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In for a Penny, In For a pound

My sister lived in England for more than two decades. Although she kept her Canadian accent, she picked up some classic British expressions. My favourite is “cheap and cheerful” and a close second is “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

December is a big month for spending with gift giving, decorating, indulging in decadent food, and going out with friends. It can feel like an unstoppable train.

Shannon Lee Simmons in her excellent book “Worry-Free Money” uses the term “F*ck It Moment”. This moment happens when “you feel as if there’s no point in trying to be financially responsible and you end up overspending, even though you’re worried about your financial future.”

“In for a penny, in for a pound” is a just a more lighthearted way of saying you’ve given up being financially responsible right now.

Have you ever felt this way? I certainly have. For me, it happens in two circumstances: when I’m on vacation and at Christmastime.

For me, a little splurging is a good thing – I’m naturally a little too careful on the spending side so a little throwing caution to the wind is good for me sometimes. There have been times, though, when I really couldn’t afford it. I’d shove aside the nagging worries about the credit card bill, and stack up the Christmas gifts.

Are you in a that moment right now, as the holidays are rushing upon us and you are buying, buying, buying? Decorations, gifts, stocking up on nice wine, buying expensive cheese – whatever your weakness is. And will you have the guts to open the credit card statement in January and review line-by-line what you bought? I never did. I just paid the bill blindly.

Now that I’m self-employed without a regular paycheque, throwing caution to the wind is far less attractive to me. My more natural frugal self is coming through. Let me share how I’ve stopped over-spending at Christmas.

1. This year I skipped the tree. I know - it’s crazy. For the past few years, I’ve felt a little bitter about just how much a tree costs in my neighbourhood. And I’ve heard that inflation on trees is 10% this year – on top of the covid-related inflation from prior years. The tree that cost me $70 last year is now creeping towards $80. That’s a lot to pay for something that will adorn my living room for three weeks and then end up on my front lawn awaiting the chipper. Spending money should feel good – for me, this wasn’t feeling good this year. Instead, I got from free cedar boughs from my sister’s property and have created a cozy and festive mantlepiece.

2. I’m buying fewer gifts. I remember years when I felt like I was shopping for gifts for weeks and weeks. It took over my free time and my brain space. Many years ago, my family stopped doing a gift exchange. We were all kind of tired of spending hours finding the “perfect” thing for someone which usually ended up not being perfect at all. Now, we generally skips the gifts altogether and go straight to the games. For my kids, I’m down to just a couple of gifts for each of them and some cheap and cheerful stocking stuffers. No more wasting money on stuff they never use.

3. To avoid over-buying, like picking up “one more gift” for my kids or finding “the cutest thing” that I have to buy for a friend, I have found the best strategy is to cram as much of my shopping as possible into one weekend. I make a list and go at it with full force. This means I avoid taking multiple trips to the mall where I am tempted over and over again to pick up “one more thing”. “One more thing” has screwed up my credit card too often in the past.

How is this thinking going over in my household? My kids don’t miss the tree since our space looks very Christmassy and cozy. They will love and use their carefully-chosen gifts. And I will feel good knowing that my credit card bill won’t be scary, making the holiday season less stressful.

If you have that feeling in the pit of your stomach about how much you're spending right now, maybe it's time to do something about it. Really think about what makes this time of year special for you and what memories you have from your past. Focus your spending on the things that really add value and cut back on the stuff that doesn't. Yes, it can be hard, especially since societal norms tell us what the holidays are "supposed" to look like. It took me a while to have the courage to say "no" to a Christmas tree. This is the first year I've felt ok doing it and I've stopped caring whether people think it's Scroogy.

In for a penny, in for a pound? Don’t let the cute alliteration fool you.

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