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Staying off the naughty list

With a little more than a month to go before Christmas Day, the countdown is on and in many cases the receipts have already started to pile up.
Except for me, of course, as I see last-minute shopping – hoping to score one or two deals – as a personal challenge.
But it is around this time of year credit counsellors and finance experts fine tune their lists of best practices to keep budgets under control despite the festive merriment of the season.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada has estimated in its 2017 holiday outlook that Canadians will spend, on average, $1,507 this holiday season. In that total there is $617 spent on gifts, another $683 for travel and $207 for entertainment.
It looks like a modest amount. Depending on who’s on your list, $600 in gift-giving can be charged to the handy credit card quite easily.
This year, according to the survey by PwC Canada, it estimates 27 per cent of Canadians will spend more than last year while another 53 per cent will spend the same amount. Another 15 per cent will spend less.
On the website,, it’s recommended to talk to family and friends about a holiday plan and what is a reasonable amount to spend. With growing extended families, it’ll be a chance to decide who to buy for and to whom you just offer best wishes of the season.
Once this is done, a holiday spending budget can take shape. From gifts, to decorations, and travel, entertainment, babysitters and even taxi cab fares – it should all find a place on an itemized list.
Now planning to spend a set amount is one thing, sticking to that plan is quite another.
Scott Purdie, an accredited financial counsellor with Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada Inc., says “cash is king” when it comes to big spending of any kind.
For many families, Christmas is the last of the major spending periods in the year. In the late summer there’s back-to-school shopping, which then dovetails into Halloween and all the expenses trick-or-treating contain.
Many people don’t turn their attention to Christmas until after Nov. 1, and by then deciding on a plan can get tricky, especially if you think paring down the number of people on your gift list is in your best interest.
“This time of year can be overwhelming,” Purdie said from his office in Sydney, N.S.
Setting a realistic budget is something that’s not necessarily easy to talk about, even with a spouse.
“They really have to be on the same page as what truly they can afford. It’s so easy to use the credit card just because it’s there. It’s convenience … and cash almost becomes an afterthought.”
Based on surveys, mostly from the country’s big banks but also consumer credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, Atlantic Canadians are among the most generous gift-givers in the country.
We love the holidays and we love celebrating with family and friends. The size of our holiday bills tend to reflect that reality – with more money spent on gifts and less on travel.
Families in Atlantic Canada can spend, on average, anywhere from $600 to $1,000 on gifts alone, said Purdie.
In his experience, some people who may live paycheque to paycheque don’t leave much room for error.
He’s seen a family put aside paying off a power bill in order to ensure their children had a nice Christmas.
And that’s unfortunate.
If it’s too late to consider properly budgeting for this holiday season, learn from the experience even if it means some credit card debt.
Start fresh in 2018 and try to set aside a realistic amount of cash each month.
Up until recently, I had money from my paycheque deposited into a Canada Savings Bond to spend on things such as Christmas gifts. However, the savings bond program is now being wound down by the federal government, so setting up a Tax-Free Savings Account is another option to consider.
And you can always buy gifts throughout the year and hit up sales when you can.
When all is said and done, it should be a festive time of year, one to enjoy rather than fret over.
Some of the most pleasant moments from the season can even be free, says Purdie.
Attend a Christmas potluck dinner instead of spending money at a fancy restaurant. Or seek out free holiday concerts and other community events that may only require a minimal charge.
Now get planning – and remember to enjoy yourself.


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