Set A Budget
It goes without saying, but the best advice to take on board is starting with a budget – and depositing monthly amounts as soon as possible. This year you might only have a couple of months to make that a reality, but in 2021, consider how a monthly contribution might build up over the course of a year. “Treat saving in the same way as you would a bill,” says The Money Advice Service. “Committing to saving a regular sum each month or week is more effective than simply saying you’ll save whatever you have left over, which might be nothing. Try to be realistic – it’s better to commit to a manageable amount than to aim too high and give up.” Not sure how much you should be saving? Make a list of family and friends you will be buying presents for and allocate an amount for each person. If you are hosting dinner, think about how much you will need to spend on food and drink. From there, you should be able to work out how much money you would need to put away each month.
Hold A Pre-Christmas Sale
If you've not used something since last Christmas, why not sell it? You can sell your unwanted goods on Facebook Marketplace, Shpock or Gumtree, which will no doubt top up your savings bank when it comes to sorting this year’s celebrations out. “A pre-Christmas clear out will help you get in order for the festive season, but could also put some money back in your pocket,” suggests The Money Advice Service. “Once you’ve put aside anything you no longer want, make some extra cash by selling it online or at a local sale. If you time it right, you’ll find plenty of people looking for second-hand gifts.” Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert agrees: “If a few quid more in the Christmas fund would really help, act now. Flogging your stuff via eBay is a good way to start – although Facebook has been snapping at eBay's heels. The best bit is sales are often instant and there are no fees, so you keep the profit. If you prefer speed and ease rather than maximum price, several sites let you enter details, they offer a price, and you post your goods for free.”
Ban Unnecessary Gifts
As soon as possible, try to have a discussion with your friends or extended family and put a ban on unnecessary gifts. With Covid largely taking over 2020, chances are you haven’t spent much time with people you barely see under normal circumstances, so it might be easier to skip a year when it comes to Christmas gifts. “Christmas isn't a retail festival – we need to end obliged giving and think about what we're giving, to whom and why,” says Martin. “Remember, gift-giving creates an obligation on recipients to give back, whether they can afford it or not. For some, the gift of ‘not obliging you to buy for me’ is actually better.” If a no-gift pact with friends feels miserly, at least agree to a Secret Santa or a £5-10 limit.
Set A Gifting Limit
On that note, if you’re really struggling this year, there’s no reason not to set a gifting limit across the board – even with your nearest and dearest. You can even take it one step further by suggesting you all do Secret Santa this year to keep costs low. While in the past, everyone's name went into a hat, these days you don’t even need the hat – an online tool can organise it all for you. As Martin explains: “One of the slickest is free site Elfster. Just sign up, enter a few details such maximum budget and the date you’ll do the exchange. You can either enter the other people’s emails or cut and paste a sign-up link. You can even set up wish lists. Another free option worth a look is Drawnames, which works in a similar way.”
Shop The Sales
One silver lining of a difficult year for the economy means many retailers are bound to either extend their sales into the autumn or kick-start their Christmas sales earlier. By either starting in advance or leaving it until the last minute, you can take advantage to pick up some bargains. “The web usually beats the high street on price,” explains Martin. “To help, comparison sites search the net to find the cheapest books, games or anything else. Google Shopping is the most consistent at finding the cheapest price – it searches a wide range of retailers, including biggies such as Amazon, Currys PC World, John Lewis and Tesco.” When you see something for a good price, the experts also advise jumping on it quickly – and creating a Christmas cupboard you can refer to for last minute gifts.
Pay By Credit Card
If you get your timing right, paying for something on a credit card allows you to defer your payment by a couple of weeks – as well as protecting purchases over £100 in case the retailer or company in question goes bust. “If that happens and ordered goods haven't arrived, or have but are faulty, it's a nightmare,” says Martin. “However, Section 75 laws mean if you use a credit card (not debit card, cheque or cash) to pay even partly for something costing between £100 and £30,000, the card company's jointly liable for the whole amount. If the firm goes bust, you can get redress from the card firm instead – valuable extra protection. Though only do this if you can clear the card in full each month to avoid interest. If the goods don't appear or are faulty, you can ask your bank/card provider to reclaim the cash from the seller's bank, so long as you start the chargeback process within 120 days of realising there's a problem.”
Use Online Couriers
These days, it’s likely you’ll be forced to send gifts via post rather than dropping off goods in person – particularly if larger Christmas celebrations end up being banned. To help you save money on postage costs, Martin advises looking into alternative online couriers, rather than opting for Royal Mail every time. “If it's more than 2kg, you can save money by using a discount web courier instead of Royal Mail – and even have goods collected from your home,” he explains. Still not sure? Use Money Saving Expert’s guide to Cheap Parcel Delivery for more information.
Help A Charity Instead
If putting a stop to gifts or decorations feels punitive – especially to small children – use this as a learning opportunity to teach them the value of giving back at Christmas. This year you might want to give money to the NHS Charities, or find other worthy causes that have found it difficult to raise funds during a difficult time.
Finally, Consider New Traditions
One of the main reasons we tend to overspend at Christmas is the pressure to please our loved ones – not to mention giving children the perfect Christmas (especially in a year like 2020). To save some cash, consider starting some new Christmas traditions that the whole family can join in with, suggests The Money Advice Service. Indeed, adds Martin, chances are your best childhood Christmas memories aren’t about beautifully co-ordinated baubles, finest-range turkeys or even getting that year’s must-have toy. “For many, it’s the build-up that’s the most fun – experiences that involve spending more time parents or carers.” There are plenty of cheap or free ways to create memories, he says, from driving round after dark to admire twinkly streets to watching Christmas-y films and singing carols.