The 12 Pains of Christmas and how to avoid them
Have you heard of The 12 Pains of Christmas? Released in the mid-1980s, the song is a parody of the popular carol, The 12 Days of Christmas, where instead of touting the pleasure of receiving various gifts, the singer bemoans the less than sunshiny parts of the festive season.
But even if Bob Rivers sounds a bit like the Grinch who stole Christmas, we all know he has a point. For all the family get-togethers, presents and general bonhomie, there is plenty to complain about this time of year (and we don’t just mean the price of cherries).
Even underneath the calmest of exteriors, as Michael Caine put it, we Christmas ducks are “paddling like the dickens underneath”.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore those issues bubbling below the surface, however. In fact, you’re far more likely to enjoy yourself if you take action swiftly or, better still, plan ahead to avoid them. Here are some practical steps you can take to keep the 12 Pains of Christmas at bay - and the family in good spirits
1. Late deliveries
You were warned. In September this year, we wrote an insider tip urging you to get started with your Christmas shopping right away because significant delays were looming. This was particularly true for items bought overseas.
Now that the holiday season is just around the corner, undelivered items are a major complaint in Australia.
If you are reading this and your gift hasn’t arrived, it’s likely you won’t get it in time for Christmas.
What you can do instead is try to assess how much you can spend on a replacement gift in time for Christmas.
Start with contacting the store to see if your item has been dispatched and/or if it can be cancelled for a refund. Confirm what it will cost you to return items that have been sent but not received before Christmas. Get all the information in writing.
But don’t expect to get a prompt response to your questions. Courier and mail companies are handling so many enquiries right now, they may not be able to give you accurate, reliable information at once. Bring a lot of patience and expect that you’ll spend a lot of time trying to get through to them. Have all the package details ready so you can provide the needed information at once, or risk being on hold again. If you don’t have the extra time and energy, or the dispute is ruining the fun of the festive season, it’s better to let it go for now and try contacting the company after Christmas instead. This way, they are probably less busy and can attend to your concern sooner.
Know your rights under Australian Consumer Laws before chasing up your parcel. They apply to both in-store and online shopping, provided the latter is from a merchant in Australia. Buy from a merchant outside Australia and you’re not covered because the law can’t be enforced.
Lastly, it never hurts to ask about the merchant’s refund policy (and this goes for in-store shopping, too). This will save you so much heartache in the future.
2. Christmas shopping chaos
We have yet to find one soul who has never complained about in-store Christmas shopping – too many people yet too few parking spaces. Add to that limited stock due to supply chain issues, and we can definitely say the shopping part of Christmas is not “the most wonderful time of the year”.
We have a few suggestions to help you avoid the shopping blues:
- Regardless of the weather, leave umbrellas at home, especially if it’s one of those annoying ones that take up too much space. The crowd will thank you.
- Don’t bring kids unless absolutely necessary. This way your time will be spent solely on shopping and not divided into toilet and snack breaks. And you’ll end up buying fewer items not on your list.
- Shopping for clothes? Make sure you’re wearing comfy clothes – ones you can take off easily in the changing room. Better yet, wear multiple layers to allow quick try-ons even without using a changing room.
- Pick a time of day when you don’t have to queue for lunch or dinner. Bring your own water and snacks, just in case your stomach starts rumbling after hours of walking.
- Unless looking for an item sold at a specific place, stick to a familiar shopping centre and create a shopping list according to its layout. This way you’ll avoid wasting hours trying to figure out where to get what you went there for.
- Bring adverts to ask for price matching from competing stores. This will save additional travel or the possibility of stock unavailability.
3. Fuel price surges
In case you haven’t noticed, the price of petrol is higher during the holidays thanks to increased demand. To make matters worse, there’s a global supply chain crisis, which is why petrol is almost at $2 a litre many days of the week.
What a way to end the year!
Luckily, there are ways you can save on fuel, despite the price hikes. Understand that there's a petrol price cycle. According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), “petrol prices move up and down in regular patterns or cycles. The cheapest and most expensive days to buy petrol can change from cycle to cycle. Use price cycles to help you decide when to buy petrol.” You can have a look at ACCC’s website for the price cycles in different states and capital cities.
Stay up-to-date on fuel prices. In our article about traveling on a budget, we mentioned several apps and websites you can use to be in the loop: Motor mouth, Petrol Spy, Compare the Market, and FuelPrice Australia.
4. Kids gaming
Whilst video games have a generally positive impact on kids’ mental health, it’s a different story when they’d rather play than participate in traditional Christmas activities.
Do we force them to come smile for the holiday photos or respect their boundaries and leave them alone?
Here are some tips from Dr Kristy Goodwin, a digital wellbeing researcher and author:
- Give them cognitive priming. Instead of telling them “Get down here now and we’ll have our pictures taken!!” say, “We’ll have our pictures taken in 15 minutes. Please turn off your game by then.” Asking them to do something they don’t particularly enjoy mid-game will be met with defiance. But giving them time to switch off and communicate with their peers should do the trick.
