How to keep your finances in check this winter

Financial wellness with My Frugal Year

by Clare Seal

There’s a strange phenomenon that happens around mid-November of every year. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the sound of people’s budgets and other positive financial habits flying out of the window, cast aside as soon as the Coca-Cola and John Lewis adverts hit our screen.

This may be the case particularly this year, as the memories of the all-but-cancelled Christmas of 2020 come back to haunt us. Everything – both internally and externally – is telling us that we should be making up for lost time and connection. But what’s the cost of this emotion-driven recklessness on our financial wellbeing, and how can we try to retain some sort of control amid the tornado of consumerism that always comes around this time of year?

Here are a few tips for getting through the festive season without sabotaging your financial health – and they might just help you to have a better Christmas in the meantime…

 

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Create a Christmas Budget (and stick to it)

November is a really good time to start laying out your Christmas costs, either on paper or in a spreadsheet, and comparing what you want to spend with what you can afford to spend. Most people are quite bad at approximating income or savings vs outgoing in their head, as we tend to be a bit too optimistic about affordability – but spreadsheets never lie, and getting a solid idea of what Christmas is going to look like for you this year is a great way to kick off the festive season.

When you set out your budget, make sure that you don’t only include gifts, but all of the other costs that creep in, too. Things like travel, socialising, new clothes, food and drink can seem like small incidentals, but they add up so quickly, and if you don’t take them into account you can end up with a nasty surprise when you check your bank account mid-month. As with all budgeting, keep it super-simple and make sure that you replace estimated or planned costs with actual costs as you go along, as this will help you to avoid surprises, too.

 

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Find clever ways to raise extra funds

Christmas is a time when any extra cash is gratefully appreciated, so now’s the time to pull out all the stops when it comes to additional income. Raid your wardrobe and cupboards for things to sell on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Depop, particularly things like occasionwear, which are very popular in the run up to Christmas party season. And if you are looking for new sparkly items, check out these fashion rental services for more sustainable festive outfits.

You might also look at spending dark, cosy evenings clocking up some time on paid survey sites or freelancing at a professional skill you have. Make sure that you take advantage of any referral schemes or joining incentives for apps which can boost your funds a little as well as providing a place to save.

Channel all of that extra cash into a savings pot or space that’s earmarked for Christmas, so that it doesn’t disappear as quickly as it arrives. This will help you fund your Christmas spending without eating into your day-to-day budget or accruing debt that will make life harder for you in January.

 

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Manage people’s Christmas expectations early

One of the main barriers that many of us run into when planning a less consumption-driven Christmas is the expectations of others. It can be really difficult to draw a line in the sand if friends and family are used to abundant gifts and expensive nights out. It’s important to have these conversations early and with your own wellbeing in mind.

Suggesting alternatives to everyone exchanging gifts can be a little softer, and go down a little better than simply going cold-turkey (pardon the pun). Perhaps suggest a theme, like all  getting each other a book, or a family Secret Santa might be easier. Setting up a slightly different way of gifting can really relieve the pressure – not just for you, but perhaps for other family members and friends who are worried about the cost of Christmas too.

 

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Shop mindfully and sustainably

The rush of newness is always hard to resist, but its pull is particularly powerful at Christmas. High-budget ad campaigns tug on our heartstrings and encourage us to equate shiny new stuff with love, while the shops are filled with glittering temptation everywhere we look. In order to fight back against this, you have to build yourself a set of armour, and wear it every day – not to shut out the joy, but to ward off the mindless consumerism that goes hand-in-hand with Christmas shopping.

With each gift, plan in advance and consider why you want to buy it for the person. Is it because they will love it, or because you need something to make up the numbers? Are there more sustainable gift options, like tickets to a show or a voucher for a favour, which they will treasure much more and won’t be cluttering up their homes for months and years to come? With every new gift purchase, give yourself at least 24 hours to consider whether it will actually make your loved one happy, or whether you’re buying it to keep up appearances.

 

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Keep January in mind

Nobody wants to spend December (the best month of the year) thinking about January (the worst month of the year) but it’s a good idea to bear in mind that you will have to live with the financial fallout of the festive season when 2022 rolls around.

There are lots of things about Christmas that really add to our wellbeing, like spending time with family and eating lovely food, but there are some things that we might do for show, or because we feel we should, or because it will look good on Instagram, and these are the things that you might want to cut out in order to make January more bearable.

Try, if at all possible, not to over-commit yourself financially with credit spending, either on a card or using a buy now, pay later service, and don’t abandon your budget the moment you open your advent calendar. Staying connected to and mindful of your finances can help you to enjoy Christmas even more – and it can save your January.

 

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The greatest gift of all

This year more than ever, Christmas will be about spending time with the ones we love, rather than the gifts we buy. Armed with budgeting goals and financial tips, here’s to having a wonderful Christmas – that doesn’t break the bank. Read more from Clare on how to manage your personal finances all year round or for present ideas – see our ultimate independent gift guide.

About the author

Clare Seal started @myfrugalyear back in 2019 to start an honest discussion around debt. She now has over 69k Instagram followers, writes for a breadth of newsstand titles, she’s founded The Financial Wellbeing Forum and has just released two books Real Life Money and The Real Life Money Journal.

 

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