It’s been a long and challenging year and most of us are so fed up with the restrictions on our everyday lives we feel the urge to make Christmas a bigger deal than ever this year.
But with just eight more shopping weekends to go, many of us will be worrying how we will manage to make ends meet.
The TV adverts for kids’ toys and tables piled high with food and drink are already in full flow to tempt us to get spending.
But don’t panic if you haven’t started your shopping yet. The festive season doesn’t have to put you in the red and give you a New Year cash hangover.
Our dozen ways of avoiding a Christmas crisis will help you enjoy it without cleaning out your bank account.
1. Don’t let TV adverts pressure you into spending too much
Big stores are pushing the ‘must have’ expensive computer games consoles and suggesting store cards charging eye-watering interest rates.
But this sales pressure doesn’t do us any favours and just puts unnecessary pressure on already cash-strapped families.
Be realistic. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy on the basis that you don’t want to lose face or are trying to keep up with the Jones’s.
You won’t thank yourself when your January and February wages are wiped out trying to pay off those Christmas excesses.
2. Use your reward points
When was the last time you cashed in your Nectar points, Tesco Clubcard rewards or Boots advantage points?
Check the balances now and see how much you’ve accumulated – it may be more than you thought.
Now’s a great time to put these rewards to good use to buy the odd present or two without you having to dip into your bank account.
3. Be pandemic practical – agree spending limits
Keep costs in check by setting a limit with friends and family on the amount you’ll spend on each other – or perhaps agreeing to only buy for children.
Don’t feel embarrassed about suggesting this. You’ll be surprised how many others are feeling the virus crisis pinch and will be relieved to agree to spending a bit less than usual this year.
4. Write down your budget for food and presents – and stick to it
It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype as shops pull out the stops to try and make you spend big.
Ignore the Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions – they are simply ways of trying to part you with your hard-earned cash for things you don’t really need.
Buying something just because it’s discounted isn’t the best strategy.
The trick is to work out a budget of how much you can afford to spend on friends and family and to keep within that limit. Keep tabs on how much you’ve spent as you go along so you don’t blow your budget.
Starting shopping a bit earlier could be a smart move this year as we don’t know what kind of impact the coronavirus restrictions will have on the usually crowded high streets and shopping centres come December.
5. Be food smart in the run up to Christmas
One tried and tested money-saving tip is to try to cut back on your food shopping during the first couple of weeks in December.
Just get the absolute essentials. Not only will it save you some cash, but it’ll help you make space for those extra Christmas goodies.
Have a good rummage through your kitchen cupboards and freezer, and make use of what you already have. You could find more than a couple of meals tucked away in the freezer.
Rather than wait until the week before Christmas to do the big food shop, start popping one or two extra bits in your trolley each week in the run-up – spreading the cost will make it less of a squeeze on your December pay packet.
6. Christmas eCards
They’re better for your wallet and charities can benefit too – so give them a go. One festive element that seems to always get costly is sending cards, especially the postage.
A first-class stamp for a standard size card or letter now costs 76p – and it’s 65p for second class.
That may not sound a lot for a one off, but if you’ve got 50 or 60-odd cards to send it could easily cost you as much as the entire family Christmas lunch. Sending eCards is a much cheaper alternative.
You can still personalise each card with your festive messages, plus you can donate to your favourite charity at the same time.
The likes of Macmillan cancer support, Marie Curie and many other worthwhile charities offer Christmas eCards. And after all giving is what this time of year is really about.
7. Pick a cheaper postage option
We all tend to use Royal Mail to send our Christmas parcels, but there are other delivery companies out there that may prove a cheaper option.
Covid-19 restrictions will probably mean posting parcels to people you can’t see face-to-face this year, so you can save plenty by using a better
Whether you’re sending presents to friends in the UK or further afield, look online at firms such as parcelhero or ipostparcels– you could make a decent saving.
For example, a medium parcel weighing 5kg (max size 61cm x 46cm x 46cm) costs £7.72 if Hermes collect it from you and deliver via its economy service (equivalent of 2nd class) – a big saving on Royal Mail 2nd class which costs £13.75.
8. Leave your credit card at home
Taking cash to buy your Christmas goodies is a good way to prevent overspending – but you may need to choose where you shop as some stores have become cashless due in the pandemic.
You might not be able to avoid using contactless for some transactions – and this is where keeping tabs on spending will be vital.
But it’s good practice to leave your credit cards at home, so you won’t be tempted to bust your budget.
9. Team up with pals on 3 for 2 deals
Some of the bigger stores offer three gifts for the price of two.
This sounds like a great idea, but often you can only find say two things you need and end up with a third duff item.
If you team up with a friend, you’re more likely to find three things you want between you – that way you both get a cut price deal on the things you actually want.
10. Personal presents that don’t cost the earth
Rather than spending money on presents, it’s becoming more common to design and send your own practical vouchers.
You could offer to give up your time to babysit, provide a taxi service, clean the car or even walk the dog.
It will cost you nothing but your time and a little creativity.
The personal touch often means more to people and a little thought will go down much better than simply buying the same old chocolates or plonk year in, year out.
11. If you must use the plastic – don’t go overboard
If you need to use a credit card to help you manage your Christmas shopping pick a card with a 0% interest promotion on purchases.
You won’t have to pay back any extra on top of the amount you spend – but try not to get carried away, as every pound you borrow now is a pound you need to find come the New Year.
To put it in perspective, if you sign up for a big brand store card at 29.9% APR and spend £600 on it, you’ll be paying £15 per month in interest charges.
12. Start saving for 2021
It might sound a bit crazy talking about Christmas 2021 already, but it’s the perfect time to set up your savings plan so you’re all set for next December.
Imagine if you’d started saving last January and put some cash aside every month – you’d be feeling pretty happy and a whole lot less stressed about the festive season right now.
There would be no worries about finding the money without going into the red at the bank or racking up the bills on plastic.
Set up a monthly standing order to a separate savings account from January.