If you're wondering how you will ever get through the holidays without taking on more debt, I once read a Bill Murray quote that resonated with me: “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything.” As an Irish woman, I’ve never been relaxed in my life. So when I read this I immediately thought, “Ah! This is the reason why I suck at everything. All I have to do is relax!” Easier said than done. But the closest I have ever come to being relaxed is definitely during the holidays. Here's why.
Lifestyle choices for a debt-free holiday
For me, the holidays are the most wonderful time of year because this is when my life choices really pay off. As a single, child-free, new...ish Canadian I have very little to worry about during the holidays. My holiday gift expense is negligible and my time expense is next-to-nil because the majority of my family is securely tucked behind the darkest corner of the Atlantic—joy to the world!
This is the one time of year when I have time to myself and don’t feel guilty about doing exactly what I want to do, which is eating everything and watching Netflix all day long. For me, holiday planning happens throughout the year and it involves deciding which shows I’m going to save for binge watching and what food I’ll be pairing them with. So by January, I’m usually looking forward to getting back to work and my routine. (Which is just as well, because the first quarter of the year is one of the busiest times at Credit Canada. Pro tip: If you’ve been thinking about getting in touch with us, now is a good time.)
But back to my Bill Murray quote.
Because I’m relaxed during the holidays, I’m pretty darn good at them! So I’m going to give you a few tips if you’re one of those people who stress out this time of year.
Top tips to make the holidays stress-free
We are in the thick of the holiday shopping season—a time when most of us overspend because we think we need to, all for the sake of having a happy, wonderful time with friends and family. Don't fall for it! There are a few things you can do that will help you enjoy the holidays more while also spending less.
1. Speak Up
Use your words. If money is tight this year, you need to start talking to your family right now. And you need to do it with zero guilt. Ultimately, the holidays are boiled down to one day. If you cannot spend as much as usual, or anything at all, then don’t. You’re not doing anything wrong if one day out of 365 doesn’t meet your expectations, or anyone else's for that matter. The key here is to not feel miserable on the big day.
2. Start Frugal Holiday Traditions
Consistency is key, and one of the great things about the holidays is tradition. If you don’t already have them, start new traditions that are budget-friendly. For me, it’s not Christmas Day unless I bankrupt my nephew in Monopoly. And it’s not December 26th unless I watch the Wizard of Oz. It’s the little things that we talk about throughout the year that really bring us joy during the holidays, and these are always the things that we end up looking forward to most. So focus on those things instead of a shopping list.
3. Leave Your Money Worries Behind
In my job, I hear a lot of, “what will people think?” What will people think if I need to use the food bank? What will people think if I have bad credit? What will people think if I don’t have a designer winter coat? What will people think if I bring a simple dish to the potluck? We all spend a lot of time worrying about what people will think, but who are these ‘people’ anyway? This season, I recommend you put actual names to the ‘people’ in these statements. Once you have the actual names of the individuals, you’ll likely be surprised to find that the term ‘people’ refers to maybe one to three individuals; not the world. Then spend some time considering if their opinion is actually something to worry about. I did this recently with a decision I had to make and I was surprised by the names I came up with. I was surprised because I knew these people would be devastated if they had any idea that I was worried about what they thought of me. ‘People’ is a broad, tormenting term. Don’t use it. Use actual names.
4. Just Say 'No' to Holiday Debt
Do not finance one day of the year with your credit card. One of the reasons why 1% of the population is having a much better time than the other 99% of us is that 1% is incredibly skilled at providing the rest of us with crap we don’t need. This is the time of year when retailers and banks see most of their profit, which for some is in the billions. Do not contribute to your own hardship by buying crap you don’t need on credit.
5. Invoke the 'Scanning Code of Practice'
One thing I love about working at Credit Canada is the Credit Counsellors here practice what they preach and I have learned so much about budgeting and money management just by shooting the breeze with my colleagues in the break room. One of the greatest things I ever learned was from the magnificent, Courtney Cooper—one of our staff. (If you’ve called on a Saturday, you’ve likely spoken to Courtney.) And this is my holiday gift to you: the Scanning Code of Practice.
According to the Scanning Code of Practice, if the scanned price of a non-price ticketed item is higher than the shelf price, or any other displayed price, the customer is entitled to receive the first item free up to a $10 maximum. If the item that was incorrectly scanned costs $10 or more, you get a discount of $10.
I cannot begin to describe the joy I feel when an item I’m purchasing scans at the wrong price. I tell the cashier and they immediately adjust the price and then I bust out my favourite line, “scanning code of practice.” It’s all you have to say. The cashier will not automatically do this for you. I frequently catch this on sale items, particularly toothbrushes. Remember, it’s the little things that sometimes bring us the most joy!
6. Set a Holiday Budget
The last point is the most important. You need a holiday budget; hold your eye roll. Do not go into the season with intentional blinders on, it’s just going to be a recipe for a January disaster. There is zero complex math in budgeting but it can be overwhelming for people who find it difficult to find where their money goes every month. If you need help budgeting, you can download our free Budget Planner. You can also give us a call and we'll put together a budget for you, at no cost.
Free budgeting and debt help from Credit Canada
If you've already splurged on holiday gifts but think you've spent more than your budget can handle, give us a call at 1.800.267.2272. We can take a look at your monthly expenses, income and any debts that you owe and work out a plan of action that will put you ahead before the New Year even starts. All of our counselling is free, there's no obligation, and we'll never judge your spending decisions. We just provide simple, unbiased money advice and give you all the information you need to put your best financial foot forward and achieve your financial goals.