Victoria Shakeshaft: It’s too late to budget for Christmas but there is still hope

The West Australian
If you haven’t had time to budget and you’d describe your current money situation as ‘redder than Rudolph’s nose’, here’s how to make the best of it.
Camera IconIf you haven’t had time to budget and you’d describe your current money situation as ‘redder than Rudolph’s nose’, here’s how to make the best of it. Credit: DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAPIMAGE

With just less than a week left until Christmas, you’re in a good place financially and have no spending regrets to speak of, right?

You’ve managed a budget, shopped online using a well-planned list, and are now sitting back feeling calm, ready and organised. Congratulations, you can skip right through this article.

However, if you haven’t had time to budget and you’d describe your current money situation as ‘redder than Rudolph’s nose’, here’s how to make the best of it.

Don’t shop tired or hungry

If you still have shopping to tackle, do yourself a favour and eat a full meal beforehand. This has a two-fold effect. Firstly, you’re less likely to impulse buy, especially food. Have you ever been to a supermarket hungry and walked out with two pavlovas, a Turducken and an assortment of dips in every colour of the rainbow? Me neither, it was just an example, but you see the reasoning!

Secondly, being well-fed stabilises your mood. And when you’re in a four-person deep throng trying to get the last contour kit at Priceline for your 15-year-old niece, you need all the help you can get.

Being well rested at this time of year is quite possibly too much to ask, but if you can fit in a pre- shopping nap, do it. Cranky shopping is no joy for anyone.

Learn for next year

Okay, so your budget and gift buying strategy this year was about as successful as making an Ikea flatpack gingerbread house.

Time to learn and grow. How can next year be different? Do you need to set up a Christmas account with $20 a week from January? Or perhaps $50 per pay packet in a piggy bank you have to smash open next December to avoid the temptation of spending it early?

Everyone is different depending on what your family, money and time looks like. If you need help, a financial counsellor can step you through a ‘money plan’ (a less horrible word for budget), so next year flows like a dream.

It’s okay to say no

You are allowed to opt out. That’s the tweet. You can say no to Aunt Janet’s Christmas party, to the sixth work social event in two weeks and to the progressive dinner that exhausts you every year.

“But it’s tradition” I hear you say. I say, (with deepest empathy and a full glass of eggnog in hand) if it costs you energy, money or Peace on Earth, is that something you really, truly want to carry on? Stress and emotional burn-out can make us spend more – whether for convenience or to simply cope.

I give you permission to say, “no thank you”, or to pull an excuse if a plain “no” is just too hard.

Buy yourself time

Pun intended. If there are people you desperately need to buy a gift for, but your account balance looks as bloody and battered as Bruce Willis in Die Hard, try a DIY voucher. Like the childhood IOU ‘one car wash for Daddy’, but better.

Are they a foodie? Gift them dinner on you. Are they a plant lover? A Bunnings trip (with bonus sausage sizzle obviously). Bibliophile? A trip together for coffee and new books! Rather than buying the voucher up front, hand make one. It’s personal, and it can spread your spending out to give you more capacity. Plus, it shows you want to spend quality time with the person. Put a price limit on it just like a normal voucher, but make sure you follow through, otherwise it’s a cop out, and no one likes a Grinch.

If money is a constant stress point for you, or you wake up in January with the debt hangover of a lifetime, book an appointment with a financial counsellor. It’s free, confidential and most importantly, non-judgmental.

We’ve all made mistakes, and a financial counsellor won’t make a judgement call on yours. Money can’t be captured in a spreadsheet. We’re here for the emotions too.

To find a financial counsellor go to financialcounsellingnetwork.org.au, or call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

Victoria Shakeshaft is a financial counsellor at Communicare, part of the Financial Counselling Network.

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