Sunday 11 December 2016

The parents' survival guide to Christmas finances

It's coming up to that most wonderful - and potentially expensive - time of the year. Arlene Harris suggests ways for parents to keep on top of their finances

Arlene Harris

Published 04/11/2015 | 02:30

The countdown for Christmas begins earlier and earlier every year with chocolate Santa's on display long before anyone has even thought of Halloween. And while for many, this may simply be an irritation as the festive season stretches on for months, others will see Yuletide as an incredibly stressful financial burden.

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Child psychologist David Carey says there are many reasons why parents feel the need to go overboard when planning a gift list for their children.

"Christmas is a stressful time with most parents trying to give to their children all the things they want," he says. "Sometimes it's born out of a feeling of love and a desire to see their children happy and other times it is out of a feeling of regret that they themselves did not have the gifts they longed for in Christmas's past.

"Either way, it can lead to financial difficulty and distress in families. But in my experience, what children want most at Christmas is happy experiences of a loving family exchanging a few cherished presents that need not be expensive but provide a lifetime of memories."

Carey, who is the director of psychology at City Colleges and Dean of the College of Progressive Education, says children will not fall apart if they don't get what they want at Christmas and parents should start preparing them for reality as soon as possible.

"Children need to learn when asking for gifts that they won't automatically get everything they hope for," he says. "They should be told early on that the best efforts will be made to assure the child gets at least one of the most-wanted gifts and once this is explained, it reduces disappointment at gift-giving time. Most children adapt easily to this simple message, but if a child is terribly disappointed at Christmas, just remind them that another Christmas is coming next year."

Debi Marjara lives in Navan with her husband Jaspal and daughters Alannah (7), Kyla (5) and Ceola (4). She agrees and says while she loves to see her children getting what their hearts' desire, she would never go into debt over it.

"I'd never borrow to pay for Christmas and if the girls are asking for something we cannot afford, I try to steer them away from it," she says. "We don't have an 'entertainment' budget and as my husband and I very rarely go out, we don't spend on ourselves. I also consider the price of everything before buying it.

"So while it's wonderful to be able to give your children what they want, you have to be realistic about what can be afforded. I know mine won't be scarred for life if they haven't got what their friend got. When I ask my girls what their favourite thing about Christmas is, the first thing they'll say is hot chocolate with marshmallows watching The Snowman on Christmas Eve. And when I look back at my own childhood, I remember playing board games in front of the fire. It sounds so clichéd but it's about spending time together and making the whole week memorable, not just Christmas morning."

The stay-at-home mum says buying throughout the year helps to lighten the financial load at Christmas.

"In winter our day-to-day expenses are higher with heat being the biggest expense," she says. "So I start buying gifts as early as the January sales - as soon as I see things which would suit or on offer, I will get it. The girls love books so I'll always pick some up in the sales and start keeping an eye out for offers during the summer. I also start saving a few euro a week from June onwards.

"Luckily the food shop isn't as costly as other families as the girls and I are vegetarian so there's no turkey and ham to pay for and I start picking up the non-perishables once Halloween is over."

Financial expert, John Lowe, aka The Money Doctor, says the key to keeping on top of spending is to work out a budget and stick to it.

"Christmas spending is hardly ever budgeted for and so the credit card or short-term loan invariably comes to the rescue," he says. "My advice would be to be sensible this Christmas and plan what you are going to spend."

Irish Independent

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