How to make sure you can afford everything you need and get the best value for money when you do.
Christmas is usually one of the most expensive times of the year. Though 2020 is going to be different to any in recent memory, it doesn’t mean it’ll magically be cheaper. Just because some costs will go (Christmas parties are unlikely), there could be extra expenses that come with a socially distanced celebration.
And we’re less than 10 weeks away. That might seem like a long time, but it’ll creep up on you faster than you think – meaning it’s a good time to start thinking about how much you’ll spend. In fact it’s never too late or early to follow the tips in this article.
So here’s a checklist of the main expenses, along with tricks to bring down their cost, plus some tips to help you pay for everything.
I’ve also talked about getting your money ready for Christmas on my Cash Chats podcast. This episode was recorded in 2019.
How will you pay Christmas
This first point on the checklist is possibly one of the most important. Actually it IS the most important. If you don’t know how you’ll pay for Christmas it could cause a world of pain next year.
Work out your budget
Oi! Don’t skim this just because I used the word budget. It’s not complicated.
It’s so easy to overspend, so now is the time to work out not just how much you can afford to spend overall, but also how much you want to spend on each individual. Do try and stick to these figures. So how do you do it?
Simply work out how much money you have now, and how much more you’re going to have in the run-up. So that’s essentially your income minus your expenses. The figure left is what you have available to spend (you obviously don’t need to spend it all).
Now, use that final balance to work out how much you will spend on the sections above. Say you’ve got a £500 budget, that could be £50 on trains, £85 on food and drink and £20 on cards and decorations. That’ll leave you with £345 for gifts.
Look at cheaper ways to borrow
If you don’t have enough money for everything, you’ve two options. The savviest one is to not spend more. Simple yes, but so many people will get into debt at Christmas.
If that’s not an option for you, then consider cheaper ways to borrow. With these you should still know how you’ll clear the debt next year, rather than keep building more debts on top.
Unless you can get a small interest-free overdraft, this is one of the worst ways to get through Christmas – rates are now around 40%.
You could instead look at a 0% interest purchase credit card. Watch our for interest charges if you don’t clear the balance by the time the promotional zero per cent period ends.
Or, see if there’s a credit union near you. Though there will be interest charged on your loan it should be one of the most affordable. Avoid payday and other high-cost loans!
Can you find a bit of extra cash
This video from 2019 takes you through some of the ways to make money in time for Christmas, and I’ve detailed some of them below.
Check for forgotten cash
Now is the time to check that you don’t have any money left on account. It could be Clubcard points you’ve accumulated, credit owed from your old energy supplier, or a refund on your John Lewis account. Here’s more about the places to look.
Get some banking bonuses
One of the best ways to make some easy cash is to open a new bank account. You can get £125 for opening a HSBC account, or £100 by switching to Lloyds. Timing might be tight to get the free money before Christmas, but it’ll certainly help when you’re low on funds in the New Year. Here’s my guide to all the different banking offers.
Get a cashback credit card
If you’re confident you can manage a credit card, then it’s worth applying for a cashback or reward credit card. You must pay off the balance in full every month to avoid interest charges. If you don’t do this it’s a waste of money.
Probably the biggest expense each Christmas. But if you’re clever with your cash you can get more for your money.
Shop in the sales
Sales will help you’ll get better value. You all know about Black Friday, which seemed to stretch for the whole of November and into December last year. It’s a very good opportunity to buy presents.
I also love the American Express Shop Small offer. Here you need an Amex card, but if you then spend £10 at a participating small shop you get £5 credit back to your card. If you’ve not got one then now’s a good time to apply as you can take advantage of the 5% cashback offer for new customers.
There’s also the Nectar double-up offer at Sainsbury’s, which might provide some decent discounts – though it’s not without it’s problems.
But don’t get caught up in the hype. Always shop around and compare prices.
Plan for deliveries
Yes we’re used to online orders reaching us pretty fast, but after Black Friday some warehouses and courier companies struggle to meet the demand. And any lockdowns could compound those struggles further. So the lesson here is simple – don’t leave your Christmas shopping to the last minute!
You can also cut delivery costs with a few tricks, such as ordering to collect in-store, or adding on cheaper items.
Wait for post-Christmas bargains
However there are occasions where you’re better off delaying your purchase. If you’re like me and Becky you won’t be able to see everyone before Christmas Day (even more so this year!). So that means you are still visiting people and giving presents right up to New Year’s Eve.