- Suggest a transition activity. Trying to wean them off video gaming by asking them to do something they don’t like rarely works. If they dislike socialising with family, think of an appealing transition activity before asking them to sit at the dinner table. Dr Goodwin suggests giving them two options such as "Would you like to walk the dog or go for a swim?"
- Be involved in their gaming. A lot of experts suggest asking your child about the game or learning how to do it yourself and play with them. This way you can control the kind of content they are consuming. Plus, it’s a good way of hanging out with our children.
5. Batteries not included
This was one of Bob Rivers’ pet peeves (you can look up the lyrics online) and, boy, do we agree with him! It happens a lot.
You excitedly hand out beautiful toys to kids. Then they open it with delight only to discover they can’t try it out because batteries are not included.
Easy-peasy. Buy a pack of AA and AAA batteries at your next shop. Then remember to include a set of each when giving gifts that require batteries.
6. Grocery shopping overload
Whether it’s at holiday destinations or buying gifts for family, we are always enticed to spend more than planned. Add the price increase of many Christmas and summer items we love – cherries, watermelons and prawns - and we’re certain to blow our cash.
Here’s how you can control your budget:
- If shopping solo, put on some headphones to avoid getting lost in the leisurely music in the shop. Research shows that this type of music causes shoppers to enjoy the atmosphere and thus spend more. Uptempo music, on the other hand, “encourages quicker shopping and fewer purchases”.
- If you think items at the end of aisles are cheaper than those within the aisles, think again. The only way you can take advantage of true savings is when you compare costs in fixed unit pricing.
- Don’t be swayed by the reward points offered. If the item is not on your list, don’t buy it unless it’s a more affordable replacement. Reward points should not dictate your purchasing decisions.
- Avoid getting the biggest trolley, so you won’t be tempted to fill it. Choose the right size for your shopping list.
We have dedicated an article to grocery shopping. Take a look at our tips here.
7. Christmas surcharges
Businesses charge a public holiday surcharge to cover the additional operating costs prompted by the holiday operations. The Christmas season is no exception. However, there are ways you can still save money:
- Buy tickets in groups so you save on delivery fee.
- Avoid Viagogo at all costs. This article will tell you why.
- Make it a habit to read the fine print (or ask someone to read it for you). That’s where you can find hidden charges. But as of 26 October 2019, businesses now need to include all charges in the headline price of goods and services, including charges for pre-selected options. Businesses now need to advertise the full price of their item, inclusive of any additional extras. You can then choose to deselect optional extras from your purchase.
- Expect to pay a surcharge during weekends and public holidays. But you can always ask before booking, as some establishments don’t have them.
Watch out for add-on costs and hassles for online purchases, particularly if you’re returning a product or cancelling an item/service. Temporary accommodation such as Airbnb, for example, do not refund service charges.
8. Gift cards gone astray
Gift cards are both good and bad news. The good news is 31 percent of Australians choose cash or gift cards, making it the most popular gift choice, according to research. We get it, especially if you’re racing against the clock. We’ve previously provided a guide to help you choose the best gift cards
The bad news? Many, sooo many, go unused. According to the most recent data we can find, there’s $835 million worth of unused gift card credit.
We don’t know exactly why this happens. They could be misplaced, forgotten or seen as a forced retail experience.
Nonetheless, here are our top tips to make sure you spend your gift cards:
- Use a gift card as soon as possible, even if it has a three-year validity period. If the company goes bust, you can’t redeem gift cards or refund them either.
- Use an app to store gift cards on your phone. Giffgaff has an extensive list of these apps. Better yet, add a reminder to your calendar.
- Before taking home a gift card, ask at the register for the contact details of the person in charge in case a problem ensues. When you receive a gift card, write down the details or take a photo of the gift card number, receipt, or proof of purchase.
- This way, you can ask for a replacement or refund via email for lost gift cards.
9. Travel cost blow out
Travelling during the holidays has always been more expensive than any other time of the year for many reasons. The pandemic just added fuel to the fire. Everything is a lot more costly these days – accommodation, food and plane tickets among others.
To make matters worse, your holiday can be cancelled anytime with no option to refund. So, how do you protect your wallet? Here’s our solution:
- Choose cheaper places to stay the night. Instead of staying at fancy accommodation, why not trade it for a night at a park? You can stay at unpowered national park for free, or a holiday parks for a minimal fee if you think you can’t survive a night without charging your gadgets.
- Pack light. Just bring the basics. Having a different daily #OOTD is good for the ‘gram but it’s unhealthy for your wallet.
- Get travel cards. Did you know travel cards such as Myki and Opal allow you to get free train journeys in select areas on weekdays?
- Use coupons. The government handed out travel and tourism vouchers. Make use of them. We also suggest buying tickets from coupon companies or keeping on the lookout for exclusive travel deals.
Refer to our travelling on a budget tips for more information.
