The MapleMoney Show » How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Have Yourself a Frugal Little Christmas, with Peter Anderson

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Christmas is right around the corner, but with it can come a hefty price tag. My guest this week reminds us that you don’t have to rack up your credit card to enjoy the festive season.

Peter Anderson, the founder of Bible Money Matters, explains how you can prepare a budget for Christmas that will help you avoid carrying additional debt into the new year.

Did you know that the average family spends almost $1000 on Christmas? Peter shares some rules of thumb for Christmas spending, including how much may be too much.

And it’s not just the gifts, the cost of decorations can add up. Peter has some great ways to save money on decorations and reminds us that one doesn’t have to spend like Clark Griswold to make their home look great for the holidays.

The folks at Wealthsimple, this week’s sponsor, have been very busy over the past year. Not only are they home to Wealthsimple Invest, Canada’s leading robo-advisor, but they’ve created Wealthsimple Save, to provide clients with a high interest savings account. Coming soon is Wealthsimple Trade, which will offer stock trading without commission fees. Check out everything they have to offer at Wealthsimple today.

Episode Summary

  • Christmas can easily become the most expensive time of year.
  • The average family spent over $980 on Christmas gifts in 2017.
  • Only 13% of consumers save ahead to cover Christmas expenses.
  • A rule of thumb for Christmas spending.
  • Why Christmas shopping online can be more expensive.
  • How Pinterest can help to save money at Christmas.
  • Creating Christmas memories with friends and family doesn’t have to cost a cent.
Read transcript

Christmas is right around the corner. There’s a price tag to a lot of the festive season. So how can we enjoy the holidays without burning through your credit card? Peter Anderson from Bible Money Matters takes us through how much people are spending on Christmas and how budgeting for the holidays can help you not have debt in the New Year. Peter also drops a lot of great ideas for DIY Christmas gifts and decorations and how you can save money on holiday activities and shopping for presents.

Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. You’ve heard me talk about today’s sponsor Wealthsimple many times but they’ve been really busy in the past years so I wanted to recap all the services they now offer to Canadians. First, there is Wealthsimple Invest. This is what they’re known for and my number one overall pick for best Canadian robo-advisor. Then there’s Wealthsimple’s Save, a high-interest account. Next they have Wealthsimple Trade which is stock trading with no commissions. Check out everything Wealthsimple offers at maplemoney.com/wealthsimple. Now, let’s talk Christmas savings with Peter.

Tom: Hi Peter, welcome to the Maple Money Show.

Peter: Hey Tom, thanks for having me on.

Tom: I known that for a long time you’ve written about different ways you can save money during Christmas. And, being Bible Money Matters, you’re certainly a Christian so I wanted to have you on the show so we can discuss ways we to save money, how much we’re spending and just how to add some frugality back into Christmas. It’s something I’m guilty of with two little kids. It’s very easy to spend extra. How is it in your household? Do you find that Christmas gets away from you sometimes?

Peter: Yeah. This is our first Christmas having two kids now. We had one son for the longest time and it has been so easy to overspend just with him because we only had the one kid. We can spend $200 or $300 on a Nintendo Switch and a couple of games or whatever. But once you start adding one or two more kids to the mix that can get really expensive, really fast. It’s a magical time of the year for the kids but for the adults it can quickly become the most expensive time of the year if you’re not careful.

Tom: Yeah, I keep trying to tell my wife that everyone in the family buys our kids so many gifts we could really cut back quite a bit. We don’t need to give multiple gifts. Ultimately, they’re not going to notice. And they don’t need 30 new toys all in one day.

Peter: No, no they don’t. The trend here in the United States—it’s probably the same in Canada, is that people are spending more and more every year on Christmas gifts. It’s not just something where consumerism is getting less severe, it’s getting worse. The American Research Group surveyed families last year and found that they were planning on spending an average of $983 on Christmas gifts during the 2017 holiday season. That was up $50 from the previous year. And it’s a similar trend every year, it goes up $50 or $60. People are spending a ton of money on Christmas.

