This is our third Christmas since starting our debt free journey, and how times have changed! Gone are the days of racking up debt and mindlessly buying. In it’s place, we have a calm and simplistic Christmas with lots of time with our nearest and dearest. We avoid overspending at Christmas not necessarily to save money, but because Christmas shouldn’t be about gifts, overspending, debt and stress.
So what’s changed in those three years that’s transformed the festive season? Primarily, we avoid overspending at Christmas. Yes, we do the practical things, such as stick to a budget and shop around to ensure we aren’t paying over the odds, but the biggest change has been with our mindset.
And that’s what this blog post details: ten reasons why you should avoid overspending at Christmas. This isn’t about how to get the lowest prices or the best deals or how to use up those Christmas leftovers (all valid topics, though). Rather, this is my take on how we avoid overspending at Christmas by focusing on the ‘why’. Giving yourself permission to spend less. To define “enough” in terms of your budget. Embracing a better quality of Christmas that just so happens to require very little in terms of spending. These are things that we don’t hear enough at this time of year. And when many of us are trying to get out of debt, we need to hear them.
Here are my ten reasons why you should avoid overspending at Christmas.
#1: We All Already Have Enough Stuff
I asked the question on Instagram, why do you go over budget at Christmas? And an overwhelming majority stated that they go over budget because they don’t think they’ve bought enough. We initially stick to our budget with what we buy, then persuade ourselves that it’s not enough, so we overspend.
But if you pledge not to buy anything further once you’ve bought your gift for someone within your budget, then you won’t overspend. Rather than buying more to compensate, we need to challenge our interpretation of “enough”. What is enough?
In another context, “enough” means to reach your limit, so if we set a budget, that’s our limit. So rather than viewing a gift from a critical perspective, why not think of the gift as within your budget, and therefore, that’s enough?
So rather than buckling under the pressure of having enough, it’s time to work on being okay with what you can afford. That’s enough. Enough said.
#2: Avoid Overspending at Christmas by Spending Your Time Instead
It’s a little ironic that Christmas TV specials are centred around the importance of family and friends, not presents, at this time of year. At the same time, they are broken up by frantic Black Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day sale ads. As a viewer, it’s a confusing message that Christmas is a time for festive cheer, family and friends, but at the same time, you can and should spend a fortune because Christmas won’t be Christmas without a £300 gift under the tree.
Despite the fact that Christmas is incredibly commercialised, we can’t forget the true magic of the season. That cosy feeling of the lights twinkling in the darkness. The excitement radiating from kids and adults alike. Making festive food in the kitchen with family. This is the definition of the season for me.
So rather than having that panicked, meltdown moment mid-December when you think you need to buy more, think in advance this year about giving your time instead. Whether this means volunteering or making time for others and yourself, these are the things that people will truly get value from.
#3: People Usually Forget The Gifts We Give Them
Harsh, but true.
How many of us obsess over finding the perfect gift for someone? And at the same time, how many of those gifts can we actually remember a year later?
In the run up to Christmas, we live on diet of sugar and sentiment, believing that the magic of Christmas lies in finding that perfect gift to put under the tree. But come January, our gifts are stored, tidied away or even donated/re-gifted. The truth is, the gift that means the world at Christmas tend to be forgotten about by the time January rolls around, because stuff is just that: stuff. We move on to wanting the next thing, and the previous gift becomes storage.
Forgive my cynicism in this case, and I know that there are exceptions to the rule. But despite what the adverts tell us, Christmas is better when we forget the idea that the magic of the season is found in gifts.
So avoid overspending at Christmas by accepting that there is no “perfect” gift out there. If you feel that the gift you have bought for someone is inadequate, back away from your credit card. Resolve to fixate less on gifts and more on giving yourself- and the recipient of the gift- your time and energy instead.
#4: Who Can Afford It? (And Even If We Can, Those Around Us Might Not)
If you’re on a #debtfreejourney, looking to start, or re-start, then here is your free pass to avoiding overspending at Christmas.
When we were paying off debt, we stuck to a strict budget for everyone, and didn’t overspend. It really helped that we told our families and friends about paying off our debt, so they didn’t expect a ton of gifts anyway. Lots of people are reluctant to disclose their debt to their loved ones, but in this sort of scenario, it’s really beneficial for both you and your loved ones. Remember, there is absolutely no shame in being in debt. Once we embraced our situation, we were able to fix it and come up with a strategy to pay it off.
The sad truth is that not many of us can afford the Christmas that we see in the media. The huge parties and piles of presents are just a fabrication of reality to make us buy more. But even though we know this, it doesn’t stop us feeling inadequate.
So what will many of us do this year? We will chose to prioritise Christmas over our mortgage payment, or the electricity bill. Or spend the first half of next year paying it off. I know that I’ve been there myself, and regretted it long after people forgot what I bought them.
StepChange’s campaign, ‘The Real Cost of Christmas’ aims to raise awareness of the impact that relying on debt to fund Christmas has. A survey they conducted shows that this year, people will rely on debt to get through the festive season. Of those that participated in the survey, a massive 31% will borrow to pay for Christmas, and nearly 7 in 10 people are unable to comfortably afford it. And with buy now, pay later schemes becoming increasingly popular, one quarter of the survey respondents were planning to utilise these as part of Christmas spending.
But what if we were more open with our loved ones about what we can afford? Perhaps less of us would feel the financial pressure that lurks in the shadows of the Christmas season.
