Planning for Large Annual Expenses: AKA Oh Sh!t, How is it Christmas Again?!

Planning for Large Annual Expenses: AKA Oh Sh!t, How is it Christmas Again?!

I don’t know about you, but every year, my brain tricks me into forgetting about the holidays. My first alert to them is October 31, when the Dollarama workers are stuck working late to remove the plastic pumpkins and put up the Christmas kitsch.

I get caught up in the indignation of hearing “Santa Baby” while there are still leaves on the trees, but I forget about the expense train that is rapidly approaching. I used to get stuck in a super stressful debt cycle around this time of year. It looked like this: scramble to cover the large expenses–>get in debt–>pay off the debt–> wipe unpleasant experience from my memory.

Then the following year, when Christmas rolled around again, internally scream “Nooooooo, that’s impossible!!!!” like Luke Skywalker discovering who Darth Vader really is (no spoilers here!).

Break This Cycle like a KitKat Bar

I only know of three effective ways to break this cycle:

  1. Opt out of Christmas (doable if you don’t celebrate, but sucks if you want to take part)
  2. Give everyone only what you find in your closet (half a can of paint, mom?) or
  3. Plan for it as far in advance as you can.

At this point, you might be resigned to needing to lean into your credit card/savings/etc. to account for the 2019 holidays. I have a plan for how you can solve this for the future.

First, be kind to yourself. You are not alone. It is totally normal and natural to want to take part in social events, see loved ones, or spoil your Secret Santa recipient. It probably comes from a place of wanting to feel a sense of community and show people that you love them. Which is pretty darn lovely.

Then, make a strategy for how you are going to work off this debt. Check out our free Debt Workbook. There is one method called the Snowflake Strategy, which feels seasonally appropriate.

Also, start thinking about solving your 2020 holiday problem now.



Take Stock

How much do the holidays actually cost you? Do you like what you spend now? This is not a trick question. I love being able to give my partner a lavish gift at this time of year. Do you like to go home? Do you like to give big gifts? Think about what an ideal holiday expense number looks like for you.

If you know that you like the feel of how you do the holidays, but you don’t know what number that translates to, good news. This is the perfect time to figure that out. 

As you start doing holiday things this year, note what you spend on gifts, travel (and travel-related expenses), and social events. I have made a handy worksheet for you to keep track in Sherlock Holmesian-level detail.

Next Step

Once you have your numbers for this year, add them all together to get an overall number for what the holidays cost you. This may change year to year, but this will give you a useful general idea that will save your tuchus next year.

Let’s say you discover that you spend $1,200 on the holidays this year. That means, if you haven’t been saving for the holidays, 2019 you gets stuck with the problem of “I need $1,200, tout de suit!” Yikes. Not fun.

However, you can start to change the problem for November 2020 you. Instead of needing to rush to find that big number all at once, divide that number by 12. Start saving in January 2020 for your December 2020 expenses. The problem you end up with instead is “I need to save $100 every month.” Much more doable. It might mean picking up an extra shift once a month, or cutting some corners, but I believe you can do it. After all, you have been managing a much more difficult problem up to this point.

Storing Up Like a Chipmunk

Right now, you might be like “how would I stop myself from spending that money during the year?” Most banks and credit unions allow you to have unlimited savings accounts. You could add one and name it “Christmas 2020-no touch!” 

If that still feels too easy to access, you can sign up with a free online bank like Tangerine. You can make an account with that bank solely for the purpose of holding your holiday 2020 money. Boom. Arms-length savings achieved.

Build this $100 (or whatever your monthly Christmas savings number is) into your budget, so that you account for it every month. 

November 2020 you will be so happy. I promise it feels so sweet to get to the holidays and see that you have all the money you need saved up already. You can do this.

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Dating Between Income Brackets

Dating Between Income Brackets

My partner and I have vastly different income levels. On average, he makes in 2 days what I make in a week.

He’s also extremely generous, both with presents and with paying for outings. The presents are more clear-cut. They tend to be…how do I say this…gifts we will enjoy simultaneously. If we broke up, I think they would walk with him to be enjoyed with others.

The more complicated part for me is the paying for experiences.

We both love to go out and do fun things—food and travel are both big ones for us. And he usually pays.