Tom: Yeah, I’m sure it’s exactly the same in Canada. I don’t think we’re that different. I’m sure we’re spending more. And just like other things throughout the year, I’m sure spending continues to increase often.

Peter: Just more in hockey gear. That’s probably about it.

Tom: That’s true. You’re in Minnesota, right?

Peter: Correct. So it’s almost Canada.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. There are hockey players there too. What’s a way we can rein this in and maybe track it?

Peter: For me, I think it’s important just to think about what you’re spending. Make sure you’re cognizant of how much money you’re spending and actually set aside some money during the year. Plan a budget for your Christmas spending. We’re getting upwards of almost $1,000 on Christmas spending. That’s a decent chunk of change that you’re probably not going to be able to save within one or two months for most people. The site, time.com found that only 13 percent of consumers are actually saving money throughout the year for the holiday season. So that leaves 87 percent of people that are not saving for Christmas. People are spending around $1,000 but they’re not saving for it. I think it’s time that people start thinking more about what they’re going to do when Christmas time comes starting in January of the previous year.

Tom: Yeah, instead of putting it on the credit card and waiting until January of the next year to look at how to pay that off.

Peter: Exactly.

Tom: So, if they’re going to budget it throughout the year— And this is good advice for other things as well, any annual expense. I’m a fan of that. I don’t pay for my life insurance every month. I pay an annual amount because it’s cheaper and I can save up ahead of time for that. But like you said, if you know how much you’re going to spend then why not save $100 a month and hopefully you’ll have money left over at the end. You don’t have to spend every single dollar of it, right?

Peter: Exactly.

Tom: What’s a good way that they can plan this Christmas budgeting out?

Peter: Well, there are different rules of thumb for how much you should be spending on Christmas. I usually find those rules of thumb are a little inflated, saying you should save more than you really need to especially if you’re going to be buying frugal Christmas gifts and so forth. But the rule of thumb I’ve see is they should spend one week’s salary for Christmas gifts. Let’s say you’re making $50,000 a year. Divide that by 52 and that’s the number you should be spending on Christmas. So in that case, for $50,000 a year, you should probably save about $950 dollars or so.

Tom: Okay, I hadn’t heard that one.

Peter: Yeah, that’s just the one I’ve found recently. Personally, I think that’s probably going to be too much, especially if you have a smaller family. I would say, take that number and divide it in half almost. At our house that’s probably about what we’ve spent a lot of years, $400 or $500 on Christmas gifts for our family and extended family and so forth.

Tom: Yeah, that seems more reasonable. Exactly. You don’t need to spend hundreds per family member or anything like that.

Peter: No, no. Another person I talked to just said, figure that you’re probably going to spend about between $50 to $100 bucks for each person that you’re buying gifts for and that will probably give you a nice round number you can use to budget off of.

Tom: That’s something we actually do in our extended family—my aunts and uncles and everything. We draw names. That way we’re not buying a gift for every single aunt and uncle and cousin. We draw names. We also set a $50 dollar gift limit. It’s not truly part of budgeting but certainly part of keeping it under control. Not only is there a limit of $50 but we’re buying for one person while another person’s buying for us instead of buying for everyone in my family which could be 15 to 20 people.

Peter: Yeah, we do the exact same thing at our house and with our extended family. There is a website I think is called, drawnames.com. There are other ones as well where you can sign up and add emails for everybody in your family. That way you can do a Secret Santa kind of thing for your family and keep it within budget.

Tom: Yes, that sounds great. When it comes time to actually buy the gifts what are different ways we can save money when we’re shopping?

Peter: Well, there’s a lot of different ways to save money. This might be a little strange in some respects but one stat I found said people that who were shopping in an actual “bricks and mortar” store ended up spending almost 10 percent less on their Christmas spending. I think one of the things with the internet is that it’s so easy to just surf around, find so many different things and say, “I’m going to buy one of those one, one of those, one of those…” They found that if you’re actually going to the brick and mortar store and making your purchases there, it’s much harder to actually way-overspend. Another thing you can do is shop around if you’re trying to buy a certain gift. Shop around a bunch of different stores. Make sure you’re doing your due diligence. There can be huge price differences between stores. Certain stores are going to have coupons or cash-back that you can take advantage of. You can save money by using cash-back sites like Ebates or Swagbucks, using coupon extensions for your browsers that will automatically find you a coupon for any purchase you’re making. And then whenever you’re buying something, make sure you’re stacking your discounts. Make sure you are trying to find something on sale, using cash-back and coupons. Do all of them altogether because you can stack those things.

