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On a Shoe String: 'Tis the Christmas Shopping Season

In my younger and less sensible days, I believed that Christmas was a time for extraordinary extravagance, a time to treat everyone I was friends with or even friendly with to a present or two. The spending was not limited to presents for others, as I bought presents for myself to compensate for any ‘dodgy’ presents my less retail-savvy friends would naturally buy.

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I know what you are thinking as you wag your finger at your newspaper, ‘Mr Shoestring, it is the thought that counts’. While I know that is true, the reality for me is, I am not good at making cards or creating meaningful presents. What I am good at is taking the time to think about what people need, what might make them feel good or get them to laugh, and then spending the money necessary to get it for them. However, when my desire to get everyone I know and love the perfect gift became so expensive that I spent a good portion of March paying off my credit cards, I swore that I would never spend that amount again.

Unfortunately, for me, this resolution was made difficult by the fact that it relies on two abstract, fabled concepts – dedication and self control, both of which I have in really limited proportion. To digress and prove this point, let me tell you a hilarious story. My boyfriend and I have placed ourselves on a massive budget, our third attempt in about as many months. However, the budget went out the window when I feeling bad after a rough day happened upon the only sure-fire cure for bad day blues – a shoestore. I now own the record for the highest number of shoes purchased in one day from my favourite shop in Subi. However, this title comes with mixed feelings, while the proud owner of a shoe wardrobe any Sex and the City character would envy, I’m also mildly embarrassed that I could not say no at four…

So, what’s a shopping-addicted boy to do at the holidays? One can, as people often do over Saint Valentine’s Day, become single, thereby saving a massive amount of money. Or one can pick a fight with a family member, after all, if you’re related, chances are they will get over it eventually and you will have saved on yet another present. However, there is a flip side to cutting your own shopping list – you then do not receive presents either. So, where is the happy medium of holiday materialism? I like to think that with a bit of forward thought and a plan of attack, one can get through the holidays with an intact credit rating and no damage done to one’s major relationships.

STRATEGY #1: Bit by Bit

Over lunch a dear friend of mine was telling me how she prepares for Christmas, as she believes everyone deserves a present at Christmas time, even if it is just something little. She starts in February by writing a list of people and possible presents. She then tries to purchase one a week for the entire year. She has the whole year to ensure she has not forgotten anyone, to think about the presents and to pay for them, little by little. She therefore does not notice the amount of money spent on Christmas as she is only spending a little bit at a time.

This example is amazing and one I wish I could replicate. Unfortunately, while the notion of a year-long shopping project is enticing, I am a fire sign and prone to spontaneous purchases, not to planning a whole year in advance. Thus far, I have promised my friend I would give it a shot and have gotten as far as writing a list of all the people plan to buy a gift for. However, I am still a far way from knowing what to buy for those on my list. And my list is already over two pages and I dread to think what the final cost will be…

STRATEGY #2: A Christmas Account

Another, more fire-sign friendly strategy is setting up a Christmas account. This is basically a normal savings account, except that it gets a special name (‘Christmas’) and the money in it only goes towards Christmas shopping. For example, if you are paid weekly and opt to put just $10 from each pay cheque into your Christmas account, you would have $520 come Christmas time. For those with a shoe addiction and no self control (e.g. me and anyone like me), you can have the bank set up the account so the money can not be accessed until Christmas shopping season.

For me, this strategy is somewhat more user-friendly because while I lack any discipline at the cash register, I have far more when it comes to direct budgeting. With a Christmas account, I can still make spontaneous purchases at Christmas-time, but my budget will have been set up for the whole of the year before to offset the financial hangover come New Year’s.

STRATEGY #3: The Non-materialistic Christmas

The conclusion many come to is that financial woes are the product of the marketing and materialism of the holiday season. These people simply step outside the box and spend more time, less money on gestures that show they care – they make cards, they volunteer at a soup kitchen, they cook dinner for close friends. Of course, they’ll never have the shoe collection I have…

Shoestring’s Takeaway Tip: Whatever approach you choose, the key to a successful Christmas gift – whether a meaningful card or the perfect pair of shoes – is planning ahead. After all, there’s nothing worse than knowing what you want to give and lacking the time or money to put it together! And if that’s not motivation enough, remember Christmas is still two months away, which means for shoppers, there is just enough time to plan ahead and save those newly purchased shoes from a fate worth than death… a garage sale to pay off the Visa bill come March.

Shoestring Disclaimer: While we hope you enjoy Shoestring’s column, it should not be relied upon in lieu of seeking professional financial advice relevant to your circumstances.

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