3 Ways to Avoid Holiday Debt Regret

Written by Yuki Hayashi

3 minute read

$583: that’s the average amount Canadians planned to spend on gifts last holiday season. According to results of the CPA Canada Holiday Spending Monitor Update, a national poll conducted by Nielsen for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, a whopping 50% of respondents normally don’t set a budget for holiday gift spending. 

While at first glance this sounds like good news (“Woot! Looks like many of us can expect some great gifts this holiday season!”), it’s troubling when you consider Canadian consumer debt. For every $1 of household disposable income, Canadian households owe $1.58 in credit debt

Although the household debt ratio has decreased (compared to the previous quarter), clearly we’re still not spending as wisely as we could – and that’s not good for our wallets or our mental health. Financial stress is a serious issue for many, with 38% of respondents in a recent national survey listing it as their number one source of stress.

Stop. The. Madness.  

Contrary to what ads and popular culture say, we don’t have to shop ’til we drop. We don’t need retail therapy. We don’t have to rack up credit debt chasing #priceless moments. Here are 3 easy ways to rein it in, so you can be gift-y – while remaining thrifty!

1.  Edit your gift list

You may not have to buy as many gifts as you thought! Paring your list down is easier the earlier in the season you do it. Don’t wait! Act now, and you could:

• Start an online Secret Santa at work or with family, so you can exchange gifts, without racking up debt. 

• Pool money on teacher gifts: If each parent chips in just a little, the class can give Teach one awesome gift or gift card rather than a bunch of #1 Teacher mugs! 

• Simply tell friends you’d like to hang out and enjoy a gift-free get-together virtually. Share the gift of presence, not presents!

2. Create a budget and stick to it

Figure out what you can afford for holiday gifts this year. Allocate funds for each giftee, determining appropriate gift ideas for each. Once you’ve made your budget/gift list: consider it set in stone. 

If your list budgets $20 for running socks for your marathon-loving sister-in-law, don’t buy $40 compression socks because they were marked down from $60 during a Black Friday sale. Stick. To. The. Plan. (You’ll be glad you did when you get your credit card bill.)

3. Save on gifts

Who said gifts need to come from a store, anyway? Consider low or no-cost gift options that showcase your personal touch. 

• Make your own gifts. From handmade soaps and hand-poured candles, to custom granola and artisanal pickles, handmade gifts are on-trend and always appreciated!

• Give a “helper’s high.” Science shows helping out releases feel-good endorphins and improves the helper’s own physical and mental health. Get into the spirit of the holidays by organizing a volunteer gig with your household or family. It’s a gift you share with one another, and with the community, whether you help out those impacted by COVID-19, give virtual volunteering a try, or hit the trail to collect litter as you hike.

• Propose a “coupon exchange”: Get like-minded friends and family to gift homemade coupons for personal services (that you can bank for later). A bike tune-up. Smartphone tutorial. Tarot card reading. Virtual cooking class. Dog grooming. Everyone’s got a secret superpower: share them and enjoy!

We want to hear from you: What’s your secret for staying on budget during the pre-holiday season?


CHECK OUT: How to create a budget, and other financial planning tips. Bookmark the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s Managing Your Money resource page.

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