Festive season spending can cause a financial headache that lasts all year. Frugal is the new cool, and more people are looking to celebrate in style, but within their means.

It’s been a pretty tough year financially in South Africa. We’ve had to deal with high increases in basic costs such as transport and electricity. That eats into a budget and the net result is that a paycheck doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. We are also dealing with high levels of debt, high unemployment rates, and retrenchments.

In the world of money, spending and shopping, frugal is cool. It’s cool to save money, it’s not cool to have too much debt. It’s cool to get a great deal, it’s not cool to spend too much. It’s cool to manage your money well.

By the way, this isn’t just a South African phenomenon. In many other countries people are looking for ways to spend less.

And just because it’s December, doesn’t mean we need to throw out all our good habits! Frugal is also cool at the end of the year.  It’s cool to enjoy a great celebration with family and friends, it’s not cool to over-indulge, and eat and drink too much.

It’s also not cool to generate excessive amounts of waste. Wrapping paper, bottles, decorations all add up to more refuse. A UK study found that we create 30% more refuse at the end of the year. Caring for the environment is cool.

And gifts? Cool is time spent with loved ones and gifts with meaning. Not gifts that cost more than you have.

So, if you’re cool every day, which we know you are, be as cool in December and get into a few frugal December habits.

Frugal is cool gift ideas

  • Agree on who should get gifts. You may want to limit gifts to children or close family only. Think about giving a homemade card to those who don’t get gifts.
  • Try a Secret Santa, where each person picks a name from a hat and buys a gift for that person only, to a certain value. It’s fun, and each person only pays for one gift.
  • Before you hit the shops, make a list of who you are buying for, gift ideas and what you can afford to spend on each person.
  • Set an overall budget for gifts and only spend this amount. Set the amount as a limit on your cards or leave your card behind and take only cash when you shop for gifts.
  • Don’t be shy about “regifting”. Someone else might appreciate that pretty scarf you’ve never worn or a book you’re not going to read.
  • Offer to give an expensive gift over time. For example, agree to contribute an amount towards the gift each month until you have enough to buy it.
  • Give gifts of love, time or skill such as a manicure or massage, a cooking lesson or a handmade picture, or even a lesson in investing or budgeting.
  • Offer a family outing instead of a gift – if it costs less! If you agree to no gifts, everyone can put the money they would have spent on gifts towards a lovely experience.
  • We love the “four gift rule” for kids:

A gift they want

A gift they need

Something to wear

Something to read.

Food tips for the frugal host

  • Plan the menu in advance and in detail. Work out quantities per person so you know how much to buy. Do this as early as possible so you can look for good deals on non-perishable or freezable items. If you can and it is cheaper, buy in bulk and share with a friend.
  • Cut down on the number of dishes. People usually take a bit of everything because it’s there. One or two good meat dishes with two or three sides is plenty of variety.
  • Meat is usually the costliest part of the meal. Substitute cheaper meats for pricier ones (chicken instead of beef, for instance).
  • Serve more vegetables, grains and starches and less meat.
  • Ask people to bring a dish, and their own drinks.
  • Have a picnic or afternoon tea instead of lunch or dinner.

Practise saying no

As cool as frugal is, there will be people who want to spend and spend at this time of year – and pressure you to do the same. So, you may need to say “no” and “I can’t afford it,” if you want to stay in control of your finances. This isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, but once you do it, it gets easier.

Have a great celebration!

Have fun in December, indulge in spending time with your family, but avoid the festive excesses and an empty wallet. Spend less, plan more and value the time you have with loved ones – that costs nothing!