Tom: I made fun of spending with a credit card but as long as you have the money to pay for it, I’d actually add that to the list because you may be able to get a couple more percent as an additional level of stacking. But certainly don’t use your credit card just because you need to pay for the gifts. Keep it within reason.

Peter: I totally agree. Find a good cash-back credit card that you can use and pay it off every month.

Tom: Yeah, and again, it’s something that can help people with their shopping anytime of the year. I love that idea where you’re buying something on sale, you’re getting a cash-back through an app or website and using a credit card as well— there are so many levels of savings there as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to shop.

Peter: No, but it has amazing discounts you can find just by stacking all those different discounts. Maybe there are only three or four percent for each one but back them all together and you can end up saving 30 or 40 percent off the price of a TV or whatever.

Tom: Yeah, I’m quite proud because I rarely buy anything at full price. There’s always a sale somewhere. If you want a certain item, especially during Christmas season, you’ll probably find at least one store that has that item for sale somewhere. So any given week find it.

Peter: Yep, I totally agree.

Tom: Are there any other ways we can save money on gifts specifically?

Peter: There are a lot of ways. For example, make your own gifts. You can do anything from having a DIY project to making a meaningful gift with your kids. One thing we did at our house a couple years ago is we made a handprint plate for my wife. My son was probably about four or five years old at the time. He still had tiny little hands that were really cute. And so what we did is we’d get a nice ceramic plate and ceramic paints. You just put your handprint on the plate. After you bake it in the oven it basically hardens into glass. You And from then on, your wife has this cute handprint plate. It only costs a couple bucks to make but it’s something that has some special meaning behind it.

Tom: Yeah, and it’s not just going to end up on a shelf with all the other stuff that she probably didn’t need.

Peter: Right, totally. And another way you can save on Christmas gifts is, you don’t always have to buy huge gift for people. We always think of a game consoles or things like that which are going to be expensive. One thing I like to do with Christmas spending is to put together “theme baskets” for people or buy theme gifts. Maybe buy them a book and movie pack where you buy someone a movie and the book the movie is based on. Or you can buy them an outdoorsman gift pack where you get a Leatherman Micra, a pair of Chopper gloves and maybe an aluminum water bottle— something that an outdoorsman might enjoy. All three of those things probably aren’t going to cost very much but when you put them together they make a nice little package.

Tom: One of my favorite packages I used to get quite often was when we had our first kid. Either my sister or my sister-in-law would give us a movie gift card as a movie bundle that came with some treats and stuff. But in their card it also said that included babysitting from either one of them. They both did this as a gift in the past where it not only was a date-night out, it even covered them babysitting for us so we could actually get out.

Peter: Oh, perfect. I would love that right about now. We’ve got a six-month old at our house so I could use a night out.

Tom: Well, there you go. Make sure your family sees this. It will be a nice subtle hint. Are there any other Do-It-Yourself ideas for gifts?

Peter: Oh yeah, I’ve got a bunch of them listed here.

Tom: I know you have 100 on the website but are there any favorites?

Peter: Well, my personal favorite (as a guy who likes beer) is to make “reindeer beer.” You buy a 6-pack of Guinness. Then get some little red noses, googly eyes and some pipe cleaners and each beer it gets turned into a little reindeer. It’s the perfect gift for Christmas. Dad will be happy with that. He can drink that after the gifts are all wrapped.

Tom: Yeah, I’d be happy to get that too. So we covered a lot with gifts. What about other items like Christmas decorations? Can we save money there?

