.

David Kneebone is Sorted's spokesman.

How do you budget for Christmas? Do you buy presents for everyone in the family or just the children?