Finance Your Budget ’Tis the season: How to save up for a COVID-19 Christmas

’Tis the season: How to save up for a COVID-19 Christmas

This year's Christmas will be tougher for many, but some measures can help your money go an extra mile. Photo: TND
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Cash-strapped Australians are being urged to take extreme measures to afford Christmas this year as the pandemic-fuelled recession takes some of the shine off celebrations.

Santa’s big day is less than three months away, and new research shows families are concerned the coronavirus uncertainty will put a dampener on the festive season.

One noticeable trend at family dinner – presuming that restrictions will allow relatives to get together – will be that roughly one in 10 people at the table will be out of work.

Recent unemployment figures show Australia’s effective joblessness rate,  which factors in those working zero hours or who have given up looking for work, hovers at 9.3 per cent.

And the federal government’s decision to taper JobKeeper and JobSeeker has taken hundreds of dollars a fortnight from the budgets of millions of households.

It’s little surprise, then, that research from consumer comparison website Canstar found more than a third of Australian families expect a low-key Christmas, with less money to be spent on food, presents and holidays.

The concerns have prompted experts to urge Australians to start planning now for a more subdued silly season, and consider thinking outside the gift box for ways to boost the budget.

Hark! Christmas can still be special

Around a quarter of those surveyed anticipated COVID-19 would have a negligible impact on their Christmas plans.

Meanwhile, 4 per cent said they would host more lavish parties than usual – presumably as a way to celebrate the end of a tough year.

Canstar editor-at-large Effie Zahos said that Christmas would be like none other for many families who have had to spend their savings on more pressing matters than presents.

The extent to which families have tapped their savings and nest eggs over the past six months has been well documented.

Recent research from MyState Bank showed a third of households were forced to dip into their savings to afford weekly expenses and bills, with one in 10 estimating they had wiped half their savings balance.

And APRA’s recent snapshot of the early superannuation release scheme showed $33.5 billion had been withdrawn from super funds to September 20, with about 1.3 million Australians raiding their super twice.

Ms Zahos said households wanting to boost their Christmas savings can find inventive ways to build up their balance, such as doing odd jobs for neighbours or selling items that are cluttering up the house.

But fundamentally, developing a water-tight Christmas budget is key to  adapting to the new COVID-normal way of life, she said.

“For many of us, the financial hangover that comes in January is well and truly here. Which is why now – more than ever – some planning needs to come into play to minimise the financial stress,” Ms Zahos said.

“Christmas this year is all about affordability. You can cut the trimmings and still have a festive season.

In one way going back to basics may be just the gift that everybody needs.’’
– Canstar editor-at-large Effie Zahos

Tips to save for a COVID-19 Christmas

  • Sell any unwanted second-hand items: Gumtree’s Secondhand Economy report recently found households could save as much as $5800 by selling pre-loved goods including electronic items, home decor, furniture and sporting equipment
  • Find a spare soft drink bottle: Pop a $1 or $2 coin in every time you receive change from a cash transaction (a standard 660ml bottle can usually house $880 when full)
  • Take up small freelancing jobs on sites including Fiverr or Airtasker: Use some of the spare time typically used for a daily commute on tasks that draw on your professional skills, assembling furniture or gardening
  • Sacrifice one expense for the next three months: Can be a content subscription, one night of takeaway per week, or swap the daily coffee run for a homemade drop.

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