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The greatest gift you can give your family this holiday season just might be permission to spend less on gifts and celebrations.

We can’t know precisely how much consumer spending is driven by social pressures – keeping up appearances, fear of missing out and so on. But if we were to somehow reduce those pressures, I bet a lot of people would eagerly cut their spending. This brings us to the idea of agreeing as a family to spend at least a bit less over the holiday season.

The inspiration for this idea is a blog post written by a woman who has less to spend for Christmas this year because her husband is attending school. Her solution is to convince her whole family to scale back the usual festivities.

Resistance from family members is inevitable, but there are ways around that. One, make the spending reduction temporary. Two, add new traditions to replace anything you delete or reduce. For example, this woman’s blog post advocates spending some of the money saved on gifts on extra food.

Another of her ideas for a less expensive holiday season is to lay the groundwork early. It’s not too early to plan for December 2019.

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Rob’s personal finance reading list…

A fresh take on renting vs owning

Here’s a brisk math-based comparison of renting and owning that should be read by all of the housing true-believers who can’t get over their contempt for the renter.

This is how much your grocery bill might rise next year

A yearly study of food prices predicts a 3.5 per cent increase, which compares to an inflation rate today of about 2.4 per cent. An interesting wrinkle for vegetarians: Veg prices are projected to rise, while meat prices might fall as a result of declining demand.

The three stages of retirement

A phrase you hear in financial planning to describe the three stages of retirement is go-go, slow-go and no-go. Here’s some additional information on the those stages. Factor all of this into your thinking about how much you’ll spend in retirement. More in the go-go years, less in the slow-go years and potentially more again in the no-go years if you need long-term care.

Around the world in business class

Budget travel expert Barry Choi shows how a couple can use American Express travel reward credit sign-up bonuses to take a lux trip with business-class flights. It won’t be easy, but it is apparently doable.

Featured Tweet

Enough with blaming people’s financial troubles on coffee.

Today’s financial tool

Ever had to look up a company’s share price on a specific day in the past? The historical quotes page on BigCharts has the answer. Just type CA: in front of Canadian stock symbols, as in CA:BCE. Prices adjusted for stock splits are shown.

Ask Rob

Q: Robo-advisers work to simplify and provide discipline to one’s portfolio by providing pre-set allocations which they rebalance for you automatically. Balanced ETFs such as VGRO appear to do the same thing. Why not just put all of one’s portfolio into one or two of these ETFs?

A: Balanced ETFs from Vanguard, Horizons and BlackRock’s iShares lineup offer a fully diversified portfolio in one fund. Your investment plan for decades could be as simple as buying these low-cost ETFs on a regular basis. If you’re comfortable investing on your own and want a simple, smart solution, then consider these ETFs for sure. Robo-advisers are for people who want a higher level of simplicity and are willing to pay a little more for it. Robos also offer customer support and investment advice by phone or online means, and they provide excellent tools online for monitoring your account.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories

  • How to keep your travel costs down during the expensive holiday season
  • How one Quebec single mom, 32, taught herself the ins and outs of investing
  • Retirees who have helped children buy homes are increasingly in debt (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)

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