It’s December, and that means the festive cheer is officially in the air. The annual battle not to eat all the advent calendar chocolate at once has duly commenced, and with just weeks to go, the worry as to what Christmas presents to buy for everyone has set in. It really is such a happy time though, with plenty of social activities, the holiday feeling, all the lights and hustle and bustle on the high street, and of course many treasured memories to be made with friends and family.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that it can be expensive too. Dauntingly so, and it’s no wonder that as the bitter cold of January sets in, many people are left skint and feeling the hole in their wallets. The good news though is that it need not come to that, and with a bit of savvy and careful planning, the debt monster can be kept at bay.
Use your plastic wisely
January is arguably credit card companies’ favourite month of the year. Swollen balances, and many people content with simply making minimum repayments. Don’t be one of them! But that’s not to say you shouldn’t use your card at all. The rewards on offer are very attractive – most notably with respect to cashback. For example, the Amex Everyday card offers 5 per cent for three months (1 per cent thereafter), while the TSB Platinum Purchase card allows you to eke £10 a month out if you spend £600 or more. The key is to not get carried away, and only put necessary expenses onto your card. Otherwise if you can’t pay off your balance at the end of the month it will offset these benefits.
The 0% card option
While we’re on the topic of credit cards, if you do feel like you’re going to need to borrow money that you won’t be able to pay back immediately, a 0% card will likely be your best option in terms of credit cards. There are many choices out there in this regard, but perhaps the one which jumps out most is the Sainsbury’s option. You get 28 months of 0% interest with this card, along with a Nectar point for every £5 you spend, and 2 per £1 spent at Sainsbury’s. Added to that, if you spend £800 or more in the first three months, you’ll get £5,000 bonus Nectar points (as long as you apply before 29 December 2016). If you aren’t eligible for this type of card, and turn to loans instead, be sure to shop around for quotes. With interest rates at all-time lows, there are some good deals to be had.
Make a list for prezzies
It’s old school, but draw up a list as soon as you can of all the gifts you think you’ll need to get for Christmas. Now all you have to do is keep it on you, and keep your eyes peeled each day for good deals on these various items from here onwards. Picking up presents in bits and bobs, as opposed to leaving it all down to a mad rush, single-day shop at the end will invariably save you money, as, on the day, the path of most convenience will be favoured, which inevitably means spending more.
Play Secret Santa or Festive Fivers
Secret Santa is a gift in itself, especially when it comes to circles beyond the immediate family. Buying one gift, as opposed to plenty, within an agreed group of people can save you all lots of money. Just set an agreed limit for budget, and then go from there. For those who are particularly frugal, but lacking ideas, these ‘Festive Fivers’ will give you plenty to work with.
Change your mentality
No matter who we are with, the innate desire will always be to please or impress. None more so than when it comes to buying gifts, especially when it comes to shopping for family! But most people aren’t actually retail snobs – not least children. They don’t need the best brands or latest models when it comes to these kinds of items. Look for value as much as possible instead, especially if you know that the recipient isn’t particularly conscious of these kinds of things.
All in all, it just requires a bit of sensibility and awareness of what your finances are like going into it. It’s all very well to have the attitude of ‘It only happens once a year’, and to indulge every festive activity or purchase. But if it leaves you struggling for months afterwards, then it may not be worth it. So, really, all you need to do is have a budget (even if it’s just a rough one), plan and allocate funds accordingly, and have the discipline to stick to it. If you can do that, you’ll be able to have a great Christmas, safe in the knowledge that you can start 2017 on sound financial footing.