5 ways to stretch your budget, starting this Christmas!

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Lorraine Heller

December is on us, the great UK has at last lived up to its name and the cold has settled in, Christmas trees are starting to pop up in rail stations and in the odd sitting-room window of our (very organised!) neighbours… and bank accounts are – somewhat! – replenished.

But this month being what it is, most households will see their budgets start to dribble away at record speed. Worse still, new figures show that we’re now spending more each week than ever before – but getting less for our money.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Family Spending report, families now spend just under £500 a week but have had to cut back on things like clothes, shoes and furniture to be able to pay for the rise in basic living costs – like petrol, heating and food.

It makes for miserable reading, but it’s a reality we all face today. So let’s get proactive and do what we can to stretch our money that little bit further.

1. Rent your household assets

OK, so you may not want to rent out a spare room in your home as that would be too intruding in your family life – but this doesn’t mean you can’t earn cash from the other things you own.  Rent out your driveway with ParkAtMyHouse.com and you could earn up to £500 a month, or hire out your car with sites like WhipCar.com for up to £50 a day. But that’s not all… do you have a lawnmower, gas heater or carpet cleaner hidden away in the shed? You could earn £25 upwards per day by renting hidden gems like these via sites like Erento.co.uk and Zilok.com. Also, you might want to take a look at these other ideas on making money from home.

2. Stretch your Christmas lunch

Christmas is all about bursting fridges, overflowing tables and non-stop snacking. But thenturkey dinner come the leftovers. Plan carefully, prepare space in your freezer, and you can put these to good use over the months to come rather than just making the odd turkey sandwich before the rest gets dumped. Turkey: try something more inventive with turkey leftovers, like a turkey, mango and lime salad or a turkey soup; if there’s still some left over, freeze it for speedy stir fries or sandwiches in the New Year. Cheese: a must-have on the Christmas table, but one that rarely gets eaten. Grate and freeze leftover cheese, then you can add on demand to soups, sauces, pizzas and sandwiches. Christmas cake, pudding or trifle: we all want it, but rarely finish it. Cut up the cake and freeze in separate slices for easy access later. Mix Christmas pudding with ice cream for a great recycled desert. If you have leftover cream from the trifle, whip it up and freeze it.

3. Start your own payment plans

This one will take some time to kick in, but once it does the benefits are fantastic. Most of us pay our bills in monthly instalments – but very often if we pay one annual fee we can save hundreds of pounds a year. So why line someone else’s pockets if you can save the cash for your family by being a little organised? Lay out all your living expenses that could save you money if paid in an annual lump sum – such as insurance, car tax and travel fees. Make a list of the new annual cost and divide this by 12 monthly instalments. Start building up an ‘incidental payments’ account and once you’ve got it going switch all your bills to annual payment plans. The household savings you make can pay off your Christmas next year!

4. Get some Christmas cashback

If you haven’t already done your Christmas shopping, then this might be a good time to look into a cashback credit card, which will give you money back with every purchase. Again, the longer you spend, the more cashback you’ll get so this isn’t an instant pot of cash, but it’ll come as a nice bonus for next year’s Christmas shopping. How does it work? Well, there are various cards on the market but typically you could expect to get back between 1% and 3% of your annual spend as cash. So £3,000 spent over a year could deliver an extra £90. But remember, as with any credit card, the penalties can be quite high if you don’t pay it off every month. So to avoid an interest charge of up to 20%, don’t get this card if you can’t make the payments!

5. Beat the rising petrol costs

Petrol pricesOverall driving costs have increased around 14% over the past year, and we now pay an average of £129 more each week to run a car. Prices are only going up – by 2015 we’ll be paying around £108 to fill up a 70-litre tank. So what can we do to keep those car costs under control? Stretch your fuel by making sure tyre pressure is checked so you get the maximum number of miles out of the gallon, and reducing your rate of breaking and accelerating by driving more slowly. Get rid of extra weight you don’t need in the car: de-junk the boot and take off the roof rails when not in use. Keep your car well serviced to avoid unexpected servicing shocks, and consider switching insurance policies – there’s plenty of competition clamouring for your cash, so do a price comparison to find the best deal for you.