This time of year makes it easy to spend more than usual – the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has predicted spending to reach $45 billion in the six weeks to Christmas in 2014, up $2.8 billion on spending last year.
“I think the bells are ringing and the tinsel’s glistening at the moment,” ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said in an interview with the ABC.
“It’s Christmas time and people seem to relax and spend a bit more money as we go into Christmas anyway.”
But as we go into holiday mode, our debit cards often end up working overtime, helping us buy gifts, food, drinks, and many other costs tied to Christmastime. You can, however, avoid watching helplessly as your balance creeps closer and closer to $0 by making just a few simple changes to how you do things.
In many cases, it’s just changing a few of the habits that can crop up at this time of year so that more money is left in your pocket at the end of shopping trips. So with that in mind, we’ve rounded up the five best tips to help you keep your bank account happy while also making the most of the holiday season.
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- Set up a special account for seasonal spending
- Buy in bulk
- Find the best Christmas sales promotions
- Pack snacks and drinks for shopping trips
- Share Christmas costs
Set up a special account for seasonal spending
With gifts, social events and holidays all typical parts of the silly season, it’s easy to spend your bank balance dry. Worse still, this time of year is a favourite for pulling out the plastic, which means bigger credit card bills and more interest payments.
In fact, a 2014 report from Veda has shown that one of the biggest causes of credit card debt and defaults is an increase in credit card applications and spending.
“Our data shows that consumers turn to credit in the lead up to the festive season to fund their spending,” Veda spokesperson Belinda Diprose says in a statement about the report.
“It can result in consumers overextending and getting into debt stress.”
Switching from a credit card to a debit card can be a solution to bigger credit balances, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of overspending. The bottom line is that whether you use your debit card or your credit card, the financial issues that often come up from all the extra spending at this time of year will have a lasting effect.
So how do you stay debt free and keep your bank balance healthy? One way to avoid bank account agony is to set up an account especially for this time of year.
There’s a growing number of fee free debit card accounts out there that could be ideal for this type of thing, such as the UBank Ultra transaction account or ING Orange Everyday. Setting up one of these accounts for all your Christmas spending means that you are less likely to go over your budget, run your everyday bank account dry or add to the interest charges you have to pay on your credit card account. It also gives you an opportunity to transfer money months in advance, so that this time next year you are set up for all the extra spending.
Another option is to get a reloadable, pre-paid debit card and load only the amount you want to spend on Christmas shopping. The only risk here is that you could end up dealing with fees if you accidentally go over the limit. But either of these dedicated Christmas options should help you keep a lid on expenses at this time of year.
Buy in bulk
Bulk buying doesn’t work for everyone but if there is a time of year when it does work for most people, this is it. With so many social events to go to, stocking up on popular party items like decorations, seasonal foods and drinks can make it a lot more affordable.
For example, liquor stores like Dan Murphy’s often sell bottles of wine at a lower price if you buy six or more, and other stores offer a lower price if you get a dozen bottles. While you may think a dozen or even six bottles will be more than enough, getting extra at a lower price means you will have ample supplies for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. And if you do have some left over, you could give them away as seasonal gifts.
Another example is decorations and wrapping paper. A lot of places have specials offering three items for the price of two or two-for-one deals. Even if you only need one of something, consider whether you have a family member or friend who might also need the same thing. That way you can buy extra, split the cost and save money.
It’s worth noting, however, that when we say “buy in bulk” we don’t mean “race out to Costco or another wholesaler and get as much as you can fit in your car”. Instead, we mean get as much as you need from supermarkets and other stores, especially if you see what you want on sale.
The key to this kind of bulk buying is planning ahead. It’s easy to get caught up thinking of just one of the events you’re organising at this time of year, but considering all of them when you go shopping and stocking up on what you will need more than once can save you a lot of money. So look out for sales on items you think you’ll need so that you can get as much bang for your buck as possible.
