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

Debt Diaries #3: Riding the Waves of Variable Income

Debt Diaries #3: Riding the Waves of Variable Income


Current Debts:

Credit Card: -994.25
Bank Loan4,892.45

Current Debt Total: -5,886.70

So…I kind of feel like I’m crushing it right now. Not really because of anything I’ve been doing, but mainly because it feels like I’ve been really damn lucky. Since the last entry, I have killed 2,042.93 in debt. It’s been just over a month.

It’s been a wild ride. I know what you’re thinking: a variable income earner having ups and downs? No way!

But seriously. I settled an Employment Standards Act case with a previous employer and used half that money to pay down my credit card bill. I saved the other half to build myself a bit of a cushion. Then, I got fired from a serving job, booked a voice gig, got a sweet tax return, and contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. The last one has nothing to do with money, it just gives you an idea of the ups and downs I’ve been riding.

Some of these things are plannable, most are kooky dooky flukes. But I thought it might be useful to examine them to see which ones are repeatable or plannable.

  • Settling an Employment Standards Act violation out of court
    • This one isn’t really plannable, but I will say, when your (or other workers’) rights are being violated, speak the eff up. Even though it will certainly not guarantee financial gain, it will feel right.
    • Sidebar: if you feel you or your colleagues are having their rights violated, check out the ESA guide or speak to the Workers’ Action Centre or the Parkdale Community Legal Society. There are some badass folks at these organizations.
  • Getting fired.
    • I would say avoid this one…generally not great for income. But it does happen. And we, as variable income earners tend to have mega strong hustle. This one is easier if you have an Oh Shit! fund. I didn’t this time, so I called on my powers of hustle and networking to find extra gigs.
  • Booking a commercial voice gig
    • Oh man, if I could find a way to make this one a reliable source of income…well, that’s what I (and so many of you) are working on. Let’s just keep plugging away, folks.
  • Getting a sweet tax return/unlocking my tax savings
    • Finally, something that is actually plannable! I usually get a pretty sweet tax return because I’m meticulous about keeping my receipts. Also, as a financial literacy teacher/actor/writer/producer/server/French teacher/exercise teacher/childcare worker/administrator, you’d be hard pressed to find an expense in my life I can’t claim as a deduction. If you have questions about claiming deductions, check out this link. Save your itemized receipts, folks.
    • As for the tax savings, both Chris and I like to do what we call “fear saving” for taxes. Throughout the year, we set aside more than we need to on our self-employed income and put it in a taxes-only account. Once we have filed our taxes, there is usually money left over in this account that we now know we can use. Cha-Ching! To get an idea of what you might want to put away for taxes, check out this Simple Tax calculator:

Being self-employed is a bonkers journey, and we so many ups and downs. I’m still working towards regaining the sense of financial stability I had previously built for myself. But the waves will come, and when they do, our job is just to surf them, and plan as best as we can while we’re riding those gnarly A-Frames. This way, we’ll make the bombs feel like ankle busters. (PS I learned all my surfer slang here.

Debt Diaries #2:If You Don’t Have Any Grain, You’re Not Making Any Flour

Debt Diaries #2:If You Don’t Have Any Grain, You’re Not Making Any Flour

Current Debts:

My partner:
$130.00 for picking up my boots from the cobbler
Credit Card: -2,278.96
Overdraft on chequing account: $327.19
Bank Loan: $5,193.48

I like to think of financial literacy as a flour mill…

You pour the grain in the top, and flour comes out the bottom (I think that’s how a flour mill works). I say to myself that becoming more financially savvy isn’t necessarily about finding more grain to put in the top, it’s about improving the machine itself, so that whether you are putting in a small amount of grain or a lot of it, you know the machine is working as efficiently as possible.

I like this metaphor because (despite being oddly agrarian) it counters the trap of “I only need to learn about money when I make money.” See this and other kooky beliefs we artists hold about money HERE.

But recently, I have found the limits of this.

I’m currently hustling butt trying to get enough hours in at a couple new jobs while still keeping my time open and flexible for auditions. It’s meant I have a whole lot of no grain. I’m realizing that even when you have a real slick machine, it looks like “alright, that grain has been processed…” And then you sit there for a million years waiting for more grain to come in. Because if you don’t have any grain, you’re not making any flour, no matter how good you’ve made your machine.