That means you can pick up some gifts – specifically anything Christmassy – for much less if you leave it late. I’ve picked up wrapping paper, chocolates, decorations, novelty jumpers and more at a fraction of the price.
Though the lowest prices will be from Boxing Day onwards, some shops will start discounting this stuff earlier in December.
Buying cards, wrapping and decorations
These are the things that could well get forgotten, so make sure you’ve got them covered to avoid overpaying.
Last year was the first one in six that O2 didn’t give away free Christmas cards from WH Smiths. But there are often special offers.
Personally I’d look to get cards direct from charities rather than the big shops as then more of the money goes to the causes
Or if you really want to save money (and paper), you can create free online cards which can be emailed.
A few years back I uncovered the shocking mark-up corner shops are putting on postage stamps.
If you still send Christmas cards, make sure you buy your stamps from authorised retailers. They can’t increase the piece. Also, send them 2nd Class to save 11p per card.
My trick here is to buy plain paper. Whether that’s a blinging gold, bright red, shiny silver or basic brown. The reason? I can use these for other presents throughout the year. They work fine for birthdays, weddings, and pretty much everything.
If you still need to buy things for the tree then try to wait as close to Christmas as you can. Everything from baubles to artificial trees are heavily discounted from mid-December. The Christmas before last we picked up a great tree at 50% off on the 22nd December.
Stock up on next year
But the biggest savings here come not for this Christmas, but for the next one. Come the sales you can pick up cards and wrapping paper for next to nothing. Stock up for a fraction of the price.
Buying food & drink
We spend a lot on food and drink over the festive period, but it’s possible to pick up some decent deals.
Boost your budget with Xmas Saver trick
Morrisons, Tesco, Asda and Co-op all run a special boost at Christmas for people who save with them. You can get up to 6%, and you reduce the risks that come with these schemes if you time it right. Here’s what each supermarket is doing.
Wait longer than normal
This year I’d avoid getting too much fresh produce in until it’s clear whether people can visit or not. If you’re not comfortable with risking that look for things like frozen turkeys and long life Christmas puds which you can eat months later.
Plan what you need
If you tend to waste food at Christmas, then the simple answer is to buy less – and this will save you money. Consider who you need to cater for, and work out what you’ll actually need. If you want to make sure you don’t run out then once more get supplies that either have a decent shelf life or can be frozen.
Longtime readers and listeners will know I love a good supermarket reduction. And there are very few times for these that are better than Christmas.
That’s because shops will close on Christmas Eve, and might not open again until the 27th December. So that’s at least one day, possibly two days, of food that needs to be cleared out.
Of course supermarkets are on to this and I’m sure there’s definitely less food produced with use by or best before dates of the 25th and 26th.
Even so there are enough bargains to be had as the shops try to clear the shelves. And some of the best bargains are on festive foods. So get some space in your freezer!
The supermarkets tend to have a price war on wine, beer and spirits, meaning you can get some low price booze for your celebrations. But these tend to end a few weeks before Christmas. So stock up early.
One of my faves is the aforementioned Sainsbury’s / Nectar Double Up event. Now, I’ve written before about how much I hate this promotion – but it’s actually quite good for wine. You can use the vouchers on Taste the Difference wine, getting you the equivalent of 50% off. If it runs again this year it should be late November or early December.
I’d normally put travel first on the checklist as it’s the spending area that you’ll save the most money on by booking early. But this year the uncertainty of whether we’ll be able to move around or even visit others means you might want to wait a bit, or make sure there’s an option to reschedule or get a refund.
If you know you’re heading to visit family by rail then the earlier you book your tickets the better. Well, actually, with most trains you can only book 12 weeks in advance. But that’s when the cheapest fares will be available – so snap them up! Here’s how to make sure you don’t miss out on the cheapest advance tickets.
After this date you can still save money until the day before travel. A handful even sell advance fares on the day, as long as you book them before you get to the station.
Flights are a different matter – and already the cheapest tickets are probably gone. But if you’re still to book, you’ll save money by leaving earlier in December or coming back later in January. Mainly you need to avoid the peak days, though it’s often a bit cheaper to travel on Christmas Day or New Years Day.
Again, book any hire car early. Look on comparison sites for the cheapest prices, and search for any cashback sites and voucher codes and other discounts.