10. Season for scammers
As we gear up for the holidays, so do scammers. They get more creative with their practices this time of year, knowing the season is an even more lucrative time to deceive people. So you’ll find new waves of scams crop up: online shopping scams, fake goods, and others.
Here are precautions you can take to protect yourself:
- Be wary of delivery scams. If you receive an SMS or email asking you to click on a link, don’t do it. Contact the merchant or courier first. Refer to the website listed above for more tips.
- Buy from trusted websites and pay securely. Only choose a website with an established reputation. If the merchant is fairly new, ensure the payment page starts with https:// or there is a security symbol present before you buy.
- Check your bank statement to confirm you’ve been charged correctly.
- Do not provide more personal information than required for the sale – usually name, address, and phone number.
Choose a payment method that allows for reimbursement if the item isn't delivered or isn't as described.
11. Gift returns
Let’s admit, not everyone likes the gift they get. It could be the wrong size, wrong color or just totally not you.
Have you ever received a Christmas gift and immediately said to yourself, “What am I going to do with this?” You are not alone. An article published last year states there are about $400 million worth of unwanted gifts received during the Christmas season.
Because unwanted Christmas gifts are inevitable, it is a good idea to prepare for a refund. Here are our tips:
- Know your product well. If buying online, colour, sizing and quality are difficult to judge from an image. Buying from trusted brands and labels with familiar sizing will reduce buying mistakes.
- Buy from retailers with clear and generous policies for returns, exchanges and refunds. Many offer lenient returns and exchange policies over Christmas. However, keep in mind that retailers aren’t obligated to allow for a ‘change of mind’.
- When purchasing a gift, ask for a ‘gift receipt’ and include it with the present or card. This will avoid awkward conversations and simplify the returns process without revealing the purchase price.
- If you've received an unwanted gift, protect the item's resale ability, so you don’t risk being ineligible for a refund. You can do this by not using the item and keeping the packaging intact.
- Again read the fine print. We’ll say it again: read the free print.
12. Clothes don’t fit
The festivities are fun and all until you put on work clothes again. That’s when you realise the festive season has made you more huggable. It’s a familiar but unwelcome situation. What’s more, “there’s a theory now that most of that (weight gain) is attributable to Christmas, because you gain a lot of weight… and you might lose some of it but you don’t lose all of it and it’s that little bit you don’t get rid of that stays there the next year, and the following year”, says News Corp health editor Sue Dunlevy.
What’s the solution?
- First, make the commitment. The journey to a fitter body is not a bed of roses. Hint: it’s not a bed at all!
- While you’re researching for a gym or fitness class, spend two weeks actually exercising, trying different routines: yoga, pilates, strength training and so on. This way you know where you’re most likely to fit it in.
- If joining a gym, here’s what you need to look out for before enrolling:
- Cooling-off period. Ask if there’s a trial period with no termination fees just in case you realise that place is not for you.
- Hard sell. It’s the job of the receptionist to make you sign up right then and there. But we advise asking for a brochure and giving yourself time – at least 24 hours – to decide on it.
- Cancellation process. If you figure out the place is not a good fit, how easy is it to cancel your membership? How much notice should you give? Find out before you sign on the dotted line.
Our ultimate guide to Gym memberships has more tips.
13. Holiday hangover
Yes, OK, we know we said it was 12 but we like to throw in a little extra. It’s Christmas, right? Besides, this is important.
Do you know that many Aussies are still nursing their holiday hangover? This time last year, “Aussies racked up $24 billion on credit cards in December,” says a report. This year, a survey by review.org said 1 in 4 Australians are planning to “go into debt to fund their Christmas”.
Why do we spend so much? The simple answer is retailers have subtle ways to get us to spend more at Christmas time. They employ several strategies to put us in the mood for spending. That’s why we see images of happy families and sparkling decorations and we hear festive music while we shop.
To avoid being part of this year’s statistics, we have the following tips:
- Make a shopping list and stick to it. Planning ahead and self-control are the key.
- The way you pay matters. Avoid BNPL at all costs. It’s been proven to suck us into the debt rabbit hole.
- If you don’t have a Christmas shopping fund, don’t experiment with payment methods. The rule of thumb is if you can’t afford paying for it in cash, don’t buy it.
- Give in groups and get family agreement. You can ask family members to contribute.
- If it’s too late to do this year, we suggest setting up a Secret Santa or Kris Kringle gift exchange for the adults in your extended family and decide on a predetermined limit. That way everyone just has to buy one good present (and you’re more likely to get what you want too).
- If purchasing an extended warranty, ask first the retailer if a warranty may be bought at a later date by the recipient.
We have something for you
If your product doesn’t live up to the perfectly filtered picture, the purchase doesn’t match the description – including colour - the item isn’t ‘fit for purpose’ (as in do what it’s meant to do) and doesn’t last a ‘reasonable’ length of time, you have the right to a refund. If you experience any of these problems, we can help you handle it. Just say the magic words ‘Help Me Handle It'.