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Spend governor anyone?

December 17, 2013

Once again it is that time of the year we all look forward to having a mandatory break from all the happenings of the year. For those coming from the slopes of Kilimanjaro, they are probably working on ensuring their vehicles are in top shape because as is customary to them, they have to go home for what many jokingly call “the annual census”. The amount of “mbege” that is being brewed right now would probably sink the Titanic. All in all, this is all in the name of celebrating the fact that we have gone through another year. Whether the year was fruitful or not is another issue all together.

This is the time when we all unconsciously remove our “spend governors” and hit the shopping malls at the speed of money. It is the time of the year where many have what I’ll call “unprotected shopping”…. (and by extension, unprotected sex).

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but on this side of the continent, it is the time of the year where most organizations pay their employees early, as early as the 15th of December. As a result, when January comes, it feels to many as if it is the longest month of the year, yet it has 31 days just like March, May, July, August, October and December.

In fact, what makes it even longer for those with school going children is the fact that schools almost always open within the second week of the New Year. In some cases, this probably means new school, new uniforms, new books, new bags, and of course those 4-figure school fees (in USD) that parents have to part with to enable their children to study. With all these things happening all at once, it is no wonder many of us dread January.

So, the question now becomes, is there a way our feelings for January can be reversed from hate to love? Is there a way we can switch from enduring January to enjoying it like any other month that is not January? I believe there is. It is called “avoiding to overspend in December” because overspending comes with unnecessary financial burdens that could last to the next January.

How does one manage to not overspend in a month that calls for overspending? In this article, I look at a few tips on how you can make the financial burden that comes with the Festive Season lighter for yourself and those around you.

Plan in January – I know this may sound crazy but in order to avoid carrying a heavy load in December, you need to plan ahead.  For instance, if you know that your Christmas shopping every year is USD 500, then from the month of January, you can put aside USD 50 per month. This way, by the end of the year, or by the time it’s the next festive season, you will have put aside your shopping money and as a result, you will not need to take a salary advance, or a loan to finance your activities for the season.

Essentials First – Before you can start your shopping spree, you need to identify and take care of your essentials first. For instance, is your rent paid, is the children’s fees available, their uniforms, etc? Once you have put aside money for what is absolutely important and essential, then you can go ahead and do your shopping. Still on the issue of essentials, even after you have made sure everything important has been taken care of, you need to be certain that whatever you shall be spending your money on thereafter is really important. For instance, do you really need to buy another fridge, just because it’s Christmas? Must you really go to the village “kuhesabiwa”?

Live within your means – if you cannot afford it, then don’t touch it. It doesn’t make sense for you to get a loan or a salary advance to buy things that you could very well live without. Worse stil, some people are known to borrow money to buy things they don't need just to please people who could care less about them! Christmas is not about irrational spending. You can still have a wonderful time without overspending.

Checklist and Cash – When you go shopping, make sure you have your shopping list nicely put together to avoid random or what we call impulse buying. Secondly, instead of using plastic money, you had better carry cash with you because when the cash is finished, you will have no choice but to leave the shopping mall. With plastic money, it is very easy to keep swapping the card, ending up with un-necessary items that were not on the list in the first place, leading to overspending.

Discipline your fingers – Every so often you have to discipline your fingers so that they don’t go picking what is not in the checklist. You get into a store, see something you love and pick it up even though it was not part of your budget. We justify this move by saying that we might not find it the next time we go for shopping. But let’s be honest with ourselves, did you really need that item? Was it a matter of urgency? The next time this happens, try walking away and telling your fingers to get disciplined, as you think about whether or not you really needed the item.

Sniff around sales – just because something has a reduced price on it, or it is on sale does not necessarily mean that it is a bargain. You could very well get the same item at a different shop for less at the actual selling price. So before you buy something, shop around (no pun intended) to see whether there are other cheaper options.

Avoid the “Six Black Skirts” Syndrome – if you are a woman I’m sure you know what I mean. Before buying new items, check whether you already have something like this. Yes occasionally it might make sense to stock up on things you know you will use if they are at a bargain price, but before you do that, re-evaluate and see whether you really need them. For instance ladies, do you really need that pair of shoes in 10 different shades of green?

“Early Bird” – Do not wait until 24th December at 5pm for you to start doing your shopping. Avoid the last minute shopping bug and do your shopping early enough when you have the isles to yourself before the whole of your city invades the shopping malls. This also ensures that you escape the usual price hikes that come with the season.

These are just a few pointers you can use to avoid overspending during this season. However, you can actually apply them in any other area of your life. I am personally applying them now and I wish I had started a few years ago.  Anyway, that’s a story for another day but for now, all I can say to console myself is that better late than never.

Wishing you all a happy festive season and a very sobber spending spree.

PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 15th December, 2013, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words"




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