So, onward hustle for me as I try to get enough money to live and also start to pay off debts. Wish me luck!

Artist Debt Diaries #1: Having Debt Doesn’t Make Me Any Less of a Badass

Artist Debt Diaries #1: Having Debt Doesn’t Make Me Any Less of a Badass

I’ve recently taken on some debt. I was on EI for a while, supplementing with my savings. Lemme tell you, trying to live off 60% of your pre-tip server income is not cute. They want you to pay taxes on your tips but are not willing to insure them. Oyyy, don’t get me started. The only way to make it through this period was to use my savings. And woah mama, was it a hard to convince myself to touch that money. But, ya know, eating, so I did.

I decided to use this period to shift to making all my non-acting money in film production. I know I will be doing more directing, so I want to get a better understanding of how the positions work together. I decided to apply for my IATSE permit status. I took the required courses ($$) and submitted my application in November.

I waited to hear back from IATSE and, after waiting a month and a half, was rejected. “Get more experience,” they said. Fair enough.

So I spent the next couple months volunteering my butt off on short films and industrial videos. “Great!” I thought. “Now I know the proper names of all the equipment AND the dirty names. I’m set!” I finish off my savings and decide to take out a loan from the bank. I feel confident about making the minimum monthly payments and I’m eager to push forward with production work. I’m determined not to go back to the serving/childcare/catering hustle.

With a shiny new resume, I reapply. And was rejected again. Alright, okay, alright, okay…So now, I’m out of savings and have taken on a loan from my bank. I had planned to be moving into production daily work by this time, but clearly that’s not going to happen.

SO. Option…what am I on…F? I’m going to get another serving job and hustle my butt off doing odd jobs. I’m going to keep volunteering on films, then reapply to IATSE, then hopefully change all my non-artist work to being in production until the point where I hope I’ll be able to make all my income as an artist. Are there any other artists out there who feel like their employment plan is mega complicated? If x happens, then I’ll do y, which will temporarily pay my rent until option z kicks in, which will tide me over until x1 occurs. I feel like I need a big board with pictures and coloured yarn connecting everything.

At this point, I’m out of savings and living paycheque to paycheque which I haven’t had to do for years. I have debt from a $6,000 bank loan. Oh, and $2,000 on a credit card, which I haven’t mentioned yet. And I’m still planning on finding a serving job…which is exactly what I was trying to avoid.

This is both a super stressful situation (I haven’t had money-related hives in a while-hello, old friends) and an opportunity for me to do this work and share it along the way. A chance for me to do an artist debt diaries. Which is kind of rad.

I’m trying to remind myself that being in debt does not make me (or you) any less of a badass. I took it on with purpose, so I feel good about that. I used the time that it bought me to make my first animated film, write a ton, and apply (and reapply) for IATSE. I have ideas for how I can make income, and even though I know I don’t want to serve, cater, and do child care indefinitely, maybe knowing that I’m using them as a short-term solution will help me maintain a good headspace. I am driven. I have the skills to dig myself out of this. And even though it feels like I’m free falling right now, I know that if I gather my internal resources (how can I make this much money? Can I realistically cut back there?), I will make it through and begin the slow journey of building back up. I am still a badass.

If you’re also on this debt repayment journey as an artist, comment. I’d love to hear where you’re at on this debt crushing journey.

Debt isn’t a goal, it’s what’s standing in the way

Debt isn’t a goal, it’s what’s standing in the way

Money isn’t about money.

That’s what I wish I could communicate better to the legions of people who really don’t care about their finances.

Paying back debt might not be exciting for them.

Saving for retirement doesn’t give them a sense of Christmas morning level thrill.

I want to tell them that I honestly understand where they’re coming from. Those things aren’t fireworks and puppies for me either.

Financial practise is not fun for me because I love numbers… I love it because it’s a gateway to a whole bunch of other stuff that I care about way more (like fireworks and puppies).

“I just want to get to a place where I don’t have to think about money”

That used to be my greatest wish.

How do I get enough money to just not have to worry about this stuff anymore.

At what stage can I afford to block this out of my life forever?

But now I think I was thinking about things in the wrong way. To me, money isn’t a goal in itself. Bank balances don’t provide fulfillment.

Money is a gateway to other things that matter way more.

The five things that I want

I have a rotating list of goals and values. Sometimes they’re specific – like a vacation or business investment. Sometimes they’re more general values – like ‘family’ or ‘adventure’.

