It’s the last day before September begins, which means that there are only four months to go before the Christmas and summer holiday rush. For most people, this is a financially draining time.

Fewer companies are giving bonuses due to the economic slowdown, and domestic expenses over December and January are usually higher than normal – what with Christmas, family trips, visitors from abroad and other holiday activities, like dinners and New Year’s parties.

Even though there is only a third of a year to go, here are a few quick tips for saving for the summer rush.

1. Budget how much you want to spend

Before you do anything else, look carefully at your earnings and savings and honestly estimate how much you can afford to spend over the holidays.

Make a list of all the presents you want to buy, the parties you will attend, the trips you want to take, and so on. Then divide your available cash between these expenses and see how you stand financially.

This will give you a good indication of how much you need to save before December – or even if you need to cut out some of your plans. After all, it’s not worth going into debt for short-term luxuries.

2. Put away cash every month

Saving an extra few hundred rand a month specifically for the holidays can make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be hard, either. R400 is the equivalent of three DVDs, a pair of shoes, two dinners out, or eight drinks at a bar – hardly an onerous sacrifice to make for a few months.

If you can scrimp and save on some of your smaller purchases, you can get away with saving a decent amount by December. R1,600 will buy quite a few presents or evenings out, and you can spend it guilt-free because you’ve allocated it to your holidays.

3. Start shopping now

If you give gifts to family or friends over Christmas, start shopping around now. Not only will you be much better prepared for the festive season, but you will also have the time to look for the best prices.

On top of that, many companies – especially traditional gift stores – raise their prices in December to capitalise on the gift-giving rush; buying a few months early could see you saving up to 50%. This strategy also helps you spread your purchases over a longer time, putting less strain on your budget.

The same principle applies to booking services or accommodation during the festive season. If you pay now, you will probably avoid the seasonal price increase and you’ll ensure that you’ve reserved your place before the rush starts.

4. Delay your gratification

For the next few months, whenever you make a non-essential luxury purchase – a dinner out or a new piece of clothing, for example – ask yourself if you’d rather have the item now, or if you’d prefer to delay it until the holidays.

If you can afford to eat out three times in the next four months, would you prefer to go for a casual and ordinary dinner now, or save the cash for a fun evening out with visiting friends from overseas? Prioritising like this means that you’re not denying yourself anything; you’re simply delaying the moment – and chances are that you’ll look forward to your holiday plans even more.

The University of Cape Town Basics of Financial Management course starts on 12 September 2011. For more information contact Lyndsay on 021 685 4775 or or visit