Money Smart: Your guide to Christmas spending

During her two years as a bank teller, Kathryn-Lynn Raskina met a lot of people who were drowning in debt and struggling to pay their bills. It wasn’t because they weren’t making enough money. It was because they didn’t know the first thing about debt or about managing their money. She doesn’t want you to be one of those people. She wants you to graduate money smart.

So, I am going to tell you something that may horrify some of you. A few years ago, my family decided to stop buying Christmas gifts. Gasp. I know. How could we? I’ve heard it. No, we aren’t Grinches. Christmas, in fact, is my favourite holiday.

We made the decision to do away with Christmas presents for a few reasons. One was that my cousins and I were all grown up. We knew presents didn’t come from Santa Claus but came from our parents who had to shell out a ton of their hard earned money to buy them. My brother and I were old enough that we felt the need to buy gifts for everyone but we didn’t have the money to do so.  

Furthermore, we were fed up with the long lines, tired of trying to decide what to buy each other when we already had everything we needed, done with the consumerism and materialism surrounding the holiday. In sum, we felt that gift giving has lost its meaning, that we weren’t getting anything out of the hundreds of dollars that we were spending.

Over the past couple of years, my family has saved thousands of dollars from not giving gifts.

According to a report from Bank of Montreal, the average Canadian will spend $563 on Christmas gifts this holiday season. When you add in money for travelling, decorations, and entertaining that number is a little over $1,500.

In getting rid of presents, my family has also saved ourselves a lot of debt. Monitoring agency, TransUnion, released a report at the start of the Christmas season that credit card debt had reached a two year high among Canadians. According to the report, the average credit card debt in the third quarter of this year was $3,745 — that’s up three per cent from the same period a year ago.

I’m not saying stop buying Christmas presents. I have a lot of friends who love buying gifts and who get a lot of value and pleasure out of the whole process. It is their way of showing love to their friends and family. They love searching high and low for the perfect gift and seeing the person’s face when they open it.

I’m just saying stop and think before you buy and don’t feel the need to spend money, especially if you don’t have it. Is this gift something that this person will actually use and appreciate? Why are you buying this gift? What is the value in gift giving for you?

To tell you the truth, I don’t miss the presents. I still get that holiday swell in my heart at Christmas without them. I get joy from spending hours in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies with my friends. I get it from making perogies on Christmas Eve morning with my Mom. I get it when as family after dinner on Christmas Eve we gather around the tree and sing Christmas carols. It’s more than enough.

Katie’s tips to save money this holiday season:

  • Do a Kris Kringle. Instead of buying gifts for each member of your family and each of your friends, put all of their names in a hat, have everyone chose a name and only buy a gift for that one person. Set a maximum amount of money that everyone should be spending. $50 per person should be plenty.
  • Buy an experience. Instead of buying something materialistic such as a sweater, spend money on an outing. For example, buy your dad tickets to a basketball game. He’ll be over the moon when he opens them and then will be excited again a few weeks later when you go to the game. Two gifts for the price of one. Score.
  • Get creative and make your gifts. My friends and I started a holiday tradition last year of getting together for an evening and doing Christmas baking. We each bring a recipe and a bottle of wine. We have a ball doing it and our friends and family love getting a bag of homemade Christmas treats.
  • Make a donation on a family member’s behalf. Instead of buying a gift for your family member, make a donation to their favourite charity in their name. Better yet, give your time by volunteering as a group at a soup kitchen or pool your money to help make the Christmas wish of an underprivileged child come true.

Featured image by Evelyn Thompson