Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year. It brings the best out of me. I love all the traditions that come during the holiday season – the music, the tree and decorations, the festive lights and OMG the food. I love reuniting with family and friends in Canada, especially because I’m so far away from them for much of the year.

If I had to sum up what I associate the holiday season with in two words, its GRATITUDE and INDULGENCE.

The latter is the one we all often regret. We can get in a few extra gym sessions and go on a diet if we overeat, but it’s much more difficult to make up for the overspending.

Getting caught up in the holiday spirit doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make during the festivities and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1:  Not having a plan

December is an insane month. Not only are we meeting last minute deadlines at work, our mail inbox is inundated with invitations to parties and charitable events we feel obligated to attend. We also have to squeeze in gift shopping, and organising time with family and friends.

If you don’t have a plan as to what you’ll attend, how much you’ll spend, and what gifts you’ll buy, you’ll needlessly exhaust your energy and bank account.

So…

Create a budget. Hopefully you’ve set aside money throughout the year for gifts. Regardless, making a budget will give you a good sense on how much you can afford to spend without derailing other goals. Don’t forget, the budget should account for more than just presents. What about those extra nights out? Will you be travelling? Donating to your favourite charities? These all add up very quickly!

Then make a list and check it against the budget. What events do you want to participate in and will cost money? Who are you going to purchase gifts for, what will you buy and what’s the approximate price?

If the tally runs above your budget, cut down on the number of events. If the items on your list are too much for you financially, trim your list. Perhaps not everyone needs a gift, or you can find less expensive items to give them.

Mistake #2: Thinking holiday sales is a license to shop

The atmosphere in shopping malls are created to make you want to spend. The music…the nice decorations…gift wrapping – its not there by accident.

Buying gifts on sale is smart, but often sales are packaged in a way that tempts you to spend more than you need – things like the 2 for 1 deals and gift boxes that often have items in them no one will ever use! That’s where your list will come in handy. Check it, check it twice and stick to it so you’re not lured into buying for the sake of it.

**Don’t forget to ask for gift receipts and check the return policy in case you have to exchange something or take it back.

Mistake #3: “Borrowing” to buy

You may think using your credit card to buy gifts is not a big deal but if you don’t plan to pay the balance off in full the following month, you’re paying 20% or more interest on the outstanding balance. Ouch!

You may also be tempted to skip a bill payment so you can shop. This may result in a small late charge but it affects your credit rating.

Make it a rule to buy only what you can afford to pay in cash. In fact, paying for an item with money upfront is an excellent strategy to save. Research shows people spend 30% less when they do this.

Mistake #4: Equating gifts with love and approval

You’ve promised your child that expensive toy or the latest gadget all the neighbourhood kids have, but you really can’t afford it. Or someone unexpectedly gives you a present and you feel obligated to return the favour.

Christmas is not just about gifts and I truly believe the majority of people understand that and when they give, they do so without expectation. This is the time and opportunity to teach our children the real meaning of the holiday season, and while it feels cruel to not give them what they want, the values and lessons they’ll learn will help them form a healthy relationship with money and materialism. That’s the best gift you can give.

You don’t have to buy for someone just because they gave you a present. A card is just as thoughtful.

And don’t promise your kids or family what you can’t afford. Rather explain to them why and that you have other priorities you’re focused on. They’ll understand and will be happy for you. And you’ll be glad you didn’t let your guilt get the best of you.

Mistake #5: Ignoring your health

With all the running around and entertainment activities, it’s almost certain you’ll be running on fumes, consuming too much sugar and drinking a few too many wines.

Make sure you make time for 7-8 hours of sleep (sneak in a 20 minute nap if you have to), get in 30 minutes of exercise at least 3x a week (walking in malls counts) and drink plenty of water.

Keeping the above in mind as you approach the holiday season will ensure you’re financially, spiritually and physically fit. I wish you a wonderful festive season with your loved ones.

Have you been guilty of these mistakes? What lessons have you learned over the holiday season? Send me an email.