Don’t make these expensive last-minute Christmas mistakes

Leave certain festive purchases and plans too late and it could prove costly.

There’s always a mad rush in the weeks before Christmas to get everything you need doing done in time. And this year it could be even harder than usual.

If Omicron leads to more cases, and as a result more isolation, it’ll put pressure on warehouses and delivery firms. This might mean the later you leave things the more expensive they become to achieve – if you can sort them at all.

So to help, here’s a quick checklist of the things I think you need to prioritise:

Check the last order and posting dates

I think it’s fair to say at this point there are no guarantees that anything you send will get to its destination in time. There’s already much more being posted or sent by courier at this time of year than other months, and in 2021 the huge demand is creating further pressure.

At this point last year I’d already had emails from some shops saying to order this week if you absolutely need it before the 25th December. I’ve not spotted it so far in 2021, but if there is anything you still need to buy and post, do it now.

It’s worth knowing that if the retailer still says you can get something in time for Christmas and specifies a delivery date – but it doesn’t arrive in time you have the right to cancel the order and get a refund. Contact the retailer not the courier for this as they’re who you have a contract with.

Of course you can select speedy or next-day delivery at lots of shops. But you do pay more for this. And if you’re trying to avoid using Amazon you are going to run out of choices the later you leave it.

There’s also still the chance right now it won’t arrive in time. If that does happen you can claim back the extra delivery costs. It’s a slight consolation, but it doesn’t help if you need something before visiting family.

For cards and letters you’ve still got time according to Royal Mail, but I’d get them sent ASAP. The last post dates are:

  • Saturday 18 December 2021: 2nd Class
  • Tuesday 21 December 2021: 1st Class
  • Wednesday 22 December 2021: Royal Mail tracked 24
  • Thursday 23 December 2021: Special Delivery guaranteed

For international letters and parcels the deadlines have already passed for most non-European destinations, and the rest are approaching fast.

Oh, and if you still need stamps, be careful where you buy them – some shops will charge you more than they’re worth.

Andy’s podcast

Listen to Cash Chats, Andy’s twice-weekly podcast. Episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

Avoid panic gifts

Christmas gifts bought at the last minute are either going to be a huge disappointment (like those toilet seat covers in Friends), cost you more than you planned, or if you plump for that perennial panic present the gift card it could also be a risky purchase.

All three are bad purchases. The pointless or useless gift is a waste of money. The expensive gift could cause you problems if you can’t afford it.

And the gift card… There’s enough for me to write a whole article on these (and I have), but essentially these can easily become valueless. Whether that’s because they’re forgotten about, they expire before they’re used or because the retailer they’re for goes bust. You’re better off giving cash and suggesting what you’d like it to go towards.

Though there’s still plenty of time to ask someone what they’d like.

Book travel NOW

At the moment there aren’t any travel restrictions in place, so you’ll hopefully be able to move around the country any day you please. Except of course if you want to go by train.

As with every Christmas there will be no trains on 25 December, and very limited service on Boxing Day. So really people will be travelling on 23 and 24 December and back on 27 December. Which means train, coach and flight tickets are going to be popular for those dates.

As always you’ll pay more the later you leave it to book, so get on it now. You might also be required to have an advance ticket on some rail routes.

If advance fares aren’t available the advice is to buy what is on sale and if you later find an advance ticket at a lower price buy that too and get a refund on the original ticket. Admin fees are waived for this period.

Plan your Christmas food & drink

You should now know who’s going to be where on Christmas, so I’d recommend sorting as much of your festive food now as you can.

It’s best to plan what you’ll need to avoid food waste. So don’t get more than you need. Obviously some food you’ll need to get nearer the time, such as fresh fruit and veg. But others you can nab now and put in the freezer, even the turkey.

In fact, the room you clear in the freezer as you defrost these items is perfect for picking up those yellow sticker bargains that will appear on Christmas Eve. And with Asda, M&S and Waitrose supermarkets saying they’ll close on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day it’s a good sign there will be more reduced to clear items than a normal day.

And of course, if you can still get one, make sure you’ve got any online delivery slots booked. If you missed out it’s worth checking again to see if extra dates and times have been released. Or you might even get lucky and find one that has been cancelled.

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