December budgeting

Christmas gifts

With Christmas fast approaching (my tree went up early in November), I’ve been thinking about money over the festive period. Christmas can be a joyful, exciting time to share with your loved ones, and spoil them with gifts. It can also be extraordinarily stressful as there is so much expectation surrounding Christmas and as a result, a lot of people go into debt trying to show their loved ones that they really do care. 

You can be money-wise, without being frugal, stingy or lacking in Christmas spirit. Whether you’re doing it all online, in person, or a bit of both. Here is some guidance on how…

The first, and most important thing to say about Christmas and budgeting, is not to go into debt trying to show people you care. A thoughtful gift will, for most people, trump something expensive and thoughtless. Some families stock up on generic presents throughout the year, taking advantage of sales and discounts. This is a good way to spread the cost and also minimise the chances of someone getting you a gift when you haven’t bought them one. 

Bath salts, candles and smellies, are little luxuries that are easy one-off gifts for coworkers and friends. Personally, I keep my list small and if I find I am just looking for a present for the sake of giving something, rather than considering what they could use and what would make them happy, I seriously consider whether or not I should be getting them a gift at all. 

Few people actually appreciate a perfume they are never going to use. Small consumable luxuries that they would otherwise not buy themselves make great generic presents.

Hand-made gifts are lovely if you’re crafty but again, it is worth considering if the person you are giving it to will regularly use or appreciate it. My sister, for example, recently sent me a handmade, very colourful scarf I absolutely love for my birthday, But every year, I get odd tat from another friend of mine, and have to wait an appropriate amount of time before it mysteriously “disappears” from my flat. I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m wary of giving anyone stuff just for the sake of stuff.

I start Christmas shopping around October/November time, and pay attention year-round to things people talk about and like, or could use. I keep a list on my Google Drive. 

Step one is to list the people you are getting gifts for certain. Family, friends, colleagues, partners, kids. Then allocate an appropriate amount to each person or group of people. For example, £10 on the work Secret Santa, but £200 on your partner. Every person’s budget is different, so be realistic about what you can afford in total and then divide it accordingly.

With close friends or family, sometimes if you’re on a really tight budget, it is worth just asking if they would be willing to forgo presents and spend one-on-one time with you instead. For my fellow friends that hate stuff for the sake of stuff in their houses – “I want your presence, not your presents.” is something we often say between us. Not because I have an issue with spending money on them, or even because I can’t afford to in some cases, but simply because neither of us actually want any more stuff and the tradition doesn’t always suit us. 

For friends and family whose “love language” is gifts, and who do appreciate physical things as a way of showing affection and love, it is sometimes worth capping the amount you’re spending on each other, once you’ve done your budget. “I don’t want you to spend too much on me, can we agree on around x amount this year?” This saves needless embarrassment when they buy you Jo Malone’s advent calendar and you’ve gotten them the aforementioned bath salts from Lush or M&S.

Saving face and a “stiff upper lip” is quintessentially British, and it is no wonder that so many of us do go into debt over Christmas when you are worried about being seen as “penny-pinching”. But being smart with money, and realistic about what you can afford does not in any way, mean you are “penny-pinching” not generous or loving. Giving from a place where you can afford to give is sustainable and means you can give more in the long run. 

According to Jo Martin’s ‘One of Many’ money course, 65% of women who are millionaires know exactly what their numbers are; how much is going out for living, food, luxuries and charity. Being financially savvy is badass and something to respect and admire. 

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