Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to run and hide from your bills, right?

It’s probably harder to stick to your budget during the Christmas holidays than any other time of the year. It doesn’t even need to feel like a big Christmas to blow the budget. Often you’ve had visitors or your family has travelled, you’ve spent more on food and drinks than usual, and been out to costly family activities together. These expenses can build up more quickly than you realise. And that’s without the cost of presents for everyone.

So what’s a family to do?

Start planning for next Christmas, now. Do it now while last Christmas is still fresh in your mind. If you’re able to start a Christmas savings account, this can be very effective. Put aside a small amount each pay, into an account you won’t touch until December. If you put aside $10 each week from now, by December you’ll have enough for everyone’s presents. Would you miss that $10 a week?

Get the family together and talk about your plans for Christmas 2012. It might be that they’d love a Christmas at home this year. That doesn’t mean not doing all sorts of fun things together – there’s plenty you can do as a family that is fun and low cost. It can be even easier at Christmas because the weather is so much warmer. Here are my three favourite tips for inexpensive family activities over the Christmas holidays:

• Swim. Swimming pools often have discounted family passes, which can be reasonable value for money. Some also have month passes which can be great for kids over a long summer. But you don’t have to swim in a pool. New Zealand has plenty of beautiful rivers, lakes and beaches – although be sure to use sunscreen. One of the great things about taking the family for a swim is that it can be a whole afternoon, or even a whole day event. If you take some lunch with you to the beach, the only additional cost might be some ice creams.

• Play outdoor games together. Cricket, treasure hunts, and other outdoor activities are great for keeping the family active, and have no cost. But they’re great fun! Consider writing clues for the kids and hiding them around the garden. Google other ideas for outdoor activities and your entire summer could suddenly be action-packed.

• Visit local free attractions. When you start to look around there’s a number of free things in each community. Your local library can keep the family entertained for hours, but you could also look at nearby parks and walkways that you may never have been to. There’s a fun (free) website called which gives you coordinates and clues to treasures hidden in parks, and a smartphone or navigation device (like a navman) can send you in the right direction to discover them.

It’s important that you can spend time together as a family, but it’s also important your keep to your budget. Tie those two concepts together and budget as a family. It sounds cheesy, but if your whole family is involved in the budgeting process, they are much more likely to stick to it. Your family can have input into how much is spent on things that affect them, for example bought lunches and clothes. If your kids know why you’re being careful with money (for example, saving for a holiday) they’re less likely to ask you to spend on other expensive things.

To get some help with the budgeting process, visit your nearest budgeting service. Budgeting services that are part of the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services are free and there’s one in almost every community. Check out for a full list.

Other ideas

Where’s all the money gone? was written by Raewyn Fox. Raewyn is the CEO of the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services (NZFFBS). This is a network of around 150 budgeting services around the country, that provide free, confidential, non-judgemental budgeting advice. The NZFFBS saw over 40,000 clients last year and helped retire $78 million dollars of overdue debt.

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