Four tips for an easier Christmas

By planning ahead, you’ll be able to relax over the holidays rather than teetering under the pressure

Joy bells may ring out from the speakers, but many of us experience stress during the Christmas period. According to Relationships Australia, 93.5% of people celebrate Christmas. And more than 30% experience high levels of stress and anxiety1.

Family and financial pressures

Many people report family relationships as highly stressed due to financial worries and work-life balance factors, while the pressures of buying gifts and entertaining2 also add to the strain. With food and presents being the main expenses, 25% of people worry about covering the costs3.

Four tips for easing into Christmas

While for many families Christmas is a time of giving, it’s important not to give to others at the expense of your own peace of mind. But it’s true that finding the balance can be challenging.

Whether you’re involved in family celebrations or gatherings with friends or colleagues, use our tips to find the right balance for you:

1. Make plans with a birds-eye view

Before all is said and done, create a timeline so you don’t end up doing your shopping or entertaining all at once. Writing down commitments or objectives can go a long way towards relieving the overwhelming feeling that Christmas can bring. Start with a list of bullet points and expand your plan to include dates and action items.

If you feel pressured by family arrangements, visualise the things you’d like to be doing and aim to find a way to achieve them. Sometimes a tactful conversation with family members can help more than you might think.

2. Work out where your Christmas spending money will come from

It’s important to live within your means at Christmas time, even if the lure of giving or family expectations urge you to spend.

  • Work out whether you’re able to allocate money to your Christmas budget. Remember to factor in any unexpected costs that may come your way.
  • Use AMP’s Budget planner calculator to work out how much you may be able to allocate for Christmas spending, and consider whether opening an account like the AMP Bett3r account is right for you—it can help you to plan to pay, save and spend this Christmas.

3. Be a calculated shopper so you’re not tempted to overspend

Once you’ve decided how much you can afford to spend, avoid impulse buying by being financially organised.

  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Make a Christmas gift list and include a budget for each person you’ll buy a present for. Keep it handy for next year to save yourself time—you can always tweak it if you need to.
  • When it comes to shopping for food, be sure to find the cheapest prices in the supermarket. You could save more than you think.
  • Shop online before buying and compare prices—the earlier you plan ahead the more time you’ll have for things to arrive by post. You’ll keep your stress levels down by avoiding crowded shopping zones too.
  • Don’t shop with your credit card unless you can pay the balance in full within the interest-free period—20% of Australians paid for Christmas presents with a credit card4 and the average amount owing after festivities is $1,668 per card5.

4. Get creative and have fun in the process!

Can you make gifts and decorations this year? You may decide to make homemade food or other things to give away. Maybe your family members would like to be involved. Can you start a new tradition and have a Christmas making day and spend creative time together?

Enjoy a restful break

In the lead up to Christmas you still have time to get organised and make the most of any time off you have. Use our tips to start planning now so you can keep your costs down, enjoy yourself and welcome in a happy and prosperous 2017!

1, 2 Relationships Australia, December 2015: Christmas stress
3 Survey results reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, One-quarter of people fret about festive season expenses
4 ASIC’s Money Smart, Australia’s Christmas spending
5 How Aussies can repay their $286 million credit card interest Christmas debt with a balance transfer

7 trips where you’ll pay next to nothing for accommodation

You don’t always need lots of money to venture to new places.

One of the most expensive parts about travelling is typically what you’ll spend on accommodation.

To reduce or even eliminate your lodging costs, we’ve pulled together seven ideas that could open you up to a world of possibilities.

1. Bunk with mates or relatives

If you have friends and family that live interstate, overseas or places you haven’t been before, get in touch and see if they have a room free at their place at a time when you’re both available.

It’ll give you a chance to catch up as well as having an in-house tour guide who can show you the sites, the local attractions, the hidden gems, not to mention the best places to eat.

2. House-sit your way around the globe

Minding someone’s place for free can be a win-win for all parties involved, particularly when the homeowner has pets or various odd jobs that need attending to, which can often be the case.

