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:
- Opt out of Christmas (doable if you don’t celebrate, but sucks if you want to take part)
- Give everyone only what you find in your closet (half a can of paint, mom?) or
- 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org