Peter: Oh, yeah, totally. Christmas decorations are another area where people are spending more and more every year. You don’t have to be Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to spend a lot. Even if you’re spending $200 instead of the $5,000 he was spending on his Christmas lights, it can add up. In 2014, consumers spent on average about $54 or so on decorations. It’s so easy to find ways to decorate your house for Christmas. One of the best ways is to just go to Pinterest and look up DIY Christmas decorations or something along those lines. You can find all sorts of fun projects that you can do with kids and that you can use to decorate the house. A few I’ve found that would be fun to do with the kids are tin-can snowmen. You just get some tin cans from your groceries. When you’re done using the food, wash them out and paint the cans white. The paint little snowmen on the cans. And I’ll send you a link to a post that will have the instructions for some of these things that people can do if they want to.

Tom: Sounds great.

Peter: Or you can do a DIY letter wreath. You can spell out a word like “joy” or something along those lines using Rosemary and coat hangers. It sounds kind of weird but when you put it together it actually looks really cool. Or you can make some dollar store Christmas trees. This is a post I saw on a friend’s site where you go to the dollar store and buy some stuff (that you can get any dollar store anywhere) and use those things to make some really cool looking dollar store Christmas trees. They look somewhat similar to something you’d get at a pottery barn or something like that. I guess my main tip in that area is to go to Pinterest and do a search. You’re going to find more ideas than you can even imagine doing. Pick a couple of them that are your favorites and go for it.

Tom: I’m surprised that it’s only $54 a year actually after hearing how much people are spending on Christmas in general. I think $54 for decorations sounds pretty decent.

Peter: It sound a little low but I guess it’s the Christmas lights and other things you use more than once. Yeah, so I guess that’s not too bad.

Tom: I was just thinking about some of the decorations I see in Costco where one decoration could cost you $54 alone. Now obviously, if you’re taking your idea and going to Pinterest then you can do a lot more with that money. But you could blow that at Costco on one item or more. I’ve seen a $200 Santa there so—

Peter: Yeah, and they’ve got those blow-up decorations like the blow-up Santa and his sleigh for your front yard. That will be several hundred bucks right there. I guess it all averages out. There are people who are spending several hundred dollars and there are some people, like me, that are spending nothing.

Tom: Well, we’re at nothing now but it’s only because we’ve bought so much in the past. I’ve said on the show before, I certainly have spent a lot in the past. We have bins of Christmas decorations. We hold on to them, thankfully, so every year we don’t have this huge urge to buy decorations because we have it all covered.

Peter: Totally. Yep.

Tom: So we covered gifts. You cover decorations. How about things we can actually do during the Christmas season? Do you have any ideas on ways we can save money with any kind of cheap activities?

Peter: Yeah. For me, the Christmas season is more about getting together with family and just being together and having fun creating memories— that type of thing. So for me, Christmas activities are what Christmas is all about. There are all sorts of things you can do at Christmastime in order to build some memories with your family. Some of the things we’ve done at our house and my parent’s house is to go sledding. Just bring your winter gear. We have a park by my parent’s house that has a huge sledding hill. They call it “suicide hill” and we all get out there and go sledding down the hill and try not to kill ourselves. But it’s a ton of fun. Another thing we do as a family is go and look at the Christmas lights every other year or so. There are some pretty amazing Christmas light displays you can go out and see every year. Some of the people— probably the ones that are spending a ton on the decorations, are doing these huge displays in their yard.

Tom: So you go and enjoy their lights instead of spending money on your own.

Peter: Exactly. Our local newspaper puts out a list of neighborhoods that are doing Christmas light displays and stuff like that. We’ll just pick a couple and go out to view those.

Tom: One thing I noticed with the—it was actually for this past Halloween but I assume it’s going to happen again for Christmas, is if you have a local neighborhood Facebook group, word normally gets out as to which houses to go and see.

