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Cutting back Christmas

Sugar tax and $500 provincial cost of living cheques factored into the holidays.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — Christmas celebrations looked a little different this year for some West coast families. Tightening the purse strings to cope meant money that might have been spent on gifts had to be used instead to keep the lights on, the thermostat up and put the holiday feast on the table. That means income left at the end of each month didn’t stretch as far as it once did.

Keely McIntosh-Hynes and her husband, Blake Hynes, are among those who cut back on Christmas spending this year.

“With the cost of living so high, it did make Christmas shopping more difficult. We didn’t have to cut heat in the house, but the amount that we spent on Christmas gifts was a lot smaller this year. When it came to sacrifices, we never got the same amount of extra food that we would have in the house for people visiting, and the gifts that we would give to each other are being waited on till the new year to offset the price,” said McIntosh-Hynes.

“The lucky thing is we have a little girl that is happy just to see the lights in everyone’s window, and that helps, but it’s not the same as the last few years because it’s always in the back of your mind that if you buy something, how much money is left in the bank for the next round of bills,” said Hynes. “We start purchasing Christmas gifts in July, because of that last few years. We have learned that if you wait for the last minute, it’s a lot harder to pick up the things you want to get in the last month or two before Christmas.”

A stressful holiday season is worth it for the Hynes family.

“Having kids help keeps the spirit of Christmas (alive). Yes, it costs more for them to get the things they want, but seeing how they enjoy seeing the presents, being with family and the colours and sounds of Christmas is worth the extra stress,” said McIntosh-Hynes.

“When it comes to the future, I hope we can continue to provide like we do now for our kid, but that all depends on if both of us are working. If only one is working during that time, then yes, there will have to be sacrifices in the amount we will get for her, because we are not willing to put the household in debt over gifts because it’s not the most important part of Christmas. Being with family is,” said Hynes.

Janine Young shared that as a single mother to two kids, having only one income in her household was very difficult this holiday season.

“I had to significantly budget in order to make ends meet for bills and extra expenses for the holidays,” admitted Young. “I had to spend less on groceries and take out. I couldn’t buy as many gifts as I used to, and I had to go into more debt to finance Christmas by getting a loan from financial services.”

Even though the added stress was significant, Young still found ways to make things more reasonable.

“It was more stressful for sure, but after budgeting out bills, gifts and groceries it became more manageable. That’s the key and hard part – sticking to your budget,” said Young. “I started shopping earlier this year. I normally buy in December month, but I began in October and November. When we got the extra $500 government payment, that really helped with the Christmas stress.”

Young knows it was more difficult for families to afford Christmas with the increased cost of living and worries about what that will mean in the future if prices continue to rise.

“Honestly as kids get older their gifts get more expensive. However, I do believe they can understand the costs of Christmas as they age, and it becomes more understandable for the gift purchases.”

Leanna Felix also felt the pinch this Christmas.

“Speaking as a single mom of an only child, I can honestly say it was a struggle this year. When milk is five dollars for two litres and soup is two dollars a can, you really had to scrounge your pennies,” said Felix. “Thankfully, my son understood that Mommy isn’t an elf and couldn’t make everything he wanted this year.”

Felix said it can be difficult to shop early to help work presents into the holiday budget.

“With little children it’s harder to start earlier when their Santa lists usually change multiple times before the final draft is sent to the big man up North.”

Felix believes the high cost of food significantly decreased the Christmas budget for many families.

“With this sugar tax that came in and the cost of lunch food as it was, it’s getting harder to pack a nutritious lunch without excessive spending,” said Felix. “The price of a bag of apples is regularly eight dollars just about everywhere you go. You can see why parents are getting discouraged when shopping for weekly groceries. It’s cutting into the savings most use for this special holiday.”

The reality is that families are having to make difficult choices this holiday season that they never had to in previous, even recent, years.

“Having to decide between a $30 ham or a $60 turkey for your traditional dinner when, just a couple years ago, you could have both. It’s absolutely disheartening to see that exasperated look on a person’s face when they pick up a portion of meat and have to put it back because it’s double the price of last year’s stock,” said Felix. “How could we afford gifts when we could barely afford the dinner? Christmas has become very commercial in my opinion. I try to teach my boy that it’s not about the gifts under that sparkling tree, but about the feeling of being together with your family and spreading some love and good cheer while we still have each other and our health. It’s impossible to keep up with this cost of living. Something’s gotta give.”

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