I remember my first Christmas as a single parent. For the first time since my children were born, I was solely financially responsible for Christmas. Just the thought of it all made me stressed.
Stress before during and after Christmas is a common occurrence for single parents due to carrying the brunt of all the celebratory responsibilities and their price tag alone. Not only that, there are also many changes and adjustments for the family, and Christmas can be particularly difficult. From finances to time spent with the children, it all changes.
In light of this, I had to sit down before Christmas and think through all the things that we used to be able to do and how much it all cost. There would be no way with my new single income that I would be able to keep up with the way of the past, so I wrote a list and divided it into:
1. The things that were most important to us
2. Things that I would like to keep
3. The things that we could let go of or didn’t really need
Good money management is key to a less stressed Christmas period and beyond. Remember, the normal monthly bills won’t go away after Christmas and will need to be paid, so make sure you have enough money to cover these.
To ensure you have the least amount of financial stress in your life over the holiday season, here are a few financial tips:
Tackle your attitude towards Christmas spending
Think about what is a need/necessity and what is a want. Are you going with the crowd and excessively buying to “keep up with the Jones’s?” Will your spending place you into debt and if it does, can you afford the repayments? Is it worth going into debt for a long period for one day?
Write a list of your priorities
This includes bills and living expenses. Write down the things that you could go without and those things that you cannot.
Be realistic with what you can afford
You may not be able to celebrate to the same degree you once did when you were with your partner and had two incomes coming in. Be realistic with this. Create a budget – and stick to it! Careful budgeting can help you to stay organised and keep on track with your spending. I had many friends in the past who would say to me, “indulge, it’s Christmas, splurge, it’s only once a year!” However, they were not the ones who had to deal with my bank account if it ended up in the red because of this. Budgeting and keeping to that budget was so important for me. Decide how much you can afford to spend on each of your children and stick to it. Try not to cave in to the latest fad or game that will cost more if you buy it around Christmas, especially if you can’t afford it. Waiting it out can mean getting these things at a reduced price later on, for their birthday for instance. It also teaches our children delayed gratification.
Be aware of customer advertising
Advertisements will entice you to spend, spend, spend! When those commercials come on the TV, change the channel. Walk by those promotional offers in the supermarket. They only want to sell you things you don’t really need. Children are particularly targeted by advertisers. Teach them in advance that advertisements are designed for us to say at the end, “ I want that item, I need it, let’s buy it!”
Remember children learn from example
Our children watch our every move and learn from it, they are like sponges. If you want your children to be responsible with money when they grow up, you will need to be responsible now while you are their example
Don’t compare yourself to others
You can only do what you can do. The most important part of the holiday season is sharing it with family and friends, which doesn’t cost a penny. Don’t compare yourself with others who may be able to get more for their children. Do the best that you can do and make it as special for your children as possible. In the years ahead they won’t remember that expensive gift that you bought them, but they will remember spending quality time together making cookies or singing carols or watching Christmas movies late into the night!
Write a present list and an amount you can spend for each person
Focus on one person at a time and shop with blinkers on. Make sure to keep within the budget you have set for each individual.
This way you are not tempted to go around the shops and add things into your trolley just because it’s “Christmas.” However, do keep an eye on delivery charges if shopping online. Try and order a few items together from each retailer to save on shipping and postage costs.
Look for discounts
Things like Groupon are great ways of purchasing things at discounted prices. Look for the sales! If you can find what you’re looking for at a discount or on sale it will release a little more funds for something else.
Speak to your ex and go halves on expensive gifts
Make sure to communicate with your ex about what gifts you each are planning to purchase for your child(ren). That way you can ensure you don’t end up buying the same thing. If there is a gift they really want and it is expensive, talk to your ex about going halves.
Consider a ‘Secret Santa’ game instead of buying everyone in the extended family gifts
Buying individual family members gifts can get expensive and put added pressure on us. Speak to your family about choosing a name out of the hat for a secret Santa gift and decide on an amount for each gift.
Recycle bows and gift bags
Keep gifts bags and bows when they have been taken off wrapping paper and use year after year. It may not seem like much, but if you were to add up how much you spend on bows and bags over the years, you may be surprised… it all adds up!
Scrap sending out paper Christmas cards
Instead, wish friends and family a Merry Christmas on social media or via email.
Write a grocery-shopping list and stick to it
Shopping online is helpful, as you are not walking around the shops being enticed by promotions for foods that you do not need.
Lots of supermarkets offer value for money and could reduce your food bill by a lot. Ask yourself, ‘Do you need the branded product, or can you save on own-brand replacements?
Only buy what you need
Yes, it is nice to have a few extras to enjoy on the day, but is it necessary to load your freezer and fridge up with excess food that may very well be thrown away out of date and never eaten?
If you need to, visit a foodbank
If finances are very low, foodbanks are there to help you through the hard times. Often these banks also offer presents and toys for children at Christmas.
A good resource and great read is Rob Parsons’ book The Money Secret, which you can purchase from here.
And finally plan ahead to make next Christmas even easier:
Through the year, put money aside each month in a separate savings account. This way when Christmas comes, you have the finances available to shop and it won’t be such a financial burden on you.
Shop through the year. This is a good way to give yourself plenty of time to purchase gifts and save instead of having a mad rush the month of December with little time due to your busy schedule.