It almost seems hard to believe December 25 is in a few weeks. Last month, we discussed the importance of saving money well in advance to subsidize your Christmas budget. If you’ve taken some of these tips to heart, you may be feeling less financial anxiety about your upcoming January bills. But if you haven't, don’t fret: there are still plenty of ways to break even – or perhaps even come out ahead – when the ball drops on a brand new year. Here’s a list of three shopping behaviours to avoid and three practices to consider when planning for the holidays.
Don’ts for Christmas
Don’t buy festive goodies… at least not yet
I have an extreme sweet tooth so I know how hard it is to resist those delicious crème-filled chocolates and Christmas-themed gummies that you’re likely to find in almost every store at this time of year. And it starts pretty early. In fact, I noticed holiday red-and-green cupcakes at my local supermarket immediately after Halloween.
The temptation is strong, but resisting it for at least another week or two will save you some money. Why? Well, because if you buy chocolate and candy now, you’re more likely to eat them immediately and then promptly return to the store to stock up on more. Consider the fact that they will still be on the shelves until Christmas Eve, so why not wait a little longer to buy them? It’s better for your wallet, and your waistline too.
Don’t buy what you don’t need
To follow up on my previous point, temptations are abound during the holiday season and they come in all forms. From shopping campaigns like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to office parties and family get-togethers, there are always reasons to spend. You may find yourself buying an outfit you don’t really need or an expensive piece of furniture being promoted as part of a Christmas sale. Personally, before I buy anything at anytime of the year, I always ask myself four questions:
- Do I absolutely need this?
- How often will I use it?
- Six months from now, will I be happy that I spent money on this?
- Would my money be better spent on something else or somewhere else?
By asking yourself these questions, you can stop an impulse buy in its tracks. The simple act of pausing to reflect on what’s in your hand or in front of you can alter your shopping behaviour.
Don’t listen to "averages", or fall for FOMO
If you stay on top of the latest headlines on your smartphone, television or radio, you’ll probably notice plenty of stories around this time of year about how much we’re expected to spend this Christmas. If you’re spending considerably less than the “average figure”, this may give you a false impression that it’s okay to shell out more on gifts. My advice is to ignore those numbers and focus on you and your own financial situation.
Similarly, checking social media to see what others are doing/buying can also tempt you to “keep up with the Joneses” and spend more. You've probably heard this a million times before, and I know it’s not easy, but try to not compare your life to those presented on Facebook or Instagram. Stick to your budget and only spend as much as you can, without putting yourself in any debt.
You don't have to be rich or spend a certain amount to enjoy the holidays. Did you not learn anything from Ebenezer Scrooge?
Do’s for Christmas
Do swap or “regift”
There may be a stigma around regifting, and Seinfeld fans might remember an episode focusing on that particular act back in the mid-1990’s. However, if you have brand new (or lightly used) items that you don’t plan on using, they should be given to someone who will appreciate it. One caveat, though: ensure you’re not giving the gift back to the person who gave it to you in the first place.
If you have any unused gift cards lying around, you can easily regift those. Or if you’d prefer to gift a card from another retailer, another option is to exchange your card for a different one, or cash-back. This can be done using a gift card swapping website such as CardSwap. You can even swap partially-used cards for brand new ones.
Do it yourself
If you have any hobbies or creative skills, this is the best time to put them to work. Knit scarves, hats or sweaters, frame your favourite online photos of you and your family and friends, or paint a beautiful landscape. These gifts are unique and can cost a lot less than what you find at the mall, provided you have the time to embark on these projects. If you're like me, and arts and crafts is not your strongpoint, consider offering your time as a gift. You can make DIY gift certificates for babysitting your sister's kids, cooking dinner for your parents, or washing your friend's car.
And finally… do get more for your must-haves
For the must-have items on your Christmas list, look to your credit card and points programs to earn you more on the dollar. The tips applies best at the grocery store. Food is an absolute necessity and therefore, why not earn points or cash-back on your groceries? The President’s Choice Financial® Mastercard® tiered suite is extremely popular, and it's easy to rack up/redeem points if you frequently shop at Loblaws, Fortinos, Joe Fresh and Shoppers Drug Mart or any other President’s Choice-affiliated retailer. Also, the Capital One® MasterCard® gives you cash-back in the form of an in-store rebate coupon in January.
For non-grocery-related shopping trips, you can still earn travel rewards, cash-back or points towards merchandise for a well-deserved treat in the new year. Click here to check out the best rewards credit cards for 2018! It’s easy to get stressed at this time of year, especially when it comes to your finances, but no one should go deep into debt in order to celebrate the festive season. Take a moment to pause and remind yourself what you’re most thankful for before you head out shopping, and make your Christmas celebrations more about quality and less about quantity.
This post has been updated.