Yes, it’s that time of year again…comes around quickly, doesn’t it?! But if you’re in a state of denial about your credit card bills, or still paying off the summer holiday or catalogue bills, then the thought of spending out on all the Christmas expense can send you into a cold sweat – and you really don’t want to get a bad credit rating just because of Christmas. But there is still time to get your finances in some kind of order before the seasonal festivities kick in.
We’ve put together ten top tips that help us get through the Christmas season without going into the red or finding yourself with a bad credit history. Plus – we have a great list of money saving websites for you.
1. Be a savvy Internet shopper
Are you familiar with voucher code websites which tell you about all the discounts available at various online retailers? They allow you to access a shopping code you enter at the checkout to get a discount – this might be money off (eg. spend £50 get £5 off) or free delivery. Take a look at the discount codes on www.moneysavingexpert.co.uk as well as Hotukdeals.co.uk for details of the hottest deals around on a variety of items.
Make sure you’re getting the best deal available on your shopping using price comparison sites, such as Kelkoo and Pricerunner. They work by simply comparing the price of your chosen product on a huge variety of online retailers so you can be sure you’re paying the cheapest price for an item. This is a particularly useful tool for more expensive purchases, such as electronic gadgets, where a few pounds can make quite a difference.
For groceries be sure to check out mysupermarket.com – this also works like a price comparison site, whereby you can load up your online shopping trolley but before you buy you can see a comparison of how much the same items would cost in other online supermarkets – the difference can be quite staggering!
Quidco is another great way to boost your finances when you shop online – look on the site before you buy your chosen item, and if it’s listed you can buy through the site and then get cashback on your purchases. You can gain substantial cashback rewards, particularly if you use the site for expensive purchases, such as holidays or electronic items. There are great affiliate deals too.
2. Write a list…and stick to it
Make a list of gifts that’s you’ve seen in catalogues or online and carry it around with you – tick things off as you buy them so you don’t duplicate. Also, if you know exactly what you’ve bought people you won’t overspend on additional surplus things you see while shopping. It’s very easy to find one member of the family has a whole stash of pressies in the upstairs cupboard which you forgot you had bought!
Internet shopping can also help you avoid temptation – it’s less likely you’ll get carried away online than when you step into a ‘winter wonderland’-style shopping mall with temptation in every corner!
3. Make what you can
Christmas cards can really bump up the seasonal expenditure, and while there are cheaper versionsaround, a nice home-made card which the kids have put their creative efforts into is a lovely alternative. Crafty, home-made decorations are really fashionable – the over-dressed Christmas look is sooo over – so get the childreninvolved in some Christmas interior design, too.
Look out for magazines and catalogues in the run-up to Christmas with features on Christmas decor for inspiration. Cheap but effective touches include dotting pine cones sprayed with artificial snow around the room, or making snow-flake paper-chains. Salt dough decorations are also really effective or decorate cheap plain baubles with glitter for a personal touch. You’ll also find ideas for table settings and recipes for delicious edible presents, such as home-made biscuits and preserves.
Make hampers up for friends and family, filled with their favourite foods, such as yummy homemade fudge, shortbread or gingerbread men.
Grandparents will love personalised presents from the kids. Why not pick up some cheap canvases from the local craft shop and do handprint or footprint pictures,
4. Save on food shopping
Don’t be tempted by all those pre-packaged Christmas foods – they’ll cost you way more than cooking from scratch. Shop-bought mince pies, fancy stuffings and other pre-packaged goods might seem like a good idea but while they might save you a bit of time they won’t taste as good as home-made items. Home-made mince pies and Christmas cakes will always win out over shop-bought items and you can have some fun making them with the kids. Mince pies can be frozen so make up a batch in advance so you don’t leave everything until the last minute.
Look out for good wines, biscuits and chocolates on special offer or ‘BOGOF’ when you do the weekly shop and add a few items to your basket instead of doing a mad – and expensive – trolley dash a few days before Christmas. Non-perishables will keep nicely in a cool dry place but be sure to keep your goodies away from the standard everyday food stuff so you don’t crack into it before December!
It’s also worth checking magazines from now on in for money-saving coupons – in-store magazines are particularly good and you can make quite substantial savings using their money-off vouchers.
5. Use cash-back credit cards
Why not use a cashback credit card for all your purchases? Used in conjunction with buying via Quidco, you can make your credit cards work extra hard for you too. Cards such as American Express and Capital One give you money back for using their cards, the proviso being that you clear your balance at the end of each month and you might just avoid that bad credit rating.
6. Buy quality…without paying the earth
You can buy luxury, branded goods without paying a premium. One particularly good place forChristmas presents is TK Maxx, where you can pick up ‘designer labels for less’. Its range includes prestigious cosmetic ranges and perfumes, including Clinique and Clarins, an impressive array of handbags and clothes for all ages.
Look out for the toy section too – on a recent visit we came across cut-price Playmobil and Lego items – and the homeware section has everything from beautiful lamps and venetian mirrors to luxury Egyptian cotton bedding and cushions.
It can also be worth making a journey to a designer outlet village or factory shop. There are quite a few all over the country, with the best-known including Bicester Village Outlet Shopping near Oxford (shops include Molton Brown, Donna Karan, Jigsaw and Karen Millen), Clarks Village in Somerset (featuring Coast, Gap, Monsoon and Marks & Spencer) and the McArthur Glen outlets (in Ashford, Brigend, Cheshire Oaks, East Midlands, Livingston, Swindon and York).
These are not the kind of places to come for specific purchases but if you fancy an afternoon shopping somewhere different or are after a particular brand you can make substantial savings on high quality products.
7. Buy and sell on our Nearly New board
While the name suggests all items are used, do take a look at our Nearly New board – sometimes mums are selling brand new items at very reasonable prices. Items including clothes and books feature, as well as baby furniture and toys. Alternatively use the boards to sell some stuff and boost the Christmas kitty, as well as clear out some space for all those new Christmas purchases!
8. Remember your loyalty points
Make a point of using your Boots advantage card or other loyalty cards in the run up to Christmas for weekly household necessities such as toothpaste etc. and bump up your points so you can use them to buy presents. Look out for special ‘double points’ promotions too – many stores have frequent incentives in the run-up to Christmas so take advantage of earning even more points. Read Martin Lewis’s article on the ‘Boots Treasure Trove’ to find out how to take full advantage of all that Boots offers.
9.Take five minutes out to check your entitlements
Take a five-minute entitlement check-up. You could find you’ve been missing out on benefits and tax credits that are rightfully yours. While you won’t necessarily get your payments in time for Christmas you’ll feel good knowing you’ll soon be benefiting from some legitimate extra funds in the New Year!
10. Don’t go overboard
It’s very easy to go overboard but excess for excess’ sake will only make you feel miserable when the bills come rolling in in January. Try to allot an amount of money you will spend on the kids and don’t be hooked into the notion that children ‘need’ the latest high-tech gadget or toy, and that if you don’t buy it you’ll be a bad parent. In the run-up to Christmas ask the children to make a Christmas list, including one really special item that they really, really want – tell them to think about their choice carefully as that will be their main present.
Obviously, if their choice is completely unrealistic you’ll have to explain why you can’t buy that particular item but most children will like the responsibility of making a list and looking forward to receiving that much-anticipated gift on Christmas day.