We interviewed Singapore’s top bloggers about how we can enjoy Christmas without overspending. Here’s what they have to say.
When Christmas comes around, many Singaporeans think they have the license to indulge on everything – not just on food, but also on gifts, travel, and gadgets. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the holidays, you don’t want to lose control over your finances or go into debt by doing so.
To help you keep your spending in check without scrimping on fun, we asked the advice of Singapore’s top finance and travel bloggers. Here are the best tips they gave for spending responsibly on gifts, food, and travel during Christmas.
1. Stick to a Budget
Lionel Yeo of Cheerful Egg maintains that being money savvy on Christmas is not so much about cutting costs, but about sticking to a budget.
“I personally save a couple of hundred bucks every months for gifts, so that I can afford to spend on dinners and gifts and parties during the festive season,” he says.
“By setting aside a fixed budget for it every month, by the time December rolls around I’d have a very nice stash of funds that I can spend on, completely guilt-free. After all, it’s Christmas – we should let ourselves enjoy it.”
2. Use a Budgeting App
Kevin of The Turtle Investor is also a fan of splurging on family and friends during the holidays. “I usually don’t have much difficulties with my expenses as I use a budgeting app that also serves as a reminder to rein in the costs,” he says.
If you aren’t using personal finance apps yet, check out Mint.com, Mvelopes, and You Need a Budget. Apps like The Christmas Gift List make sure you budget properly for the loved ones on your list.
3. Use Part of Your Year-End Bonus
If you’re lucky to get a year-end bonus, spend a portion of it on Christmas and save the rest. “Set aside 20-30% of your year-end bonus,” Richard Ng of Invest Openly suggests. “Make sure to plan your spending around this figure.”
4. Spend on Things You Love
Some expenses are more essential to the enjoying holidays than others. Know what they are and prioritize accordingly.
“My philosophy has always been that people should be free to spend extravagantly on the things they love, as long as they cut costs mercilessly on the things they don’t,” Lionel says. “Personally I prefer cutting costs during the rest of the year by eating frugally and shopping less, so that I can splurge on my loved ones during the festive season.”
5. Spend on the People You Love
Let’s be honest – we don’t love all our family or friends equally, and some deserve presents more than others. Timothy Ho of Dollars and Sense points out that Singaporeans buy way too many gifts for way too many people. While it’s the season of giving and receiving, you can save money by being selective about who you buy presents for.
“Aside from what my wife bought for me, I honestly can’t remember any other gifts I received over the past years,” he says. “I think the same goes for most people.”
6. Give the Gift of Time
With shops clamouring for your attention, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Christmas is about people, not gifts. Just as shared experiences make relationships last, so does quality time together matter more to your loved ones.
“I think the best gift you can give is to spend more time with your families and close friends, especially if your busy schedule means you don’t meet them as often as you’d like,” Timothy suggests.
7. Remember that Christmas is Not a “Most Expensive Gifts” Contest
Thomas Zhuo of My 15-Hour Work Week agrees that there is a tendency for Singaporeans to overspend on gifts during Christmas. “They think that a gift has to be of a certain amount as a sign of their sincerity,” he points out.
While there’s no denying the existence of this mindset, remember that people who matter care more about your presence than your presents. You don’t need to go broke or fall into debt to show that you care.
8. Pay Attention to Lobang
When shopping for gifts, spend less by watching out for sales, which are all over the place at the end of the year. Of course, all these tempting bargains make it a little difficult to keep spending in check.
When that happens, just go back to the basics and review your budget. “Spend a few minutes to quickly draw up a budget,” Kevin suggests. “Plan a little to cover all the essential Christmas spend, like that awesome signature oven-baked turkey your family loves, and gift exchanges.”
9. Compare to Get the Best Price on Children’s Gifts
Kevin observes that the social circle he’s in enjoys splurging on gifts for family. “After all, it is the season to be giving and many of us love to pamper our loved ones – especially kids,” he says.
Fortunately, Singaporeans are spoilt for choice when it comes to children’s gifts. With so many websites selling toys, children’s books, and more, it’s easy to look up prices online and compare to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
10. Do Your Research Before Buying Gadgets
“I am of the view that Singaporeans will probably spend a lot on gadgets on Christmas,” says Richard. “At this time, people get their year-end bonus, which comes in handy.”
There are going to be many tempting deals on smartphones and other electronics this Christmas. Before buying any for your loved ones or for yourself, look up reviews and see if the product lives up to the hype. Check prices at Hardware Zone and comparison shop extensively to make sure you get the best deal.
11. Avoid Commercial Areas
The spectacular light show on Orchard Road does much to bring out the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, being around Orchard Road during the holidays also encourages you to bring out your wallets.
“Keep away from overly commercialized areas and just find a quiet place to spend with your loved ones,” Chartered Financial Consultant Martin Lee advises. The human willpower is not always strong, especially when surrounded by shops and tempting holiday deals.
Ivan Guan of SG Money Matters adds that the typical Singaporean consumer is egged on by the media frenzy. “This may sound cynical, but I think Christmas shopping is just a completely invented agenda by marketers,” he says. “Money can only buy very short term happiness and most of the wonderful things happening in our lives cost little or nothing.”
