By Agnes Hove, Financial Reporter
As a teenage girl, Christmas Day was the highlight of my year! Our family Christmases were either spent at home entertaining the extended family, or we would go to the rural areas and enjoy a very vibrant communal celebration. I didn’t mind either way because I got the pleasure of wearing new clothes and hanging out with all my sisters, brothers, friends and cousins.
Christmas lunch was, and still is, about getting together as a community, celebrating the special day, the year and it additionally is a tangible demonstration of the spirit of Ubuntu. Ubuntu has been defined as the African theology that states, “I am because we are”– and it recognises the incredible connection and interdependence of humanity and one’s life with another’s. 1 Christmas in Africa is definitely about family and community.
This has been an interesting year, to say the least, as many have lost jobs, incomes, business revenue, and the prospects for a merry Christmas probably seem far-fetched. As a financial coach and strategist, I have observed that this year has been particularly hard on my clients, and their primary concern at this time of year is how to celebrate Christmas without overspending. It’s a joyful time of the year, but the Christmas celebrations can lead to extravagance and an unhealthy bank balance in January. To add to the pressure, those who need to make the trip to the rural areas cannot arrive empty handed, so the financial impact of the season can be overwhelming.
How can we enjoy Christmas, maintain the spirit of Ubuntu and still be conscious of the bank balance?
Many families have had a tough year, and feel the need to let loose and celebrate a little. But it’s important not to fall into debt in our attempt to keep up with family expectations. There will definitely be family members who will send you on a guilt trip because you brought home less than was expected. So, how do we manage expectations? After all, the spirit of Ubuntu is stronger at Christmas, and it means helping others and opening our hearts to those around us.
Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to manage your family and maintain the peace during this year’s festive season:
- You are not alone– Bear in mind the fact that you are definitely not the only person who is feeling the pinch in these difficult economic times. It’s happening all around you, and most people are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. It’s not embarrassing, you don’t need to be ashamed, and realise that most of us are affected by the post lockdown economic fallout.
- Be open– If your family is not aware of how your life and finances have changed in the course of the year, do your best to explain in clear terms the effect of the lockdown and the resultant economic downturn on your family finances.
- Adjust material expectations– This is an ideal time to discuss what you value in life beside material goods. Manage the expectations of family members, especially those children or adults who normally expect substantial gifts at Christmas.
- Your presence is a present– The exorbitant cost of travel during the festive season makes it even more expensive to visit family and friends, especially those based in rural areas. Most of the time, our families believe we can afford more than we actually can, which is why we need to have open and honest conversations about money. Give them an overview of the cost of travel for the holidays, no detail is necessary.
The true spirit of Christmas is about opening our hearts to those in need, and the true inspiration of people struggling together to make a difference. Do what you can, but try not to overextend yourself. Here are ways to celebrate a Christmas day event with friends or family and still maintain the true spirit of Ubuntu.
- Share the load– if you decide to have family over for Christmas lunch, encourage everyone to contribute a dish towards the meal. Some might bring a stew, a roast, a bottle of something and/ or specially prepared vegetables, share the load! Don’t be too embarrassed to ask, make sure everyone knows that you’re expecting them to contribute.
- Find creative ways to entertain the children– The Christmas holiday is the longest school holiday for children in Africa, so it’s important to keep children entertained and stimulated, especially on Christmas day. Make the day special for the children. Give a family member the responsibility of entertaining the children. They can play games in the garden or maybe use scrap paper and make various different crafts and/ or decorations. Use your imagination and make it entertaining for the children.
- Get creative about gifting– If you normally give family members something special on Christmas day, maybe you can set a price limit on gifts. Another alternative is to make thoughtful gifts for each other. A nicely wrapped packet of freshly baked cookies, a baby sitting voucher, or a dance performance by Children for their parents can be a thoughtful gift. Use your imagination!
- Plan for January– The New Year will be here soon. Set some money aside for next year. January disease (an empty wallet in January) is real and it’s stressful! Avoid it at all costs!
Giving is a joy, and doing it at Christmas allows us to reaffirm the bonds we have with our family and different members of the community. Let’s be conscious of life beyond Christmas and commit to starting the New Year on a decent financial footing.
In conclusion, it’s important for us to give ourselves a salute for having survived this incredible year! It’s been a challenging year, and many have lost, not only sources of income, but also family and friends. We all have no idea of when the economy will be vibrant again, and as such, financial plans have been difficult to pin down. However, it is still important for us all to strive for financial freedom and stay focused on the financial goals we set ourselves at the beginning of the year.
Christmas Day is around the corner, and it will still be a time to get together and celebrate. However, this year’s celebrations will probably be a little different. All the best!!
Agnes Chikukwa Hove, Brief Profile
Agnes finds fulfilment in being a Financial Wellness Coach. She coaches individuals, couples and organisations on effective personal financial management, and has effectively done so for the past 8 years. Agnes is a seasoned strategist who is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Sequor Consulting a Pan-African SME Development, Consulting and Advisory organization. She is also the Treasurer at African Women in Agriculture (AWiA) a women’s empowerment organization. She possesses a Master of Science (MSc) Degree in Strategic Management, a Business Management (BBA) Degree and a Diploma in Nursing.
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- Mandela, N.; 1994. A long walk to freedom. Boston, Little Brown.