While the approach of the festive season promises good times filled with cheer, twinkle lights, and Santa hats, when the trees come down, the decorations are packed away and the credit card bills start to roll in, that feeling is quickly replaced by something far less exciting.
With close to 50 years of combined experience in the accounting industry between them, Frank Lo Pilato and Andrew Sykes from RSM know a thing or two about managing money. I caught up with them to get their top tips on how to come out the other end of the festive season with your wallet still intact and found out how they plan on spending Christmas day.
RA: With so many expenses around this time of year, what are your best tips to save some cash?
Frank: Take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales. A lot of the larger retailers will try to capture customers’ business before the last minute rush with sales and discounts, so try to shop early. Make sure you also go in armed with a plan—know who you are buying for and what your budget is, and pay with cash rather than using your credit card.
Andrew: I agree, making a plan in advance is the key. Then review the list and make sure it only includes people you actually like! I know it sounds funny, but in all seriousness, some relationships can fade over time and maybe you no longer need to invest the same time, effort and expense as you once did. Try dividing your list of people into A’s, B’s and C’s and assigning a dollar amount to each category. Work out what your overall budget is and divide it among the categories so you can invest more in gifts for those you’re closest to.
Frank: Another good tip is to take your expectations down a notch. It’s so important to make sure you stay focused on what Christmas is really about, rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s very tempting at this time of year to go a little crazy with your spending, but you’ve got to keep it in perspective and remember that Christmas will soon be followed by other expenses like holidays, the new school year and the like, so don’t get too carried away.
RA: What are the most common mistakes people make which lead to budget blowouts at this time of year?
Andrew: I’d have to say it’s not having a budget or spending limits, or leaving your shopping to the last minute when you’ll grab whatever you can find before the shops close regardless of the price.
Frank: Yeah, you should definitely set a budget. And it shouldn’t only apply to gifts, it should also cover everything from food and drinks, to travel expenses.
RA: Gift giving is often one of the biggest expenses at this time of year. Do you have any tips on how to save money when doing your gift shopping?
Andrew: I know a few families who do a Kris Kringle rather than individual gifts. Everyone gives and receives a gift, so you still get the fun of opening a present but you don’t have to spend a fortune. Because you only have to get one gift, you could even set a higher spending limit.
Frank: Stop and take some time to think about the person you’re buying for and what they like. You may be able to come up with an idea that doesn’t cost a lot but will mean a lot and show you really know them. For example, for a Kris Kringle one year I received a diary which seems like a simple gift, but I absolutely loved it because it was covered in Bruce Springsteen vinyl—and anyone who knows me knows that I love Bruce Springsteen!
Andrew: You don’t even necessarily need to do gifts, spend some of your time instead. Even just taking the time to write a card and make some beautiful comments can be a great alternative where you can still show some thought and consideration. Christmas should be more about connecting and acknowledging people rather than spending a lot of money.
RA: We’re doing an office Secret Santa and I don’t know what to get. Do you have any good gift ideas?
Frank: Stationery, or some hand-made arts and crafts from a local market.
Andrew: Making something can also be appreciated. I had a Kris Kringle once who made me a special tray of Rocky Road and I thought it was the best thing ever! If you’re any good at cooking or baking, make something delicious, wrap it up and decorate it with a ribbon and they’re sure to love it!
RA: What is your no-fail gift idea for the person who has everything that doesn’t cost the earth?
Andrew: An ‘experience’ is always a great option. A lot of research shows that most people value an experience far more than a material gift, so that could be a great idea for something they’ll remember for years to come. Take them on a picnic, a driving tour, a dinner date or an adventure experience.
Frank: Making a donation to a charity or organisation like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross or the RSPCA on their behalf can also be a great idea for ‘a gift with heart’.
RA: It can cost a fortune if you’re playing host on Christmas day. Do you have any tips to serve up an affordable feast?
Frank: The more you can make yourself the better, but where you want to keep it simple, buy ready-made. Shop around for the good deals and slowly build up your stock over the weeks leading up to the day. Things like fresh seafood can get super expensive in the days before Christmas, but if you buy it early and freeze it you should be able to get it a lot cheaper.
Andrew: You can also ask everyone to bring a plate. If someone’s particularly good at baking, assign them the pudding. It doesn’t even need to be traditional Christmas food. If someone makes a killer pesto pasta, ask them to make it! It’s cheap, easy and sure to satisfy. Or even hot chips…everyone loves hot chips!
Frank: I think the key is to not over-cater. There’s always so much food left over after Christmas and a little advance-planning can help you not only reduce waste but hopefully also maintain your waistline!
RA: I’m hoping to plan a small getaway over the holiday period. Do you have any tips to keep costs down while travelling?
Andrew: Planning as far in advance to make the most of any sales or discounts is always the best way, but if you’ve left it to the last minute to organise something, see if you can defer it until after the peak season when prices may settle down a little. There’s no harm in even starting to plan next years’ holiday now!
Frank: Accommodation is often the biggest expense, so you could do something like a house swap or a group holiday with family or friends where you can share the cost of the accommodation. Housesitting for friends or relatives who have gone away can be another idea. I often house sit for a friend in Avalon where it would normally cost a heap to rent accommodation, but we can stay there for free just by helping out by feeding their pets and watering the plants!
Andrew: Or you could just go somewhere with really bad weather that no one else wants to visit at this time of the year! Possibly not very relaxing, but very affordable!
RA: After the festivities are over, what are your top tips to help repair the financial damage that’s been done?
Frank: Get a better job! It’s the perfect solution! But in all seriousness, while you can’t necessarily trade up to a higher salary, you could increase your take-home pay in the short-term by taking on some extra shifts when penalty rates may be on offer. A lot of banks also offer 0% interest balance transfer credit cards which could help reduce interest while you’re catching up on your repayments.
Andrew: You can also look at other ways to make some extra cash, like doing a clean-up of your house or garage and seeing what you can sell online or with a garage sale. Or if you were given some duplicate gifts or gifts you won’t use, try returning them. A lot of retailers will honour returns even if you don’t have a receipt, after Christmas. Just make sure you don’t take too long to take it back!
Andrew: And I know we keep going on about advance planning, but why not start planning for next year now? Start putting away $20 a week, then when next Christmas comes around you’ll have built up a nice little nest egg!
RA: So how will you both be spending Christmas Day?
Frank: For me, it’ll most likely include a family lunch and a few laughs, followed by a well-earnt nap! Generally, we have a quiet morning with the immediate family, then in the afternoon the entire extended family will open all their gifts together before relaxing in the backyard or having a swim in the pool if it’s warm enough! If you’ve got a big family like I do, you’ll know too well that it always seems to be the kids running the show!
Andrew: Firstly, I’m going to try my best to convince the kids to get up early and come to Mass with me, then we’ll have the usual Christmas lunch with the whole family. The day is particularly special for us as a family, because not only is it an important time to relax, reflect and refresh, but my daughter was also born on Christmas day so it’s an extra-special time for us.
RA: And what dish are you most looking forward to on the Christmas table?
Frank: That would definitely have to be my mum’s famous Lasagne—it is, without fail, the highlight for me!
Andrew: I can never go past the Christmas Ham! Nothing beats it!
Do you have any other ideas on how to enjoy Christmas without breaking the bank? Let us know in the comments section below.
This is a sponsored article, though all opinions are the author’s own. For more information on paid content, see our sponsored content policy.