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We Need to Talk About Christmas

by Sarah McMurray

We Need to Talk About Christmas

If the thought of Christmas is something you’re trying to avoid, I apologise. I know it’s not Christmas yet, and I personally would prefer it if Christmas stayed in December, where it belongs.

But my work is helping people to fix their finances and love their lives.

If one of the things they love is celebrating Christmas, and this year there isn’t as much spare cash to spend on it as there normally is, then we need to figure out how that’s going to happen before assumptions are made and the money is spent.

If you’re lucky, not spending much at Christmas will be something you choose to do some years, rather than something you have to do every year. I remember looking at our spending plan when our mortgage was brand new and realising that there was nowhere near enough money left to buy the kind of Christmas we were used to.

So we had to figure out the things that really made it feel like Christmas, but cost nothing, or next to nothing. For me, that was Christmas music, and a meal with extended family while wearing a Christmas Cracker paper crown. The meal doesn’t need to be special Christmas food. But if I don’t have the paper crown, then it’s just a family meal, not Christmas.

Making the decision to cut back was a no-brainer, but our usual Christmas involves other people, and reciprocity is a thing, so we had to talk it through with extended family first.

From what I’ve seen, more and more people will be having that kind of conversation this year. Given the current cost-of-living crisis, it is highly likely that you, or someone in your family could be:

  • carrying a fairly new mortgage
  • on a fixed, or recently lowered, income
  • having to regularly fill up one or more cars
  • refusing to give up their habit of eating on a regular basis

And therefore, not have as much as they usually do to spend on Christmas.

Luckily, now is the ideal time to set expectations about the amount of money that will be spent, and still plan to have the kind of celebrations that will create joyful memories with no financial hangover in the New Year.

Like any conversation about money, this one can be awkward to start, but it usually goes well. Often, the one who starts the conversation isn’t the only one who was worried about costs. And even the other party is not worried about their own costs, they’d probably be mortified if you went into unnecessary debt rather than talk to them about cutting back.

You know your loved ones and your own situation better than anyone. You can choose from several approaches to initiate this conversation:

  • The Direct Approach: “I wanted to let you know that I’m short of cash this year, and I won’t be able to buy presents / travel to see you / indulge in extravagant feasts and drinks.”

  • The Tentative Approach: “Given the increasing cost of everything, I’m thinking about trying a different approach to Christmas this year. How about only buying gifts for the kids this year? What do you think?”

  • The Outcome-Focused Negotiation: “I’m really short of cash this year, but I cherish our Christmases together, and I still want to celebrate with you. Do you have any ideas on how we could spend less but still celebrate?”

The conversation doesn’t have to be only about what you’ll cut out. Because of financial constraints, you may find new and creative ways to celebrate which bring much joy, and become ongoing traditions.

One family I know of ditched presents from the grandparents, and instead the grandparents babysat the grandkids in the days before Christmas, so that the parents had less stress in the lead-up. The bonus was the play that was written and rehearsed during the babysitting, and performed on Christmas day.

In the coming weeks, I’ll gather and share various ways to save on presents, travel, food, and other Christmas-related expenses without turning into a complete Grinch and abandoning Christmas altogether.

Keep checking in for ideas, tried and tested by other families, for having a sane and soulful Christmas celebration.

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