Find the best Christmas sales promotions
There are sales everywhere at this time of year, and while that can be overwhelming it can also work in your favour. Pull up sales pages on your laptop, browse online stores on your mobile phone or sit down with a whole pile of glossy, printed catalogues and checkout what stores have what deals.
By going through this process before you go shopping, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you want to buy, where you want to go and – most importantly – how much you’re likely to spend.
This kind of process also means you are more likely to get the best prices on everything that you need, because you can take the time to compare sales across a wide range of stores.
But if you don’t have the time to sit down and do a comparison, remember that you can pull out your phone while you’re shopping and look up prices at other stores nearby.
For instance, if you’re in Store X and it has a gift you want to buy for $69.99, but you think Store Y might have the same item just around the corner from where you are, checking your phone to find out how much Store Y sells it for could help you get a better price or at least save you time wandering back and forth.
So whether you sit down and compare prices before you go shopping or end up doing it out and about, with this approach you’ll always know you are getting the best bang for your buck.
Pack snacks and drinks for shopping trips
The crowds swarm all over shopping centres at this time of year, making it hard to get in and out in less than a few hours. But instead of lining up at the food court halfway through your mission, consider taking your own snacks and drinks.
Preparing your own food and drinks is a great way to save money when you’re out shopping, and it means you don’t have to spend more time waiting in a line. But even better, if you have kids it is a great way to avoid food court arguments.
“The easiest way to deal with kids when eating out is to simply bring your own food,” the Kidspot website says.
“Pack a couple of sandwiches, perhaps a box of fresh fruits and cut up vegetables and/or a bottle of water. Every time your kid says they are hungry, simply whip out your healthy box of snacks.”
But let’s also look at this from the financial side of things. If you are shopping on your own, you could expect to pay around $15 for a meal and $5 for a drink, adding $20 to your total bill for the day. If you’re with two kids, you can expect it to be at least $50 for lunch, plus snacks along the way.
While that might not seem like much at the time, tally up the savings at the end of the day and you could find you have enough for another present or at least a few stocking stuffers. Plus you’re more likely to eat well if you take your own food and drink – and that can make a huge difference for your mindset and energy levels when you’re out shopping all day.
Share Christmas costs
This tip is inspired from that little saying that “sharing is caring”. So if you’re going to a party at someone’s place, for example, you could consider taking a salad, some fruit, snacks or even a few drinks as a way of contributing to the celebration.
If you’re hosting Christmas lunch, on the other hand, you could suggest guests bring something to share. Some people may even ask what to bring, so it could be a good idea to consider the kinds of things you know you won’t have time to prepare.
Drinks, entrees, salads and sweets are usually good suggestions because they cover some of the extra costs and mean that there will easily be enough food for everyone to share (and probably some leftovers too!). Bringing just one of these things won’t cost someone a lot of money, but if a few people bring them it could save you a lot of money – as well as a bit of time.
But if you feel strange asking people to bring something over, think about it like this: whether you’re having a gathering at your place or going to someone else’s, sharing the costs is bound to bring more Christmas and New Year’s cheer.
December is a month of parties, social gatherings, holidays and other festivities, so it is normal for people to spend more money at this time of year. But none of these events have to break the bank for you or anyone else.
If you start by thinking about how you will spend your money, you’ll be set up for sticking to your budget. Similarly, planning shopping ahead of time so that you know exactly what you’ll need for all the events you’re going to means that you can buy a lot of things on sale weeks in advance.
The same goes for finding the best price on Christmas gifts. If you can take just 10 minutes to go through catalogues, you could end up saving a lot of money on the things you’re planning to buy. In fact, you may find that you are so organised that your shopping takes half a day and you can leave before you even need to eat. But otherwise, taking snacks and drinks will help keep you energised without depleting your bank account in the process.
And the last tip on our list really gets into the spirit of these celebrations. Offering to contribute something or accepting contributions from others is a great way to save money, but an even better way to really get into the gift-giving spirit of the season.
So whether you want to save money, time or stress, with these tips on hand you should be able to have a Silly Season that keeps both you and your debit card happy well into the New Year.