He might call me and say “Hey. Ya hungry? Wanna go out?” and I’ll go “Yeaaaah!” Then I’ll have this internal deer-in-the-headlights moment where
                                 a) I catch myself hoping he’s inviting me out to a restaurant, and then
                                 b) I feel a crushing wave of guilt, then
                                 c) That moves into a certainty that he can see my hope that he’s offering to treat me
                                     and is judging me as a gold digging princess.

The Resentment Volcano

Now do this awkward dance of “well yes if you’re offering, but if you’re not, I need to go home and have a can of soup.” I’m always scared he’s going to clutch his pearls and be like “were you just assuming I was offering to treat you?! Emily Nixon, you are a monster!” I get worried he feels pressured and then I imagine a future in which his frustration has been building up like a grade school volcano, which then explodes baking soda resentment everywhere.

Recently, I have been solving this problem by saying “Are you inviting me? Because if yes, I would love to, but if no, I need to eat groceries.” It’s working pretty well. Although I’m not sure if in English we actually use the word ‘invite’ in this way, or if I am just stealing it from the French.

Like most people in relationships, I want ours to feel equal, but I know that I’m not going to be able to reciprocate in the same dollar amounts. Instead, I have been trying to even out the number of times we each suggest and plan dates. I invite him to movies that I pay for with credit card points, or I suggest free/cheap activities. (Is going to a protest a fun date…? What if there’s a craft component beforehand?).

But of course we don’t always treat each other. Often we will go Dutch (do people still say that? I definitely learned that phrase from an Archie comic when I was eight.) Sometimes, like tonight, I just have to opt out of activities because they are just outside my budget.

Here’s what I worry about as the one that earns less…

I think sometimes what feels like quality couple time in his mind feels like a financial stress in mine. I worry that me opting out of the expensive event feels to him like I’m saying no to spending time together, and that “we could play board games instead” just feels like a cop-out.

I worry about saying that I can’t afford to attend an event because that money is earmarked in my budget for something else. I’m afraid he will hear “you are less important to me than x, y, or z.”

A year in, we’re still very much figuring all this stuff out. The only thing I think we can both agree on is that talking about it is important. I will continue to very loudly and clearly ask “Are you offering to pay for this or are you suggesting this as something we split?” and suggesting crossword puzzles in the park as a date idea.

Emily nixon

Emily nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Debt Diaries #4: ‘Slash’ing Credit Card Debt

Debt Diaries #4: ‘Slash’ing Credit Card Debt

Current Debts:
Credit Card: $100.00
Bank Loan: $4,577.61

Current Debt Total: $4,677.61

Meedileeemeedileemeedileebowwww. That is the sound of my guitar solo of awesomeness since I crushed $1,000 of credit card debt since I last wrote. How? I sold my brand new iPad that I got as a present. Having just $100 on my credit card feels saweeet!

Feeding the Dragon

Once I decided to sell it, I had a tough time deciding what was the most responsible thing to do with that money. I’ve been reading this great book called Happy Go Money by Melissa Leong in which she talks about compound interest as a dragon—it starts as a baby dragon and grows over time. The book has been motivating me to get a compound interest dragon on my team instead of on the other team (the debt that eats me team). I looked at the interest rates on my credit card (a whopping 19.99%) versus my RRSP (somewhere around 5%) and figured out that in the end I will have more money avoiding the credit card debt than by putting that money into my RRSPs. I felt like such a grown up making that decision.

My House is Now a Store

After that, I want to sell everything in my apartment. I’m driving my partner (an excellent online seller of goods) up the wall with questions like “how much could I charge for this? How about this? What if I bundled them together?”

Incidentally, after I finished the sale on that iPad, I got to the chapter in Happy Go Money about drumming up extra cash. One of her tips is to sell stuff you own online. (Straightens suit jacket) Already ahead of you, Melissa, already ahead of you.

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

Emily’s Favourite Money Stories – July Edition

Emily’s Favourite Money Stories – July Edition

“The Latte Factor, Poor Shaming, and Economic Compassion” by Piggy at Bitches Get Riches

Hell. Yes. Is all I have to say about this blog post. When I was reading it, I was basically a human version of the clapping hands emoji. Yes, this. All of this. The latte factor is a sneaky thing because it can work like a charm. But only if you have enough money to meet your basic needs.

