There’s a reason some of the most common advice in personal finance is to have a budget and track your spending: because you need to know your obligations and what you’re actually spending the money on. (Hint, lots of things that you probably shouldn’t.)
I have probably gone overboard but I’ve been diligently tracking my spending for a while now and there have definitely been a few surprises. I am particularly bad, for example, at staying within budget if I’m buying gifts or out with friends. Like, really bad.
In 2017, I spent more on gifts and items for family and friends than I spent on groceries (and I spent too much on groceries too). It’s also more than I spent on personal development, holidays, coffee, wine and books (not altogether but still, that list includes some of my favourite things).
Turns out that while I can deny myself (sometimes, #neversaynotocoffee), I cannot say no if the item is for someone else.
Outside of gifts that come with wrapping paper and cards and sometimes postage, I’ve paid road tolls, agreed to go to events that don’t much interest me, bought rounds of drinks, contributed to school fundraising whatevers and on and on and on.
Last year was a shocker. I’m guessing all the years prior were shockers. As for 2018?
Given that habit has cost me 8% of my income this year so far, I think it’s time I learnt to be mindful of what saying yes for someone else can cost in terms of my dreams.
How to save money on gifts
Buy ahead of time
I have a running list of birthdays where gifts are expected. My favourite friends are those who like wine, no thought required. For everyone else, I have a rough idea of what I’m getting them and then if I see it on sale, I purchase.
Plain wrapping paper
Once my current stash of paper and cards is gone, I’m switching to brown paper wrapping and cheap ribbon. I am in no danger of running out of cards any time soon.
Keep a present drawer
We all need The Drawer sometimes. You’ve forgotten it’s someone’s birthday and you’re catching up for drinks … and handily, there’s a candle, or cute earrings or something ready to go. Importantly, don’t forget what’s in The Drawer, and only restock when needed.
Reconsider the need to buy in the first place
I’m finally at the age where, when it comes to material goods, most people I’m around have everything they need and far too much that they just wanted. They don’t need more things but maybe they do need a walk in a national park, a weekend brunch or Cheap Tuesday movies. Or a phone call, that works too.