It’s a most wonderful time of the year.

And I’m not talking about Daylight Savings Time. Which sucks.

Coming home at 2:30 in the afternoon the other day, I realized it was truly getting dark already, so I most definitely appreciate the lights and decorations that are popping up in town to help brighten things up. And I appreciate the overall holiday season and Christmas time. And cheesy TV movies – you know the ones where the business oriented folk wake up to a different life where they married their college sweetheart and have kids whose names they don’t know, and in the end (with a little magical help of an angel or a special Santa) they somehow find the balance between holding on to love and also following personal ambitions and dreams.

Of course it can be hard to find balance all year ‘round, and at this time of year especially.

While I celebrate Christ’s birth, I can easily get distracted by the other elements of the  occasion.

But I always aim to keep expenditures within my grasp and live within our means, even if that means a substantial stretch beyond normal monthly costs.

During the rest of the year, whenever there are extra funds beyond normal life after each payday, I move money to special accounts like travel and kitty kat and house renos, even if it’s small amounts like $25, as it all adds up. But at this time of year all the extra funds have a different destination.

As a bit of a preplanner, it works in our budget’s favour that I start shopping in November and spread it between a few paycheques. Okay, so my hubby may have a bit of credit card debt in the New Year for gifts bought for the one special person he has on his list (aka moi), but I don’t do the debt thing.

Savings hint number 1: Spread out the expenditures, allotting what you can truly spare towards your holiday expenses. If two months isn’t enough time to put aside the extra funds to go to the holidays, give it four months, or six months, etc., and avoid the January debt that can take months to pay off.

 

There are of course challenges for anyone to watch out for at this time of year. As we’re more “out there” and more exposed to products and goodies, it can be easy to feel tempted. I basically know that when I go to a store like London Drugs for the edible treats of the season that I will spend some funds on us too, just to test some of the products and make sure they are okay for consumption. But still, I keep it within a modest realm – e.g. of $80 spent there the other day, only $10 was for treats for us. I still have to play it smart though and either not buy my favourites for others, or wait until closer to the occasion, because if some yummy purchases are made too early in the season, I will most surely be doing a return trip to buy replacements!

So that’s hint number 2: Delay temptations and/or buy things that won’t be as tempting for you personally to dig into.

 

I’ve gotten more into shopping online this year and can understand how it can be easy to go overboard. You may make a first purchase and then be offered some great deal, of something you don’t really need, but that’s very tempting. I prefer to make purchases that come directly from debit (or via PayPal) so there’s virtually no delay in that money leaving my virtual hands, making the experience more “real” as opposed to delaying payment via credit card. And the expenses are covered by pre-allotted amounts from when I did the last pay’s budgeting as opposed to having to find money in the future to cover those purchases. I’m also very specific in my searches rather than cruising site after site and being sucked into the vortex.

And you need to watch out for “buy one, get one free”, whether online or in stores, as the actual cost itself may not be worth it for even one, much less two items, especially if you don’t need either. Not to mention shipping and handling costs that still need to be paid, that will generally cover the cost of the “free” item, while hitting you in the pocketbook.

We need to take care to avoid indecent exposure, no matter how luring the “bargains” may be.

Hint number 3: “If de money ain’t dere, don’t spennit” – said with a Southern accent , by a wise old man named Earl in his rocking chair on his front veranda.

 

One friend of ours is so good at getting such precious little gifts for friends where she definitely doesn’t overspend but still shows heaps of love. It might be a cute package of tea, or pretty soap, a CD, a book, a mantelpiece decoration, or a small box of chocolates. They are generally modest gifts in the $5 to $15 range but they always speak volumes because of her presentation, approach, and loving words in her cards. It truly is the thought that counts. So while some people may fall into the “have to get them at least a $25 gift card for a super expensive beverage place” category, hopefully there are many who can fall into the sweet, thoughtful, more affordable gift category.

Hint number 4: Don’t feel pressured to live up to societal standards that surround you and aim instead to find your own ways to bless your friends and loved ones. Even something simple like baked goods in a pretty container can go over very well, and only cost you about $5.

 

I’ve always loved real Christmas trees but after a local family lost their house to a fire caused by a tree last year, I just feel too uncomfortable with that now. Of course there are safety precautions people can take such as keeping the tree watered and not having it for too long. But I want to rest easy, so we decided to get a fake tree.

We headed off to the local charity shop that raises funds for the hospital and right away saw the right tree. It’s a good size, nice and full, and it even comes with pre-attached lights. Yes, I got distracted by other treasures in the store, but for less than $60 we walked out with the tree, a lovely wreath and decorated branches for the front door, a few tree decorations, and a couple of pretty containers to carry homemade edible gifts. We would have easily spent that same amount on a one time tree, so I’m happy with the long term investment and savings. Just over the next decade alone we can save over $600.

Of course many tree lots are for fundraising for great causes. I’ve even volunteered the last eight years for one such cause, so it’s certainly worthwhile to consider those avenues for tree purchases, but if you want to rein it in, that’s one place to do so, my dear.

Hint number 5: Check out the charity shops to find deals, especially on barely used home decorations for yourself, or items like containers for edible gifts (of what goes in them that is, not the containers themselves).

Next week, I’ll have five more hints for you, and five more the following week. Until then, happy holiday planning!

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