Peter: Another one we love doing in our house is building gingerbread houses every year. It can get out of control sometimes because people get real competitive and want the best gingerbread house—you know, the triple-decker, condo, gingerbread house or whatever. But it’s still something that can be a lot of fun with the kids and the adults. Another one we’ll do sometimes is sit by the fire and just read some Christmas stories. We gather all the kids around and grandpa will have a couple of stories on his lap and we’ll just start reading some Christmas stories while we drink hot cocoa. The list goes on and on. There are a ton of things you can do. One last one I thought was kind of fun that somebody did every year was, they’d take every person aside and do a quick video asking them what they want for Christmas. They’d do this every year. Then they’d compile them all together to create some memories where you get to see how people have aged over the years and how their requests changed. Again, it’s just creating memories and doing things that you can look back on with fond feelings. And the last thing I have on my list here is just to go together to volunteer at a local charity. It doesn’t have to be on Christmas Day necessarily, but just going together as a family and doing something to give back in your local neighborhood or area.

Tom: Yeah, I like that. There is always a big push to give during the Christmas season anyways. And I like everything said to about actually spending time with your family. It’s about enjoying that time. It doesn’t have to be about the money. It’s the same as you going sledding. I don’t know if I’d go on a hill called suicide hill or whatever it was. I might skip that one. But yeah, these are all great ideas. One idea I had while we were talking about shopping was, what are your thoughts on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craziness? I’ve heard that sometimes it’s just not worth it.

Peter: Yeah it’s total craziness. I’ve done the Black Friday thing a couple of different times. There’s one time I wanted to buy a particular audio receiver that was normally $160 or something like that and I saw it on sale for $70 on Black Friday. So I went to one at 4:00 am and waited in line. They were handing out doughnuts and coffee to everybody and it was kind of a festive atmosphere. But when you really think about it, it’s kind of silly. A lot of these items you’re buying on Black Friday you can buy online for the same price or cheaper at other times of the year. If you go online and search around, they’ve done studies to see what the cheapest times are each year for people to buy certain products. For a lot of them you would think it would be Black Friday but it’s not. There are other times they are actually cheaper.

Tom: Yeah, that’s a good point. People usually shop Black Friday partially because it’s leading into Christmas season but what we do here– and I wasn’t even thinking about it for this episode but, if we see something that’s a really good deal on some toy that we know our kids want, we’ll buy it and just store it. We don’t necessarily even know if it’s for Christmas. They may have a birthday that comes before Christmas. I just like the idea that we almost keep this closet full of future toys for whenever the need comes up next.

Peter: One of the things I was going to mention earlier and totally forgot about was, buy your Christmas gifts after Christmas when all the toys were going on clearance and they’re clearing out the shelves. A lot of times they’ll have new toys each year but buy those toys after Christmas. We have a shelf in our basement that is the “gift shop.” We’ll buy things when they’re on sale and clearance after Christmas and then just keep them in there for an entire year if we have to. It’s a great way to save a ton of money.

Tom: Especially here in Canada. Black Friday and Cyber Monday is something that’s been catching on the last few years. But in the past (as it still is now) Boxing Day is the big one for us which is the day after Christmas. It’s kind of changing now but we never had that big “sale day” before Christmas other than just the entire month itself. Boxing Day is sort of our “big deal” sale. It’s all the more reason to buy because they’re clearing them all out so it’s truly a sale at that point. And if you had the money saved up I’m sure all of January probably has pretty low sales for most stores so I’m sure they’re happy to put stuff on sale and get it out.

Peter: Yes, you get a deal and they, get to empty their shelves out and everybody is happy.

Tom: Exactly. Thanks for being on the show. Can you tell people where they can find you?

Peter: Sure you can find me at biblemoneymatters.com. I’m also on Twitter @MoneyMatters on there. And you can also find me on Facebook at facebook.com/biblemoneymatters.

Tom: Great, thanks for being on.

Peter: Thank you.

Thanks to Peter Anderson for helping us give like Santa and save like Scrooge. You can find show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/peteranderson. The show has been continually growing its audience but I need your help. If you head over to the Maple Money Show on iTunes and leave a rating in review it will really help me out. Plus, I want to hear your opinions on the show. Thanks for listening. And thanks for all the emails and social shares. I’ve had some great feedback and I love hearing from you. See you next week.

'Christmas decorations are another area where people are spending more and more every year. You don’t have to be Clark Griswold to spend a lot. Even a couple hundred dollars can add up.' - Peter AndersonClick to Tweet

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