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Dave McGinn's Mr. Miser

Frugal fatigue: I'm tired of being Scrooged Add to ...

Living cheap takes a toll. It may add dollars to your savings account, but it also depletes the spirit.

After just a few days of eating dollar-store food I was pressing my face up against restaurant windows, staring with longing and resentment. After a few months of not adding anything to my wardrobe, I was cursing the rags I'm draped in. Childish foot-stomping may have even ensued.

After nearly a year of recessionary living, I need a break. Frugal fatigue has set in.

"It's extremely important that you treat yourself every so often," says Elena Jara, education co-ordinator at Credit Canada, a Toronto-based organization that provides financial counselling. (As long as those indulgences are included in your budget, of course. When you blow your cash on new shoes and find there isn't enough money for groceries, that's when you're in trouble.)

With the holidays around the corner, I'm going to the mall to get something nice for my wife. Some jewellery, maybe, or a sweater. And for myself, I'm buying that Timex watch I've been daydreaming about for weeks now. It's not like I'm emptying my wallet on a diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe or a Lamborghini jet yacht. We're talking about a Timex here. While it's true that I already own a perfectly functioning watch, I'm sick of always looking at my wrist and seeing that the time never changes - it's always I'm-broke-o'clock.

As I head out to the mall, I might even do one of those jumps where your legs kick out to the side and you click your ankles.

I know I'm not the only one feeling the fatigue. There's been a whole lot of belt-tightening privation this year. According to a recent Desjardins Financial survey of people's financial habits over the past year, 55 per cent of respondents ate out at restaurants less, 42 per cent spent less on recreational activities, 43 per cent postponed an important purchase and 39 per cent said they lowered their basic expenses.

But Mr. Miser, you say, how can I treat myself to something nice but not blow my wad on gifts for friends and loved ones this holiday season?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Because most Canadians don't have any plans to throw their money around like they were in Brewster's Millions at the mall. A recent RBC Canadian Consumer Outlook report found that 47 per cent of Canadians plan to spend less on the holidays. The same report found Canadians plan to spend an average of $1,218 on holiday purchases.

To which I say, push it as far as it can go, people.

For one, compare prices at as many stores as you can before you put down your credit card or cash on gifts.

"Individuals who are [shopping]on their own are not doing a lot of comparison shopping," says Heather Holmes, owner of Life Assistants, a Calgary-based company that provides personal shopping services.

Considering that you can compare prices online while you sit on your couch in your sweat pants, there really isn't an excuse for missing out on the potential savings of doing so.

Bargain hunters are also advised to wait to do their shopping until as close as Christmas day as possible. And for some people on your gift list, wait until after Christmas.

"I recommend buying a lot closer to Christmas, because usually that's when you get more sales," says Arianne Lim, owner of Shop Til I Drop, a personal shopping service in Toronto. Ideally, Ms. Lim says, you can hold off until the last week before Christmas to do your holiday shopping. Don't be enticed by the deals currently on offer; they'll only get better as the big day approaches.

Of course, the deals get much, much better after the big day. Most people in your life, however, will be offended if you get them Christmas presents on Boxing Day.

But for some of the people in your life who won't notice when you do your shopping - the relatives who live overseas, the cousins you won't be seeing until Dec. 27 - Ms. Lim recommends waiting until Boxing Day to buy their gifts.

Save when and where you can, sure, but after a year of being Scrooged, go out and treat yourself to something. Now get out of my way, because I'm going to the mall.

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