They’re the five things that I want to be working on right now.

They’re the five things that ideally my time, energy and money are going towards.

They’re the five things that matter right now.

That’s what money is about.

The stuff that’s getting in the way of the stuff you want

And this is why people are always circling around to things like ‘debt’.

Debt sucks up tons of money from right now to just tread water with interest payments. It blocks the gateway between your cash and your goals.

Debt reduction isn’t necessarily a goal in itself. Most of us aren’t super enthused about paying off debt. Debt becomes a major focus because it’s taking a bunch of the capital that we could be using on the stuff that gets us actually pumped up.

Like 5 days on a beach, a drink in your hand… and a head that’s blissfully thinking of anything BUT money.

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

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Lindsay VS her debt: 5 tips for getting your debt back on track

Lindsay VS her debt: 5 tips for getting your debt back on track

5 ways to get your debt back on track
Who’s it for: People who are paying off their debt.

What’s it about: Getting back on track when you lose focus.
This is Part 5 in a series. You can read PART 1 HERE.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back to school, but there’s still something about the fall that has that “back to reality” feel, even though I’ve been working all summer. Time to re-evaluate. Time to get down to business.

I’m going to be honest – the summer slipped away and so did my budget, my plans, and my goals. The summer was glorious – don’t get me wrong – but now that the fall reality has set in, I’m feeling a bit disappointed with myself. What happened to my plan of being debt-free by 30? I found myself living in a way that I was really trying to get away from – living too much in the moment without thinking about consequences. This is how we get ourselves into debt, friends. I always want to be as present as I can be, but I also need to live in my own reality. And my reality is that I’m loaded with debt, and I don’t want to live that way.

After some reflection, I knew it was time to take real action. So here it is: my not that fun debt crackdown.


Credit card goes away.

I clearly can’t handle having a credit card, because somehow during my debt-free challenge I ended up increasing my credit limit, and then maxing out the card. UGH! Some financial gurus suggest you cut up your card. I personally am just going to lock mine away – I’m not going to give up over 10 years of credit-building history, thank you very much. It’ll just be away.


Save $1000.

A Dave Ramsay special. Right now I don’t have any savings, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. $1000 will probably be enough to take care of me in any kind of minor emergency.


Save up one month of budget-necessary income.

Alright. I had a budget crack-down. I LOVE giving myself flexibility and room to enjoy my life, but one day I’m also going to love not having to make payments. I’ve made a minimalist budget of $1800/month, and I plan on sticking to it!


Suck it, subscriptions!

Netflix stays, but everything else has gone. I’ve cut my phone bill from what once was $103 per month to about $45 per month. Some things I’ve been lucky enough to save on via family share. Thanks mom & dad!


Track EVERYTHING the old fashioned way.

No more apps. No more automation. Just me, paper, pen, and (let’s be honest), the calculator on my phone.

STEP 6: (bonus step?)

Read all the books and blogs.

I’ve found that I’m having a really difficult time staying focused and motivated on debt payment this time around. I was wondering why, until something hit me like a ton of bricks. What I realized is that by just living day to day, we’re constantly being pulled to consume. Waking up and going to work and coming home is filled with temptations and pressures to spend. Last time I was paying off debt, I was constantly reading through debt payment blogs and books. This time, not so much. I’ve realized that for me, I need for debt payment to be a stronger message in my life than the message to consume, and that takes work. By reading books, blogs, and scrolling through debt-payment Pinterest pages, I can try and counteract the spending pressures with messages of saving, and improve my chances of success.


So where am I at today? My total debt iiiissss: $10,470.29

Am I going to pay off all of that in 3 months? Unlikely. But am I going to make a solid effort? YOU BETCHYA! Wish me luck!

5 ways to get your debt back on track

Want to start getting control of your money? How can I help?

Chris Enns

Chris Enns

Financial Planner/Opera Singer

Money never came naturally to me. In fact… I was a bit of a disaster. I remember (very clearly) what it feels like to be ‘financially out of control’.

And honestly, I still get stressed about money… that doesn’t stop… the difference is that now I have the tools to deal with that stress.

And those tools are what’s made it possible for me to build a life full of the things I want: art, creativity, travel, family and more.

If you want to start getting control of your money I’d love to help. You can start with THIS QUIZ, visiting my GETTING STARTED PAGE by checking out my SERVICES page.