Christmas begins about the first of December with an office party and ends when you finally realize what you spent, around April fifteenth of the next year said P.J. O'Rourke. The reality in Britain is far worse. According to Which magazine, almost 50% of Brits funded Christmas 2012 with credit. Be it a credit card, or payday loans, which almost a million families used, there will be millions of people for whom Christmas 2012 is a 2013 problem.
With the festivities over it is too late to debate the merits of a thrifty Christmas. The discussion about whether one can afford Christmas if the only way to pay for everything is by using a (very!) high interest loan is moot. Many tried to put this point across in December and the reaction was brutal; kids expect it was the most frequently cited reason for incurring this debt.
Many believe Christmas has become about rampant consumerism but even so, for many this consumerism is wrapped up in family time and creating a time of joy and innocence for children. Ditching the expenses of Christmas is not easy and for many it would require a change in long held familial traditions.
A point conceded but does that fact that we have always done something mean that we should continue doing it?
All evidence to the contrary.
We worry about the values of our youngest citizens and every news-cycle has another story or statistic about money related stress and its potentially tragic consequences. Does the temporary joy of unwrapping a pile of presents compensate for the 12 months of debt which funds it? A credit action report found that 88% of kids aged 8-15 worry that their parents are worrying about money so are we doing kids a favour by incurring additional debt in order to purchase for them more stuff?
Over £8bn was spent on presents this year and £2.1bn was spent on presents which were unwanted by the recipients (many of whom are now in a battle to exchange or get their money back). With the average person spending about £300 on presents, according to Mintel, we can assume then that £75 of this was essentially wasted. Is it time for a new way of thinking? Perhaps a new Christmas approach in line with a new reality? By making a small change now, we won't need to consider cancelling Christmas in 12 months. We can set up a Christmas fund now. Today.
Unlike so many expenses Christmas is completely predictable and predictable events can be planned for. We know when Christmas happens and we know how much it costs. The average family spent £526 this year. That is approximately £10 a week, or the cost of three pints.
Setting up a savings account and a standing order for just £10 a week or £43 a month will yield £500 in time for Christmas 2013. Panic over.
And while you're at it why not use these next 12 months as an opportunity to get your kids involved in finance? By getting them money smarter you give them the confidence, knowledge and skills to navigate our increasingly complicated world.
Financial education is for life, not just for Christmas...