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Student in festive setting drinking coffee
December 10, 2018
4 mins read

Money Sen$e: Holiday cheer, not financial fear

Money can be tough to talk about—with Money Sen$e, we’re bringing you real world advice to help you with your money woes.

With the holidays around the corner, I’m always reminded of certain patterns in my spending habits that change with the season.

In the past, I’ve found myself justifying a new pair of boots as a reward for getting through Christmas shopping, eating out more (because of winter hibernation), and spending $45 to walk through lights and take pictures.

The holidays can bring with it pricey gift exchanges, group weekend excursions, or fancy fundraising events. No one wants to be that person in a group of friends who says no to celebrating. However, this can bring a lot of stress to those of us who have already been struggling to manage our finances throughout the year.

With only a short break after finals, it can be stressful to squeeze in holiday shopping and quality time with those important to you—cue those panicked, last-minute, rushed shopping trips.

But there’s hope: small changes in how you approach the holidays can save both your wallet and your spirit! Below are some tried-and-tested tips to help you avoid becoming the holiday grinch—or the post-holiday grouch (when the bills arrive!).

Make a list and check it twice

Whenever I go Christmas shopping without a specific list of things to get, I end up buying items like overpriced gift baskets or generic filler presents with the assumption that I’ll “figure it out later” (because I can always return it, right?).

I usually come to regret these impulse purchases when they end up taking space on a shelf—or when I see my January credit card statement—because I’ve either lost the receipt or can’t find the time to return them.

Here’s what you can do to avoid this situation:

  1. Write down exactly what you’re going to get for each person.
  2. Write down the dollar value to get a better visual of how much you’re spending.
  3. If you’re not sure what to get them just yet, assign an amount but keep in mind that this isn’t the value of your relationship.
  4. Give yourself only one full day to get this shopping done rather than spreading it out because it may be harder for you to keep track of purchases.
  5. Keep all your receipts in one envelope and plan out your shopping so that everything is in the same area. (Returning your purchases is less painful when you’re not driving to various points of the city.)

Don’t spend what you don’t have

This one might be obvious but it’s an important reminder, especially during a time when we’re tempted to make unnecessary purchases (like those caramel-apple scented candles).

Keep these tips in mind before you shop ‘til you drop:

  • Make it a habit to check your account balance regularly.
  • Use cash! Seeing your bills leave your wallet is a great way to actually stick to a budget. Just don’t bring more cash than your budget allows.
  • Reflect and learn from experience. Think back to last year or a time you faced similar expectations to spend beyond your means. What did you do differently that helped, or what are areas of improvement that you can consider?
  • Follow these student tips to avoid racking up a massive credit card bill by January.

Get creative with your gift giving, not your finances

Use the holidays as a way to flex your creative muscles and make use of what you have! For me, personalized presents and spending time with my friends and family really warm my heart.

Here are ways to make this season fun on a budget:

  • Organize activities that decrease spending on presents. Exchanges like secret Santa or white elephant can reduce how many presents you need to buy without leaving anyone out.
  • Warm your loved ones’ hearts (and your own) this season with a homemade gift and handwritten note!
  • If you end up receiving a present that you want to reciprocate, take advantage of Boxing Day to get them something great for less! Who says the deadline for gift giving has to be December 25?

And lastly, communicate—don’t anticipate

This season I’m not buying many gifts and I know that my friends aren’t either. I find that in university there is less of an expectation to give and receive material gifts. In the past, I think I’ve been putting that expectation on myself—to “go big or go home”—when it comes to holiday shopping. When it comes to events, I find it hard to say no to traditions or new holiday markets.

If you’ve felt the same pressure, here are two things you can try saying:

  • “Sorry! I’m on a student budget!” I use this line for a lot more situations than I’d like to admit. My advice: use it sparingly so it doesn’t completely hold you back from embracing the holiday spirit.
  • “I can’t join you this time.” Be firm when you can’t participate but leave the suggestion that you are open to other events. When it comes to pricey getaways or events, it may be hard to say no but allowing yourself to be pressured into joining can lead to resentment against the other person.

If you find yourself concerned about spending money, this can come out in negative ways and may impact your relationships. However, by being open with friends and family, you'll help set realistic expectations and break the myth of needing to give ALL the gifts or do ALL the holiday activities. You don’t owe anyone a full explanation of your financial situation but be willing to communicate where you’re at and take advice from those who care about you.

Get into the holiday mindset, not the consumer mindset

Avoid becoming the Grinch this winter break by reminding yourself that this is the time to celebrate and appreciate the end of the year with family and friends.

By spending mindfully, you can still show your appreciation to your loved ones and enjoy the holidays on a budget. Just make sure to plan your finances accordingly so you don’t have to be stressed.