The winter blahs may be caused by cold weather and cabin fever, but the post-holiday credit card statement sure doesn’t help. It seems that every year you vow to stick to a budget — then fall into the same habits that sank your finances the year before. We know you don’t want to hear more clichés about the spirit of the holidays. That’s why we’ve brought you half a dozen practical, proven tips from real parents:
Pay first, not later Deanna Marcy, creator of Money Saving Canadian Mom, suggests opening a no-fee online savings account and automatically contributing some holiday money each week. “If you save just $20 a week, you’ll have more than $1,000 in a year,” says the blogger and mom of two from Cambridge, Ont. You may have to ramp things up if you don’t start until November, but saving even a couple of hundred dollars can take a bite out of the holiday bill.
Do a gift exchange Many big families cut spending and gift-buying stress by putting everyone’s name into a hat and drawing one person to buy for. “I had 16 cousins growing up, and there was no way we could have bought a gift for everyone,” says Marcy. Her family continues that tradition today, setting a limit of $15 per gift.
Cash in your points “All year I save my points from HBC, Shoppers Drug Mart and Air Miles, and put them toward a larger purchase for one of my kids,” says Bette Creek of London, Ont., who blogs at Frugal Mom X3. One Christmas her daughter asked her for a Nintendo DS. “I cashed in a bunch of Air Miles and got it for free. She got exactly what she wanted, and I saved myself $130.”
Shop all year Creek listens carefully whenever family members talk about items they’d like to have. “When I see that item at the lowest price,” she says, “I will grab it and save it for the holidays.” Not only does this prevent her from spending too much during a last-minute scramble, it shows thoughtfulness. “One year my sister-in-law gave me a hair dryer with a retractable cord. It was probably $25, but I was so excited. She had heard me complain about my hair dryer one day and remembered that the next time she was at Walmart.”
Make a gift in a jar Last Christmas, Creek and her kids took a simple cookie recipe and layered all the dry ingredients in Mason jars to give as teachers’ gifts. “The kids decorated the jars with fabric and ribbons, and hand-wrote the recipe. The teachers loved it, and it cost no more than $10 for three of them.”
Package a memory We said we weren’t going to pile on the platitudes, but this one’s true: Great gifts don’t have to cost a lot. When Creek was on mat leave and short of cash, she shot some video of her new baby daughter and gave it to her in-laws as a gift. Marcy’s family has exchanged homemade photo albums that both adults and kids have enjoyed. “My 11-year-old thought it was neat to see her great-grandfather, who’s 92, wearing a dress as a baby!”