Do you feel like you can't afford Christmas this year? What with all the presents, parties, food, clothes and travelling, it can all seem too much. But there are simple steps you can take to stretch your Christmas budget.
It’s fair to say that most people 'over-spend’ at Christmas. Last year we Brits spent an average of £364 on Christmas presents alone, according to Amercian Express. But it's not just presents - there are so many additional expenses all concentrated over a very short period.
What a good idea, then, to try and spread the cost over a longer period of time. After all, it’s not as if Christmas takes us by surprise every year!
Christmas bonus 2012
Imagine if someone gave you a lump sum of money for Christmas on 1 December which covered the cost of all your presents and groceries. Imagine being free from the financial stress and worry that seems to come with each Christmas - and being able to relax and enjoy what should be a joyful time of year.
Well, with a little forward thinking, you can make Christmas far less financially stressful! Here's how:
Create a Christmas Savings Account
Why not open a separate savings account specifically for money for Christmas?
- Start now – the sooner you start, the more you can save. Maybe this year you'll only be able to save up for three months, but if you keep the account going then next year your Christmas will be a breeze
- Ideally you should pay a fixed amount, as this helps to provide discipline
- If you set up a direct debit into the account, it will help you to forget about it (and therefore avoid raiding it before December)
How much should I save?
Decide how much you can afford to save. If you can save £10 per week now, that's still an £80 kitty at your disposal come early December.
If your budget is already at breaking point, don't worry - there are things you can do to free up some money to put aside. See the 'Stretching your budget' section below.
Where shall I save?
- The account needs to be ‘easy access’, as you will need to withdraw the money in early December
- You can simply open up a savings deposit account with your own bank
- There are a small number of accounts on the market specifically for Christmas savings. Yorkshire Building Society's Christmas Saver account is one example. You can pay in a maximum of £1,200 over the year, and it offers an interest rate of 3.5%
How to stretch your budget to afford Christmas
Budget, budget, budget
You'll be amazed at what a difference making a budget can make to your finances. Once you start tracking your incomings and outgoings, you'll soon see where money is going to waste (a recent study revealed that many workers spend up to £2,000 a year on lunch and snacks, while the average Brit spends more than £15,000 over their lifetime just on take out coffees!)
Creating a budget needn't be a nightmare - use this free budget planner tool and you'll be up and saving in no time.
Cut your food costs
Feeding a family isn't cheap - but we've got hundreds of great recipes for you in our Kitchen section. Not only are these meals delicious, they're cost-effective too. We even show you where you can get the ingredients for the cheapest price!
Festive foods tend to rise in price the closer you get to Christmas. So buy your holiday food as early as possible, and store or freeze it where you can. Also have a look at our tips on how to cook Christmas dinner on a budget.
For your general shop, MySupermarket shows you which supermarkets sell the cheapest products. If you're savvy you can knock £20-30 a month off your food bill using it.
Draw up menu plans
Drawing up menu plans really helps keep your costs down, as you only buy exactly what you need and cut out all those expensive little extras. By planning ahead you can bulk buy cheap ingredients, make the most of two-for-one offers, and reduce the amount of food you throw away.
Don't have time to put together a meal plan? No problem, because we've done it for you with our handy meal planner section - and we'll even bring you a special Christmas meal plan next month. Sorted!
Spread the cost of your spending
If you're struggling to afford the cost of Christmas, you could consider spreading your costs with a 0% credit card. Look for one that gives you the longest 0% deal on purchases (a '0% purchase card'). That way you won't end up paying hefty interest charges.
Of course it goes without saying that you must always be cautious when borrowing with a credit card - it's an easy way to build up debt if you're not careful. Only consider this option if:
- You know you'll be able to make at least the minimum repayments on the card. (Even on 0% cards, you still have to make repayments - if you don't, you'll lose your 0% deal and get hit with late fees).
- You know you will clear the card completely before the 0% period ends. (If you don't you'll get hit with interest charges of between 15%-20% and the costs can quickly spiral).
- You are organised with money and won't forget the date your 0% deal ends! (Put a reminder in your diary - it's so easy to forget these things. If you approach the end of your 0% period and find you still have money to pay off on your card, make sure you move your debt to a good balance transfer card - that way you'll avoid paying substantial interest charges.)
Only spread your costs using a credit card if you can answer 'yes' to each of the three questions above. If you can't, don't use a credit card - it will only make your situation worse.
Make the most of reward points
It's inevitable that you'll spend a fair amount of money over Christmas - but you can make the most of your shopping splurge by topping up your reward points. Why not put them to good use either by using them to buy essentials like food and toiletries, or by using them for Christmas gifts?
Get paid to shop
If you sign up to a cashback website like Quidco, you get money back just for shopping online at hundreds of big brand retailers. You can easily earn £20-£30 back on a few hundred pounds worth of Christmas shopping. Sign up to Quidco here.
Also see our do's and don'ts of online Christmas shopping to make the most of your Christmas cash.
Cut the cost of travelling
Christmas time means travel for many of us, as we joing our families and friends across the country. If you're travelling by train, don't pay full price: check out our article on how to get cheap train tickets for families.
And make sure you don't pay through the nose when filling up your car. Go to PetrolPrices which finds the cheapest petrol prices in your local area. And there are plenty of little things you can do to cut the cost of running your car - you can get up to speed on them all by reading how to save on motoring costs.
Trade in your old gadgets
Looking for a quick cash injection? If you've got some old gadgets lying around (or unwanted Christmas presents) then you can trade them in for cash at sites like Gadgets4Everyone. (Be aware that you can sometimes get a better price by selling your goods on eBay - but this usually takes longer). If you've got an old mobile mobile phone, you can recycle them for cash at sites like mobilephoneXchange (some smartphones can earn you hundreds of pounds).
Make extra money from home
If you're always on the lookout for some ways to earn a bit of extra cash, you should definitely check out one of MyFamilyClub's most popular eBooks, 25 quick ways to make money from home - which does exactly what is says on the tin! See how you could make money here.
Still in need of help?
If you're in real financial dire straits and are not sure how you are going to afford food and heating this Christmas (let alone presents) don't panic - there's help available. See our guide on how to get emergency help with your finances this Christmas.