Planning for Christmas used to be a lot easier before the mass-media marketing storm. And since just about everybody watches TV or listens to radio or (increasingly) surfs the internet, it’s becoming a lot harder to avoid overspending on Christmas.

And never mind the gifts. There are lots of other items on which we spend money this time of year — table settings, home decorations, food and drink. Christmas time is easily the most financially stressful time of year.

“I want this” or “we should get that” have become common phrases in the month leading up to Christmas, and with the most expensive items take up most of the airtime and many people following the “buy now and pay later” philosophy, it’s small wonder most people are constantly paying for Christmas after the fact, rather than budgeting for it ahead of time.

We’ve touched on this subject in previous posts, but it basically comes down to setting a bit of money aside ahead of time so that you can spend it on Christmas and move into the new year with a positive step.

One of the easiest ways to save is what we’ll call the 52-week savings, whereby you put a dollar value on each week of the year and put that money away in a jar, in a separate bank account, wherever — the first week after Christmas, when money is tight, you put away a dollar; the following week you put away two dollars and the week after that three, and so on. As you come up to the month before Christmas, you will find over $1,200 to spend on the holidays. If you took the initiative and started saving a month before Christmas for next year’s holiday season, you will have closer to $1,400.

And although that will make Christmas and the following month a lot less stressful, you should also realize that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on Christmas because one of the reasons we spend a lot is that we also don’t budget our time for shopping. Then, in a rush to avoid the throngs, we gladly fork over whatever the retailers want in order to be done with it.

By giving yourself the time to shop and evaluate what’s available, you not only ensure you’ll obtain everything you want to make your post-Christmas less stressful, but you may also find lower prices or cheaper alternatives to make this Christmas merrier.

A friend recently decorated three Christmas trees (hers as well as those of some family members) very cheaply. Instead of buying the pre-packaged beads or bows, which she may not have completely used, she picked up the exact number of items she needed at the dollar store, figuring she saved about $25 on each tree, by the time she tallied up what she would have spent on tinsel, lights, balls and other shiny or dangly bits. And each of her trees looked amazing and unique.

Picking up artsy supplies at the dollar store also allows you to make unique and thoughtful gifts for some people on your list. Granted a home-created birdcage, for example, may not be a suitable replacement for the Skylanders Trap Team portal your six-year-old would like, but for some of the harder-to-buy-for people, it would make a welcome and cherished centrepiece for the Christmas table.

As with many things, Christmas doesn’t have to be a stressful time leading up to it and then afterward when we realize we overspent. All it takes is budgeting, both financially and in terms of time, whereby you take something that as a whole seems quite ominous and break it down into smaller, easier-to-work-with bits.

Have a wonderful Holiday season.