It’s almost that time of year again! Christmas is just around the corner, and it is the time of year when many Canadians will again ask themselves “How am I going to be able to afford Christmas this year?” The truth is, the earlier that you work out your financial plan, the more relaxing and joyous holiday you will have. Much of the anxiety surrounding Christmas is financial; many of us tend to look at the gifts that we buy as a reflection of our relationship with the receiver - nothing could be further from the truth.

The old cliché “It’s the thought that counts” can be forgotten at this time of year as the retailers and credit card companies pull out all the stops to get us to spend like there is no tomorrow – or to buy now and pay later!

January will come – it does every year!

The importance of starting Christmas shopping early isn’t merely to relieve the emotional pressures surrounding the holidays; there is a financial purpose too. Many items are more expensive around the holidays, as frantic shoppers sometimes will pay just about anything to get the items that they want. Take a look at your schedule and perhaps spend twenty minutes of one day this week organizing a Christmas budget. You will be glad that you did - January is coming and if you plan this holiday season to be a “cash” season – well, let’s just say you will retain the holiday spirit for months to come. Count how many people you have to buy gifts for and cards. Select whose house you will be spending the holidays at. If Christmas dinner is at your house this year you will have more to do and perhaps you might consider asking for financial contributions to help with the extra costs of the dinner and trimmings.

Christmas dinner can be an expensive affair

Make notes of what you will be having on the Christmas dinner menu. If relatives are going to be staying at your house during the holidays, make sure that you plan ahead. If you want your relatives or friends to help - give them advance notice, this could prove to be a large financial and emotional burden lifted from your shoulders.

Christmas sales

During the first two weeks in November, start looking for sales at your local grocery stores and shopping centres. You should be able to find some good sales on items that you will need during the holidays. Christmas wrapping paper, bows, Christmas crackers all the trimmings and some food items that you can stock up on now.

Before you begin shopping though, have your Christmas budget set up. This budget should outline in detail what you will spend on each item (for example: $40.00 on a Turkey, $50.00 on a live Christmas tree, $15.00 on candles etc). This will help to prevent you from going overboard when you begin your shopping; and we all know how easy it is to get carried away during the holidays.

Overspending

Avoid the temptation to overspend on items and don’t purchase items that aren’t on the list. The Christmas budget should include the amount of money that you intend to spend on each person on your list and the all the presents that they will receive - don’t forget to include any items you may purchase for their stockings. The budget is important so that you can keep your spending in ‘check,’ and if you follow it, you will not be surprised at the end of the holiday.

Christmas count down

In mid-November look through what decorations you already have in your home. During the months of November and December there are many craft sales and church bazaars that may give you some gift and craft ideas – some of these ideas you may want to try to recreate with the kids. During these weeks, make a list of family members, friends and acquaintances that you will want to send Christmas cards and make telephone calls to. Talk with your phone provider's customer service and see if they are offering any monthly long distance rates that you can purchase for December. Check out your local dollar stores for generic Christmas cards and wrapping paper, cellophane or gift bags. You may save a lot of money by purchasing these items at a dollar store rather than a retail card store. If you are mailing a lot of Christmas cards, this might be a good idea to purchase stamps in bulk rolls from a post office to save you time.

Sticking to your Christmas budget

Every day track your spending and each week sit down and evaluate where you are - how closely you are following your Christmas budget. Have you been purchasing the items that you need? Is there a time when you went over-budget, and if so, why did you go over-budget? When purchasing your gifts, understand the value of your purchase – remember it truly is “the thought that counts”.