How to avoid being broke (& broken) this Christmas

An article from my friend and team MMP writer Rebecca Megson-Smith.

Do you know how much you spent on Christmas last year?

I know I don’t. I didn’t look. In all honesty, I didn’t want to know. For me, Christmas is a time of year that I always intend to plan better for ‘next year’. By which I mean, start earlier, spread out the cost, have a separate savings account, etc. But I have to confess, as each year whizzes by I often find myself in October facing the looming financial iceberg that is Christmas with a degree of dread.

Which is a shame, because I love Christmas!

Here are MMP HQ we’re all about facing financial dread and finding ways to transform it into a sense of autonomy and control.

Below are a few steps I’m taking this year to stop me from plunging blindly into my Christmas spending, enabling me to take back the reins (dear…) on my time and money:

Be more like Santa

I’m making a list and checking it twice!

I’ve put together a list in excel of all the things associated with Christmas and actually worked out what each item is likely to cost.

My list includes presents of course, but it also includes the ‘sundry’ expenses of Sellotape, wrapping, cards, and postage. I’ve included festive food and drinks items, travel, any meals out that I know or suspect are likely to happen. I’ve also included other spending that I need to make in November and December, like family birthdays, bonfire night and so on. Christmas doesn’t happen in a vacuum after all!

Talk to friends and family NOW

Just writing the list and putting a few rough figures next to the names of people I’m likely to buy presents for was an enormous eye-opener.

Giving presents is one of my love languages and for me my friends are pretty much like family. However, that does increase the expense of Christmas substantially and so I’ve started to send messages and have conversations with people now to reset expectations. What I’ve found is a reciprocity of relief when I say ‘let’s not buy each other anything this year’ to friends.

Equally, with family members, I’ve discussed budgets and buying either small value token gifts or things we really need for one another.

Make small additions to your weekly shop

Adding a couple of small items to my weekly shop is next up on my list.

Specifically picking up items for the kid’s stockings on a week-by-week basis is a helpful way to spread out the cost of something that can often be a last-minute expensive hit in our household. Also looking at store cupboard items that I can buy in now. I like to make a Christmas cake every year and so I’m buying the ingredients week by week – this week was marzipan, next will be the dried fruits and so on. Drinks are another good one that store well (provided you are strict at not breaking into them early of course!).

I’m keeping a track of what I’ve bought on the spreadsheet AND working to a budget. One of the negatives to starting any kind of shopping early is that it’s all too easy to forget what you’ve bought and then overbuy as the shopping fever really picks up in November and December.

Finally, I’m looking for what I can drop from my weekly shop in order to help balance out the additional expense – incredibly hard in these days when everything is run to a pretty lean ship as it is, but still worth keeping in mind. What am I prepared to sacrifice this week, in order to have things in for Christmas?

Write a list of what you love about Christmas

Yes, another list! But this time I wrote it to help me prioritise where I’m spending my time and money. What I love about Christmas are the traditions I’ve grown up with – I love Christmas baking, I love having a holly wreath on the door and a real Christmas tree. I love going to carol services, sending Christmas cards, wrapping presents whilst watching Christmas movies, listening to Christmas music and an old record of Christmas readings that used to belong to my mum and dad.

I’ve also been thinking about what I don’t love. I don’t love Christmas parties. I don’t love being in a rush. Whether that’s last-minute present/food/booze buying, making the last post or wrapping a gazillion presents the night before. I don’t love being too exhausted to go to the events that make me come alive or too poor to buy a mulled wine on a cold December day.

Knowing those two lists means I can plan my time and money around what I love NOT what I don’t.

Christmas To Dos on at Timeline

There are at the time of writing, mid-October, nine weeks till Christmas Day or 63 days.

I’ve mapped out those weeks on a timeline and put in not only the things I want to buy and when I’m going to buy them, but also the things I want to do and when I’m going to do them.

I’m baking the Christmas cake on the weekend of 5th/6th November; writing my Christmas cards on the weekend of 12th/13th November. I’ve planned in several present wrapping and movie-watching evenings in early December. I’m focusing on buying gifts for those nearest and dearest to me (children and husband) first and early, as opposed to my usual last-minute scramble, and working out from there with the wider family. The excuses are ready to say No to Christmas parties and yes to walks in countryside gathering snippets of holly and going to local carol services.

I’m checking in with my list every Sunday on my weekly shop evening, to assess progress and make any changes or amendments to my plan as new information arises. What I know from previous years is that when I’m tired I overspend and I think that is true for many of us.

What, as a parent, I’m increasingly aware of, is that what I do with my money (and time) becomes a model behaviour that my kids are likely to reproduce. This year I’m being much more conscious that what I want them to see, feel and experience is a season that is joyful, compassionate and sustainable.

Rebecca Megson-Smith is a writer, writing coach and feminist, Fuelled by books, tea and time by the sea. You can find her on her website, Instagram @ridleywrites and lurking on Twitter @ridleywrites.


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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

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