If you can’t find anyone in your immediate network, you could pay a small subscription fee to register your profile on a relevant house-sitting website like HouseCarers or TrustedHousesitters.

3. Swap accommodation

It’s simple—you go to theirs, they come to yours and it’s free. Another bonus is size doesn’t matter. You can swap your apartment for a beach house in Mexico or even a small studio in New York City.

A few websites where you can check out places to stay and create an online profile for a monthly fee include Love Home Swap and HomeExchange.

4. Volunteer your skills overseas

Getting involved in a humanitarian, environmental or wildlife project abroad is another way you can see the world, offer your services and play a part in something you’re likely to never forget.

Such expeditions will come with varying price tags, but depending on the program you choose there will be a variety of inclusions which may involve flights, meals, accommodation and cultural activities.

Whatever you choose, like most things it’s a good idea to do your research and read the fine print. Websites you may want to check out include International Volunteer HQ and Projects Abroad.

5. Barter your time and hard work

If volunteering isn’t your thing, but you’re open to a working holiday and taking a position where you exchange your services for free or cheap food and accommodation, there’s something for you too.

The types of positions and industries you can work in vary a lot—think fruit picker in outback Australia, bartender in Ireland, tourist operative in a Canadian ski resort.

The amount of hours you work will differ, so again it’s worth doing your research and seeing what’s available. Look at websites like Global Work and Travel and Willing Workers On Organic Farms.

6. Have a stay-at-home vacation

A holiday in your own hood could open you up to possibilities you previously didn’t have time for, or knew existed. It may involve local attractions, coastal walks, a road trip, camping—anything you don’t do day-to-day. The point is breaking away from your usual routine.

Other things to consider

Remember that not everything that’s fun and life changing comes with an unrealistic price tag. And, with 211,000 Australian travellers taking 12 months to pay off their holiday credit card debt1, hopefully some of these money-saving travel ideas have given you some food for thought.


Cash is king over the counter at Christmas

See how you can keep your shopping habits in check.

By Paul Clitheroe

The festive season is just around the corner, and plenty of us will be hitting the stores to stock up for Christmas. Research shows we’ll collectively splurge $9.77 billion on gifts alone this year – that’s about $539 for each of us, and this doesn’t include turkey and all the trimmings. So it’s worth thinking about how you’ll manage the cash squeeze to avoid hitting the New Year strapped for cash or weighed down by debt.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year but it can also put extra demands on our finances. Getting in early for festive shopping lets you stagger spending over time, which can make things more manageable.

Some very enthusiastic shoppers are doing just that. Research by Finder shows more than five million Australians started their Christmas shopping in October 2016 or earlier. The real shopping frenzy is expected to peak in early December.

The usual rules of smart shopping apply at Christmas – shop around for a good deal; draw up a purchase list to avoid impulse buys; and hold onto receipts in case Aunty Ethel isn’t so keen on the power tools you’re planning to put in her Christmas stocking this year.

Important rules also apply to the way we make purchases. In particular, aim to pay with cash or a debit card. It’s easy to get caught up in all the pre-Christmas sales and go overboard with spending, however sticking to cash wherever possible means you shouldn’t get into too much trouble.

If you don’t have the cash, consider lay-by. It may be old fashioned but it’s a perfectly acceptable way of buying, and with most retailers you’ll pay no extra charges.

A big incentive to choose cash over a credit card is that you’ll avoid interest costs – an extra expense that can take the shine off a bargain very quickly.

Figures from the MoneySmart website show last year the majority of Australians dipped into savings to pay for Christmas buys. However one in five of us relied on credit cards. The majority (80%) of these people paid the purchases off within three months, but the rest took as long as six months to pay down the card debt. Who wants to still be paying off Christmas in June?

If you need to reach for a credit card think about whether it’s really the right purchase for you – especially if you’re already juggling ongoing card debt. Aim to rely on the folding stuff instead, and don’t be afraid to ask if a cash sale will score an extra discount.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.