Christmas is upon us and there is no escaping the advertising, the overflowing shops and the multiple temptations to spend spend spend. It’s all too easy to be caught up in the frenzy and get carried away. Especially when online buying makes it so easy to have a shopping spree on your smartphone.
During the holiday season, spending typically rises ten-fold. Many retailers rely on Christmas to bring in 30% of their annual sales.
Come January and the party is over, leaving us with bloated tummies and credit card bills, and massive regret. The dark chilly days only add to the stress and gloom.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, with a bit of planning ahead. So, before you create that list, follow my simple tips:
Declutter! We’ve all reached ‘peak stuff’. A quick check round the house will unearth drawers full of mobile phones, garages packed with toys, curtains and cushions, and cupboards crammed with clothes, bags, shoes, sports gear and jewellery.
Do a clear out and enjoy the joys and profits of decluttering. Many second-hand shops want fresh supplies in the run up to Christmas. Last year I went to CEX and was able to swap some old computers for a new games console. There are many such stores around, including Cash Converters, but I like CEX as they give me a higher trade-in price to buy something else; ideal for turning unused items into a useful present or cash. Online is also handy for selling unwanted goods. Try eBay, Gumtree and MusicMagpie and be amazed by how much you can raise.
Don’t forget charity shops too, especially for items you can’t recycle for cash. Your no longer needed stuff will go to a good home and generate funds for good causes.
While you’re doing your clean sweep, any hidden treasures still in their packaging languishing unloved at the back of a drawer are perfect for regifting to people who really will appreciate them.
Budget. Time to draw up a budget for Christmas, hopefully boosted with cash from your sales, trade-in swaps or regifting items. Your budget should cover the entire holiday season, not just the presents. Start by establishing roughly how much you have to spend, then divide this sum into food, gifts, extra travel, special events such as nights out, clothing, decorations etc.
If funds are leaner than usual this year, or if you have a special present or expense, plan what savings can be made elsewhere.
Ask yourself: do you really need new party clothes, or quite so many tins of biscuits that never get eaten? Can you get another year out of the tree?
Shop smart. Retailers specialise in getting us to part with our money. This is never more true than at Christmas. So consider every purchase and don’t get sucked into seemingly great deals. Do you really need two of those smoked salmons in the Buy One Get One Half Price offer? I found one in the freezer from last year the other day. Next stop, the bin. It’s only a saving if we really need it. Often we don’t.
Taking a good list to the store is a great help. If you spot something irresistible not on the list, stop and think, can we live without this right now? As my wife often reminds me, the shops will still be open over Christmas. If we run out of chocolate, we can always pop out in an emergency.
Remember too, that sites like eBay and Gumtree can be great sources of unused, new and in the box presents too. Especially expensive items like phones, often in perfect condition and available at huge savings.
Walk past the cafes. Plan your shopping to avoid ‘flat white fatigue’. I was shocked last week to pay £3.30 for a flat white in a trendy café. With time to kill, the craving for a soft seat and a hot java was overwhelming. This is a major pre-Christmas peril; a month of unexpected lunches, pizzas, americanos and snacks for the children quickly adds up. Plan your outings, taking snacks with you and think ahead about where to take a break. Having pizza at home can mean the difference between £48 at a restaurant versus £12 from Sainsburys.
Cut back on presents. Talk to friends and family now and you’ll find they are relieved too when the idea is raised. We’re all short on time and cash! And it’s amazing how the most difficult present to buy is usually the one that can be easily avoided. Help others too by suggesting they leave you out this year. After all, a card, a phone call or a visit is what really matters. Christmas buying can easily turn into a competition, so give yourself and everyone a break.
Keep track of spending. Even with the best planning, we can trip up by not monitoring what’s been spent and bought. My mum is great at finding presents in January and February that she forgot she had bought. Keep your list and spending in a spreadsheet or small notebook. You’ll be amazed how much this helps ensure you have a proper grip on costs and prevents last-minute impulse buying.
Treat yourself… to peace of mind. Let’s leave ourselves out of the shopping treats. It’s a much better present to have the finances in good shape for the New Year and even enjoy a little bit left over to grab a great deal on something we genuinely need in the post-Christmas sales.
Follow these steps and celebrating a merry yet manageable Christmas really is possible, without being a Scrooge. And you can look forward to the happiest sort of New Year; one that doesn’t begin snowed under with debt.
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