If you are feeling financial pressure, let me say this. A parent who chooses to puts a roof over the heads of their children instead of buying them the latest gadgets is a good parent. Someone who prioritises bills over luxuries is sensible. To not buckle under the immense pressure to fund Christmas on credit is strong, and brave. Don’t let an advertisement persuade you otherwise.
#5: Reciprocation Pressure
A few years ago, I read an interview with Ant and Dec in which they laughed about exchanging Christmas gifts when they started to bringing in the big bucks. Dec bought Ant a top-of-the-range, wildly expensive guitar that he wanted his whole life. And what did Ant buy Dec?
A key ring.
Brilliant story, but one that has always resonated with me as a reason to avoid overspending at Christmas. The awkwardness of being on the receiving end of an expensive gift, when you’ve gifted a token present, is real. And I’m sure many of us will cringe at our own experience at either end of the gift-giving scale.
What if you’re the one who has spent a fortune on a gift, only to get naff-all in return? You might be a little disappointed, particularly if what you gifted was something you couldn’t afford. The easiest way to avoid this awkwardness is to be really open about being on a budget. For me, this is as easy as mentioning that we aren’t going overboard this year, and asking that people let me know what they’d like as a gift.
But when it comes to avoiding this type of mishap, habit is key. If you are spontaneous in gift giving, the recipients of your gifts won’t know what to expect. So do yourself a favour and stick to that budget you set a few months ago. Not only will you avoid overspending this Christmas, but it will help others to establish what to expect in the future from you at Christmas.
#6: Shopping is Stressful in December
This one is more about your own well-being than the act of gift giving itself. Avoid overspending at Christmas by deciding that you just don’t need the drama of the shops this holiday season.
I, for one, loathe shopping at this time of year. The long queues at the tills, the frantic atmosphere, Christmas music on loop, all while retails try to persuade us to get our credit cards out and spend mindlessly. Christmas shopping is marketing at it’s finest. The message that Christmas is a time of good cheer is twisted to imply that anyone who sticks to a budget is a Scrooge.
For many of us, simply going shopping in December will lead to overspending. Inevitably, there will be an impulse purchase, a budget fail or worse: you’ll sign up for a dreaded store card.
So take any possibility out of the equation and simply avoid the shops. It’ll all be there in January anyway (and heavily reduced, at that). Here you can read my suggestions for things to do that enhance your life instead of spending money.
#7: Focusing Christmas on Gifts Sends the Wrong Message
Every year, we see an increasing amount of Christmas advertisements, films and social media centred around materialism. What this implies to us is that, without that big pile of expensive gifts under the tree, Christmas is ruined. It puts pressure on the average family earning the average wage to spend above average on Christmas.
Focusing Christmas around gifts sends the wrong message. We are telling ourselves that our well-being isn’t as important as buying “stuff”.
If you are feeling pressure to overspend at Christmas, then you aren’t alone. Rather than giving into that pressure, challenge the idea that Christmas is centred around presents. Remember to see the value in everything you do over the Christmas season, such as spending time with people, providing support and kindness to others, making time for yourself. These are the things that are truly important at Christmas.
#8: Avoid Overspending at Christmas By Focusing on What’s Important
When Andy Williams sings those first few lines of ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’, it’s hard to disagree. So sometimes I feel slightly Scrooge-like to see the darker side of the season, but it’s not something we should ignore.
The fact is that many people will fund the Christmas season with debt, prioritising the pressure of the season over basic needs. There are many people for whom Christmas is a time to get through, rather than to enjoy. There are children out there that won’t receive gifts. And people who will go hungry at this time of year.
My point isn’t that we should feel guilty by making the most of the season. Christmas is a wonderful time. But sometimes, we focus so much on creating the Christmas we feel we should have, rather than enjoying the one we do have.
So rather than overspending this year, we should focus on appreciating what we already have. Marketing and consumerism tries to convince us that our lives are deficient to encourage us to buy more stuff. But in reality, we have everything we already need, and more. Life is as full as we make it.
#9: The Amount You Spend on People Doesn’t Reflect How Much You Love Them
We have a tendency to quantify our love for others in monetary form. Usually, the more we spend on someone, the more they are important to us. And while, somewhere behind that thought lurks sentimentality, it’s also a pretty strange tradition to buy a gift for someone to the monetary value of how much we love them.
I was first introduced to this concept through The Minimalists’ podcast. Joshua and Ryan speak a lot about how we use Christmas gifts as a means to show our love. It’s almost as though we say, I love you to the value of £50, when we hand over that £50 present. And something about that feels wrong.
So if you identify with this, approach this year with a resolution that you’ll show people how much you love them this year through spending time, not money. As the saying goes, some people are so poor that all they have is money. When we give the gift of our time and companionship, we show people how much we love them. Gifts could never achieve the same ends.
#10: The Best Christmas Memories Rarely Include Gifts
If you need any further persuasion to avoid overspending, cast your mind back to your best Christmas memories.
For me, I don’t much remember the gifts I received, except for the odd sentimental or thoughtful item. What I recall is the excitement building on Christmas Eve, eating Christmas dinner with candles and Christmas music in the background, Christmas specials on the TV, curled up on the sofa in fleecy pyjamas on Boxing Day when the whole world feels calm again.
I bet that many of your own memories are the same. And that even those that are centred around gift giving are more about the excitement of unwrapping something, rather than actually knowing what you’d been gifted.
So remember that when the gifts are forgotten, we have only these memories. Make them good, and have a wonderful Christmas this year! Let me know in the comments below how you plan to avoid overspending at Christmas.
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