I can almost hear them whispering my name. I’ve stopped at that shop window at least four times today, my nose nearly pressed up to the glass like a little girl. “They” are nude, three-inch, Christian Louboutin look-alike pumps and they are promising to change my life! Sigh…

I grew up in an Islamic home with incense and spices and celebrations but I understand the holiday cheer that is ushered in every year once the calendar turns to December or sometimes even November. The atmosphere around us changes, suddenly everyone is grinning from ear to ear and the hugs, ooh these get a little bit tighter. This year though, the elbow bump will have to do.  Walking into supermarkets and malls in Nairobi, it is evident that the holiday season is upon us and not even a global pandemic could steal this from us. From one shop to another at a local mall, customers are being lured in by sales from retailers. From Christmas decorations to little gifts, the buy one get one free message is crystal clear. Even Uber has a promo code! It really is the most wonderful time of the year. For me, I would have wanted to rock those “red bottoms” in 2021 but the pair aren’t in my budget even though the sale is to die for, so I walk past them before the festivities get to my pocket.

For the few years that I’ve earned my own money, I have spent it like a maniac. Only with the pandemic and its attendant threat to my income, have I received a wake-up call and decided to save. This year has been a learning curve and because of it, I have managed to not only set up my emergency fund but also started funding it. This has not been easy but this is a story for another day. Yes, I’m actively trying to save towards a certain goal but this does not mean that I’m canceling the festive season. Quite the contrary. I’m allowing myself to have just as much fun or more during this period especially given this dumpster fire of a year. I’m going to be financially festive. It is estimated that on average Kenyans spent close to 10,000 shillings ($90) more during this festive season than they did in other months. In January, school children have to either resume or join school making these two months the most expensive in the calendar. With the Covid-19 pandemic this year, the situation is expected to worsen as the pandemic did not only affect our health but also businesses and income-generating activities as well. 

This year, Kenyans are expected to spend less than usual during the festive season mainly because of the financially depressive effects pandemic. As we all try to find our way in this new normal, I have a few tips and tricks that will help you (and me) save a coin or two this festive season and hopefully rescue us from the lure of lush, yet unnecessary, shoes. Remember, financial responsibility starts with you, or in this case, us.

Tip 1 – Set a budget

They say the best time to plant a tree (for “plant a tree”, read: start saving for Christmas) is yesterday, but if you didn’t have this as a savings goal in January 2020 and you’re now wondering how on earth you’re going to afford all the upcoming expenses without touching your emergency savings or leaning into credit card debt – the answer is to start a Christmas budget now.

Think about all the things you may need to spend soon (e.g. presents, decorations, food) and set a hard limit on how much you’re allowed to spend on each category. This might mean you will have to get creative for some categories (more tips below), but if you stick to your limit you might even find yourself having fun with the challenge! If anything, your 2021 New Year self will definitely thank you for the extra moolah.

Bonus financial hack for future you – before next year’s festive season, try playing the “No Spend November” money challenge, where you and your friends don’t purchase anything outside the essentials (bills/groceries) so you can accumulate as much savings as possible in preparation for December! 

Tip 2 – Saving money with gifts

Most people would agree this is where the bulk of their December spending goes so we compiled numerous ideas to help you stay in budget for this category:

Playing Secret Santa / Kris Kringle – If you have a large group of friends who are celebrating Christmas together, you can all randomly draw a name and only buy 1 gift for your assigned person. Likewise, you will only receive 1 gift from your Secret Santa. Not only is it super fun to guess who bought your gift, but you also save a lot of money by not having to gift everyone.

Joint experience – If you and a partner are used to spending lavishly on gifts for each other, why not try a joint experience instead? For example, you could book a couples massage or watch a movie. Sometimes, quality time together is worth more than anything a person can buy. 

Regifting / Upcycling – Do you have an almost brand new item that you only touched once (when you bought it) but you know your friend would absolutely love? If your friends are interested, try a year of exchanging upcycled gifts instead of purchasing new ones. In this day and age of consumerism, we forget how many treasures are hidden right here in our homes.

No gift – As climate change becomes increasingly evident, more and more people are opting for no gifts during Christmas to reduce their carbon footprint on the Earth. We can’t deny this is equally wallet-friendly as it is eco-friendly and it could be the option you and your loved ones are looking for.

Tip 3 – Don’t buy on credit

 Tala and Branch are great lifesavers trust me, been there done that. The only pinch comes in when we have to pay back the loans. Not fun, right? A simple tip to avoid the January pinch is to only spend what you have in the first place. I recognize that this might feel like it too late for some of you but trust me, cutting off any extra spending on credit now can make a big difference. It seems simple enough but with the expectations thrust upon us by the corporate Christmas campaigns and their tempting offers to buy things on credit with hire-purchase, lay-bye, credit cards and loans, many of us fall into these dangerous debt traps that can seriously harm our finances in the long-run. Living within your means, even at Christmas time, is the first step to banishing the January blues. This is pretty simple: don’t spend money that you don’t have as this will definitely have you singing the January blues, which is not a fun tune.

Tip 4 – Stick to your budget.

We have already agreed that we will create a budget for this festive season. This is the point where you nod! However, budgeting, just like any other thing in this world, requires a great deal of discipline. With all the sales and offers over this period, it is very easy to get lost in the hullabaloo and overspend without being completely aware of it, the more reason why we should keep our budget in mind and stick to it. This will help you save more and afford you a clean financial slate in 2021.

Say it with me “I am responsible for my financial health.”

Tip 5 – Pay with cash

As the queues mount at ATMs it can be tempting to pay for your Christmas shopping with either credit cards or debit cards. While it may be tempting to add that purchase to your card, it’s better not to. It’s harder to keep track of your spending if you can’t see the cash. Pay with cash or your mobile money wallet whenever possible because you can see how much money you have left with each purchase.

This year has been difficult; fortunately for all of us December is here and we can finally close this chapter. However we all have a responsibility when it comes to our finances and this is why it is paramount that we start the year on a clean financial slate, with little or no debt, with a budget, and most importantly, with a disciplined mindset towards our finances. Merry Christmas and a financially savvy New Year!