12. Focus on the Objective of the Gift
In an age where you can buy anything you want with a swipe and tap, people still value a handwritten note and meaningful presents. “Cards are way, way underrated. And from what I see, many people cherish and keep them,” Thomas says.
“The tough decision is not how to spend money, but what not to spend on,” Ivan points out. “My advice is to focus on the objectives of the gift rather than the gift itself. A family photo album might be more precious than a golden necklace to your mum.”
13. Get Crafty with Homemade Gifts
If you’ve got a knack for crafts and DIY projects, Thomas suggest making gifts instead of buying them off the shelf. Check out Pinterest for hundreds of homemade gifts you can make that people will actually use.
14. In Restaurants, Skip the Christmas Specials
If you’re having Christmas gatherings at a restaurant, Martin recommends avoiding the Christmas specials. “You pay a huge premium for the meals and I don’t find them value for money,” he says.
15. Host Dinner at Home
Alternatively, you can bring out your inner chef and host dinner at home.
“Hosting dinner at my place is a win-win,” Timothy says. “It’s cheaper for me and my friends don’t have to pay anything. Plus I get to open wine bottles without having to pay any corkage charge.”
16. Host a Potluck
Don’t have the time or energy to make an entire Christmas dinner yourself? Thomas suggests hosting a potluck instead of just ordering in.
Get everything organized by creating a private Facebook group with your guests, and using this to keep track of what everyone else will bring. Ask 1-2 people to bring a salad, 2-3 to bring appetizers, 2-3 to bring main courses, 2-3 people to bring desserts, and 2-3 people to bring alcohol. Adjust the numbers according to your social circle’s size and preferences.
17. Create Edible Christmas Gifts
If you can bake or cook food items your friends can’t get enough of, coming up with edible Christmas gifts will help defray your holiday costs. “My wife and I bake cupcakes, brownies and even log cake for our friends and relatives,” Thomas says. “It’s really not that hard and the recipes are all over the web!”
18. Buy the Gift of Off-Peak Travel
Research suggests that you get more happiness out of buying experiences rather than things. Experiences like a trip together creates shared memories that you can savour after the fact, which strengthens relationships in the long run.
To keep costs low during Christmas, Lionel and his fiancee buy each other experiences like an outing or a short getaway. “Since we don’t have kids, we have the flexibility to delay those trips to the off-peak periods when it’s usually cheaper,” he explains.
So rather than get your loved one the latest gadget, try a quick weekend getaway instead. They may cost the same, but the latter brings more value for money.
19. Travel After the Holidays
Lots of Singaporeans work or have school-age kids, and the Christmas holidays are one of the few times families can travel together. If your family hasn’t had a vacation in a while, Jaclynn Seah of The Occasional Traveller advises parents to stay at home and travel after the holidays.
Related Article: 6 Ways to Save Money on Christmas Travel from Singapore
“Skip traveling on festive dates,” she says. “It’s extra stressful if you’re trying to get home in time for festivities and you run into delays, and everything is also extra costly.”
20. Book Tickets Early
“If you do have to travel during those periods, see if you can book your tickets as early as possible and maybe get some cost savings,” Jaclynn suggests. Sign up for newsletters at Skyscanner or your favourite airline to get first dibs on promotions and cheap fares.
21. Stay at an AirBnB and Make Your Own Christmas Dinner
When overseas, do a bit of pre-planning to save money on food. Consider staying at an AirBnB near a grocery and preparing your own meals.
“Christmas brings out the ‘festive menus’ in restaurants, which tend to have a high markup,” Jaclynn says. Besides being budget-friendly, a homemade Christmas dinner is also more heartwarming.
22. Keep an Eye on Your Overseas Spend
It’s easy to be carried away by the moment and spend money on treats or little trinkets. “I think a lot of Singaporeans are big fans of food and shopping, so when in a place with a good exchange rate or foreign currency, there’s a tendency to overspend,” Jaclynn observes. “We are not as aware of our expenditure as we would be in Singapore.”
Set a budget before you go traveling for the holidays. Pay attention to what you buy during your trip and make sure you’re only paying for items you can comfortably afford.
23. Go off the Beaten Path
“When one travels, the money is spent typically more than other expenditures,” Martin observes. This is true especially if you are traveling as a family.
One way to cut costs is to avoid touristy spots altogether, where the markup for food and souvenirs are high, and visit less popular (but no less interesting) sites. Look at TripAdvisor for other places of interest that are less crowded and bring more value for money.
24. Pay Your Credit Card Bill in Full
If you must use your credit card overseas, keep an eye out for your statement’s due date. “Remember to pay your credit card bills in full to avoid unnecessary interest charges,” Richard says.
25. Take Time to Reflect and Plan for Next Year
The holiday season is a rare opportunity to take break from the daily grind, giving you some space to reflect. “Christmas can be a good time for reflection and planning for the new year,” Martin says.
While this tip isn’t about saving money on Christmas per se, it’s worth taking a few moments to think about where you are in your financial journey, where you want to be next year, and the steps you want to take to get there.
Use SingSaver.com.sg’s free comparison tools to find the best credit card to use this Christmas.
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By Lauren Dado
Lauren has been a content strategist and digital marketer since 2007. As SingSaver.com.sg’s Content Manager, Lauren edits and publishes personal finance stories to help Singaporeans save money. Her work has appeared in publications like Her World, Asia One, and Women’s Weekly.