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Tips to avoid overspending in the school holidays

After what has been an especially turbulent year, the arrival of the summer school holidays from mid-December signals a time of recovery, relaxation and renewal for many. But for some, especially families where mom and/or dad are working straight through the festive period, it can also ignite feelings of anxiety and financial stress.

Ask any parent: it’s easy to overspend when the kids are out of school, since it can be a struggle to find ways to keep them safe and entertained for such a long stretch of time. Of course, the festive season also has its own unique expenses, including buying presents for family members, and thank-you gifts for schoolteachers and other caregivers.

And while your child is likely to have many suggestions on how to spend your hard-earned cash this summer holiday, it’s important that you stand your ground and do not allow yourself to be guilted into overspending. You may even wish to turn this period into a fun, financial learning opportunity.

With the above in mind, here are a few ideas on how to proactively avoid overspending during the school holidays, and lighten your financial burden, so that you can start the New Year with your best financial foot forward.

Focus on meaningful activities
It’s not hard to find fun things to do in the holidays, but when trying to stick to a budget, a good approach is to plan activities that have more emotional meaning and value attached to them, rather than costly outings.

For example, this could be visiting friends and family at their homes or having a picnic out in nature, instead of going to a fancy restaurant.

Likewise, supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses at Christmas markets could be more cost effective – and entertaining – than doing your gift shopping at large chain stores, with the added benefit of helping your community directly.

Be selective
Not everything you do over the festive season needs to have a rand value attached to it, or else you may risk blowing your holiday budget prematurely.

Try giving your child a daily or weekly activity or gift budget at the beginning of the holiday, then work together to devise a calendar that spaces out your paid activities over an agreed timeframe.

Fill in the gaps with free, fun pursuits like camping in the back yard, or going to the beach or the forest for the as a family day.

Give the gift of investing
One step up from creating a holiday budget and calendar is to use the holiday time to broach the idea of investing. For example, you may wish to open a unit trust on behalf of your child as a present, one that is aimed at a big future holiday, such as a trip to the Kruger National Park, which usually requires booking at least one year in advance.

In doing this, you can start to teach them investment concepts such as compound interest, as well as risks versus reward and investing for the long-term (especially as it could take some time before they see any real payoffs, due to the small amounts they’ll likely to be putting in).

Keep your child in the loop, so that they see both the downs and ups of the market, and learn that this is usual.

At the same time, they can enjoy the anticipation of a special activity or reward while putting money aside, and learn the art of patience – one of the keys to successful investing.

Another option to consider could be opening a tax-free unit trust with your child in their name as a tax-effective way to save for the longer term. If you don’t already have one for yourself, you’re not taking full advantage of the ways the SA government has put in place to make investing more rewarding for everyone. Compounding tax-free returns over the years can make a significant difference to your investment values versus a “standard” unit trust.

Lynn Bolin is head of communications at M&G Investments.


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