money Feature

christmas

Help, I can't afford Christmas!



Do you feel like you can't afford Christmas this year? If your Christmas savings are in crisis, we can help you get cash sorted for the festivities.

It’s fair to say that most people over-spend at Christmas. According to American Express, last year we Brits spent an average of £364 on Christmas presents alone.

There are so many expenses all concentrated over a very short period: presents, parties, food, clothes, travelling... the cost of Christmas can quickly spiral out of control. But there are simple steps you can take to stretch your Christmas budget.

Give yourself a 2014 Christmas bonus

Christmas SavingsImagine 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. You'll be surprised how much you can save in three or four months - but if you then keep the account going into 2014 (saving a little each month from January onwards) then affording Christmas next year will be a breeze!
  • Ideally you should pay a fixed amount each month, 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.  Even if you save £5-£10 a week now, you'll have a sizeable kitty of several hundred pounds 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?

  • For this Christmas, the account needs to be ‘easy access’ - as you will need to withdraw the money in early to mid December
  • You can open up a new savings account with your existing bank - or you can open up an account with a different bank if that pays a better rate of interest
  • There are a small number of accounts on the market specifically for Christmas savings - but many normal 'easy access' accounts actually pay better rates and are less restrictive

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 - we show you how to create a full family budget in under 30 minutes.

Cut your food costs

christmas meal plannerFeeding 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.

Drawing up menu plans really helps keep your costs down

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 - all of which add up to big Christmas savings.

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

get paid to shopIt sounds too good to be true, but you really can get paid to shop with cashback sites. They're especially useful in the run-up to Christmas - one of our readers got over £300 cashback by doing her Christmas shopping through sites like Topcashback and Quidco (they're both free to join).

If you sign up to cashback websites, 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.

The two cashback sites we recommend for Christmas savings are Topcashback and Quidco.

For more information, see our full guide on how you can get paid to shop with cashback sites.

Save on presents

It seems there are more people to buy presents for each year. Many people find themselves not just buying presents for family, but also their friends and work colleagues too. If this is you, why not suggest setting up a Secret Santa where there's a strict spending limit of just a few quid? It makes for a fun festive challenge as everyone has to try and find funny, quirky or memorable gifts for under a fiver - which keeps things affordable.

In addition to using the cashback sites mentioned above to help cut costs, it's worth downloading 'barcode scanner' apps like RedLaser if you have a smartphone. When you spot something you'd like to buy, you simply scan the barcode using your phone and the app will tell you whether you can get the same product cheaper elsewhere (either on the high street or online).

Go for DIY Christmas decorations

Ever tried making your own Christmas decorations? We've gathered together our favourite DIY Christmas decorations that anyone can make. They not only save you money, but it makes for a fun Christmas activity to do with the kids.

Get organised with Christmas cards

Instead of buying Christmas cards, why not get the kids to make some?

Also remember that if you write your Christmas cards in good time, you can send them off second class. (First class stamps cost 10p more, so the savings soon add up - especially if you have armfuls of cards to send out).

Alternatively, considering sending out electronic Christmas cards via email for free. You can get traditional designs, fun animated cards, or ones where you can add your own photos or text in. Just Google 'free Christmas e cards' to get started.

Bag some cheap wrapping paper

Have a look at Poundshops and also the value ranges in supermarkets. Wrapping gifts up in cheaper plain brown parcel paper actually looks quite classy (especially if you add red ribbon or string).

Another fun option is to buy a big, cheap roll of lining paper from a DIY store, and get the kids to decorate it with drawings or potato prints. It's cheap, it keeps them occupied, and the relatives will love it!

Cut the cost of eating out

If you're planning on having a festive meal out - with family, friends or work - you can get up to 50% off your bill by booking in advance through the Toptable website, which has deals with thousands of restaurants  across the UK.

Cut the cost of travelling

train travelChristmas 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 Asda Tech Trade In. (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).

For more ideas, check out our article on 7 things you can recycle for cash.

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.

Have you got any Christmas savings tips? Let us know in the comments below!





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