Tips on managing your Christmas budget and getting the best value
Christmas is usually one of the most expensive times of the year. And it tends to 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 get started on your Christmas prep.
Here, we share a Christmas money checklist of the main expenses to help you manage your finances this Christmas season.
We’ve also thrown in some tricks to help you cut costs and make sure you have enough money to cover everything.
How to pay for 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.
Decide what you can afford
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 you want to split that between each individual person and part of Christmas.
To do this, you need to get two figures. First check your bank and savings balances to work out how much money you have now – though don’t assume you can put that all to Christmas. There will no doubt be other expenses that need to be covered in the coming months, such as holidays you want to save for. It’s also a really good idea to have an emergency stash for the unexpected costs that always crop up.
Then take a look at how much more you’re going to have in the run-up. That’s essentially your income each month after taxes, minus your expenses. Again, you might not want to allocate all this extra cash towards Christmas.
Add the existing funds you’ve set aside for Christmas to the money you expect to come in, and the figure left is the budget you have available to spend.
Work out what you want to spend
Next you need to think about what you want to spend. Think about all the aspects that usually come along each year. Obviously there are presents and food to buy, but what about travel, work parties, decorations? We’ve detailed a few of these further down this article.
Then allocate a spending amount to each one. Try to get these as accurate as possible. Once you’ve done that, get a total expected spend.
See where you can spend less
In all likelihood you’ll find this figure is larger than what you’ve budgeted for. In a minute I’ll talk about ways to perhaps find extra cash to help fill the gap. But if that doesn’t work the best option is to find where you can spend less.
That could be mean some hard decisions, but people will not want you getting into debt just to buy more presents or more food.
Talk now to friends and family about the situation (they’ll likely be feeling the pinch too). It could be you agree on price caps for presents, or even decide you’re only going to do a Secret Santa with friend groups rather than everyone buying everyone a separate present.
Look at cheaper ways to borrow
Sadly cutting back is easier said than done for many at Christmas. If you feel it’s not an option for you, and you know you will absolutely spend more than your budget, then at least find cheaper ways to borrow.
With each of these, you should still know how and when you’ll clear the debt next year before you spend. The alternative is the interest and charges will keep adding to the money you borrow, and potentially causing bigger money issues.
So where do you go? Be particularly careful with Buy Now, Pay Later. Though it seems convenient, it’s easy to lose track of how much you owe, and they could tempt you to spend even more than you can afford.
Overdrafts aren’t great either. In fact they could e one of the worst ways to get through Christmas – interest rates are now around 40%. But some banks will offer an interest-free buffer which might help.
You could instead look at a 0% interest purchase credit card. Watch out for interest charges if you don’t clear the balance by the time the promotional zero per cent period ends. You need to know how you’ll repay your spending before that happens.
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 – unlike payday and other high-cost loans!
Can you find a bit of extra cash?
Giving your budget a cash boost is a surefire way to help you cover costs.
Check for forgotten cash
Now is the time to check that you don’t have any money left in your account. It could be Clubcard or Nectar points you’ve accumulated, credit owed from your old energy supplier, or a refund to your John Lewis account. Check out this round-up of places to look for forgotten cash for more.
Get some banking bonuses
One of the best ways to make some easy cash is to open a new bank account. Currently, you can get £175 plus £40 cashback for opening a First Direct account, or a £125 refer-a-friend switch bonus from Co-operative. 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. Here’s my guide to the best cashback and reward credit card offers.
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 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 often a very good opportunity to buy presents.
I also love the American Express Shop Small offer that should return in December. Here you need an Amex card, but if you then spend £15 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 a welcome offer for new customers.
But don’t get caught up in the hype for any sale or promotion – deals aren’t always as they seem. 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. That could mean you have to pay more for guaranteed delivery or need to spend again to replace things that don’t arrive. 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
There are occasions where you’re better off delaying your purchase – even after Christmas day itself! If you’re like me you won’t be able to see everyone before 25 December and end up 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.
Ideally you’ll have picked these up in the sales last year. If not, then shop around. Personally, I’d look to get cards directly from charities themselves 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 second-class to avoid the October price hike on first-class stamps.
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 is heavily discounted from mid-December. The Christmas before last we picked up a great tree at 50% off on 22 December.
Stock up on next year
Ok, so this is no good for this year, but it’s worth remembering come late December and early January that the biggest savings 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.
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 27 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 25 and 26 December.
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. You can keep an eye on the latest deals in our supermarket wine offers round-up.
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Planning and booking your travel as early as possible can help you save money on your journeys around Christmas time.
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 Year’s Day.
Again, book any hire car early. Look on comparison sites for the cheapest prices, and search for any cashback sites, voucher codes and other discounts.