 Poverty may be something that you know well. I have been lucky enough to only be there in short periods, but I remember these vividly. A time when I survived on dumpster diving and baby food (I found a bunch of discounted jars of it and lived off that) or another time when I only ate white rice for a week. I put oil or sugar on it to add more calories.

 But during those times, if someone had brandished the “latte factor” at me as a means of extricating myself from that poverty, I would not have known enough to tell them to fuck off. I would have internalized it and added it to the dogpile of reasons that “I [was] just not good enough.” Now, I know better.

 And since poverty affects minorities disproportionately, whether the marginalization is rooted in race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability,  the blaming of people for their own financial hardships, when they result from economic discrimination is oppressive and abusive.

 Bitches Get Riches presents an eloquent “f*%$ you” to those who would use this technique as a way to shame those struggling against economic oppression.

“The Only Metric of Success That Really Matters is the One We Ignore” by Jenny Anderson at Quartz

This article feels like such a good reminder to me right now, and always. One of my friends (alright, it’s Chris Enns) refers to the casual connections that populate your life as “loose ties.” Although they may not feel deep, they add colour and richness to your daily life. For me, its one of the main reasons why I have a garden in my front yard. 

I live in the Annex, a densely populated neighbourhood in Toronto. Strangers rarely talk to each other here, but when I am in my front yard gardening, people will frequently stop to talk. They like to tell me how much they appreciate my garden, or that they saw a monarch there the previous day, or they stop to take photos of my very camera-happy cats.

When I think about what time wealth feels like, I think of the small parcels of time that I spend in my garden. Somehow half an hour out there is infinitely more rich than the same amount of time spent on social media. The time spent in nature and forming these “loose ties” feels like time very well spent.

Anderson’s piece is a wonderful reminder that effective self care isn’t necessarily spa days, yoga classes, or any of the other money-costing things that capitalism likes to sneakily package as “essential for your mental health.” But that forming loose connections in short, building community is truly one of the essential pieces that build a framework for a happy life.

The “Bad With Money” Podcast hosted by Gaby Dunn

I leuurrvv this podcast. The host, Gaby Dunn, is fun, relatable, and very open about her life. She uses her own examples (sometimes phone calls with companies she is in debt to) to demonstrate all the ways in which her financial life is challenging. Her confidence in claiming her nonexistent money skills makes it feel safe for the listener to be softer with their own struggles. It’s framed as her journey through a world peopled with those who are good with money and her trying to learn from them what she herself (and likely us as listeners) are lacking in financial knowledge.

She is open about many aspects of her life, we see that she is a queer woman who becomes increasingly frustrated with capitalist structural issues as the series progresses. And it’s neat to watch her journey.

I especially love episodes in which she tries to understand larger political financial issues, such as “Who Can Afford to Have Sex? (AKA Babies),” in which she examines the interwoven issues of class and reproductive rights. I also loved “A Myth We Somehow Believe (AKA Money and Politics),” in which she learns how Trump’s politics are in fact aligned with the Christian movement known as the Prosperity Gospel.

“When Buy One, Get One Free Isn’t a Great Deal”

OoooOOOO those sneaky stores/restaurants/kids at the lemonade stand. I love little videos that break down how something that felt too good to be true in fact is. It makes me feel better equipped to manage the world out there. It makes me feel smart. Watch it if you want to feel smart too.

“Unlearning My Buffet Mentality” by Rachel Khong at The Cut

In this article, the author tells her story about her experience of wealth as a child of immigrants growing up poor in California. She puzzles through her metrics of what it is to be wealthy, and comes to a lovely conclusion.

What’s your favourite? Any that we need to check out this month? Please send recommendations if you’ve got any!

Emily Nixon

Emily Nixon

Rags to Reasonable Community Outreach Coordinator

Emily Nixon is an actor/writer/director/filmmaking Swiss Army Knife. She is also a big money nerd and Community Outreach Coordinator for Rags to Reasonable.

She came to this work after becoming completely fed up with living paycheque-to-paycheque and being too afraid to look in her chequing account. She is passionate about empowering other artists and variable income earners to keep doing what they love and feel confident about their finances.

Email Emily at emily@ragstoreasonable.com

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