Dare we say it, Christmas is just around the corner – now that we’re in to November we’re already starting to see the Christmas ads and festive supermarket specials appearing. If Christmas is something that you dread because of the expense of it all then you’re not alone – around half of us worry that we won’t be able to afford to cover the cost of everything from travel tickets to presents, all the food and all the booze. However, you don’t have to completely blow the budget every year at Christmas, there are some simple ways to make savings to enjoy a very festive time on a budget.
According to the AA the average adult in the UK spends more than £500 every Christmas on all the components, such as gifts and getting to see the relatives. That’s a lot of cash for a period of three days. Set yourself a limit based on what you can actually afford and make peace of mind this Christmas a gift to yourself. If you’re going to use a credit card or other type of finance to cover some of the costs then make sure you know how you will manage the repayments. Remember that you can give up to £250 in cash as a tax exempt gift per year – this is particularly useful for grandparents who might be looking to give presents to friends or family, at the same time as reducing inheritance tax. Make Christmas spending more logical and less emotional by putting it all in budgetary terms.
Cut back in advance
If you don’t have a lot of room in your December budget then spend the first three weeks of the month making some clever savings. Look at it as your Christmas preparation, much as you might a period of healthy eating to prepare for all the festive food. For just three weeks, cut back on treats and extras, make all the savings that you can on transport and food and keep in mind that on December 25th it will all feel worthwhile.
Use the sales
The days when the Christmas sales used to begin on Boxing Day are now long gone. Most businesses will have sales during late November or early December and this is a great time to get those presents for Christmas as they will be heavily discounted. In particular, look out for Black Friday (27th November) and Cyber Monday (30th November) as this is the one weekend where you will get some of the biggest discounts on everything and anything that you can buy online, from clothes to electronics.
Trim the fat
The food is one of the most expensive elements of Christmas, mainly because most of us seem to lose all control when shopping for this time of year. We overspend by buying what we don’t need and a huge amount of food goes to waste simply because we’ve been sucked in by Christmas promotions or that feeling that Christmas requires decadent overspending. Plan your Christmas food this year and only buy what you must have – there’s no need to have six different types of mince pies in case visitors come when no one in your family eats them anyway. If you’re having a big get together then think about asking people to bring different components of the food. Someone could bring the Boxing Day ham, for example, while another person could show up with the Christmas puddings and someone else the pickles and sweets. Many of us feel that hosting Christmas means paying for it all but it doesn’t have to – it’s more abut the company and the conversation than the food after all.
Look out for the hidden costs
There are plenty of hidden costs at Christmas and one of the biggest is postage for items that you’re sending abroad. It’s one thing to send out a whole swathe of Christmas cards but if each one also has a couple of gifts in it too then you could be adding hundreds of pounds to your Christmas bill this year. Phone calls to family and friends overseas is another major expense and one that can be very easily avoided by using a prepaid phone card or a free online calls service like Skype. Energy bills can be another major cost during the Christmas period – if you’ve got a houseful then change all your bulbs for energy saving options, turn the thermostat down a bit and encourage people to put on those festive knits and don’t leave the Christmas tree lights on when there’s no one in the room to enjoy them.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley