Can you believe it’s December already? Christmas seems to have crept up so quickly this year. In many ways, that’s not surprising, given all of the grim news and concerns about the cost-of-living crisis that have been distracting us.
The start of December is when most of us officially start panicking/flapping/going in to denial about Christmas. So to help you get through the season of goodwill on a budget, here are my all-new top tips!
Make a list to stay within your budget
Supermarkets have been reporting for some months now that canny shoppers are returning back to cash as a way to keep on top of their finances. Setting a budget is essential to avoid Christmas carnage and overspending. But the shopping list is essential too. Using a list can help you set and stick to a budget, research online and remember everything you need to purchase too! Don’t just focus on gifts, include the food, decorations and things to keep everyone entertained.
Over at Mirror Money, we’ve spent the last year coming up with guides, tips and hacks to help you through these challenging times. Here are some guides to help with the budgeting, spending and saving:
Want to save some cash at the supermarket? https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/supermarket-shop-becoming-expensive-here-2852781
If money is a bit tight in the coming months, here are 4 ways you can find some cash:” https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/four-ways-you-could-missing-28353374
Here’s my guide to budgeting and what to do if you’re experiencing money troubles: https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/what-you-financial-hell-debt-27491604
How to save over £1,000 through cancelling subscriptions: https://www.littlebirdie.co.uk/post/martyn-james-hints-tips-martyn-s-guide-to-subscriptions-and-saving-money [Levi, I can’t find the Mirror feature I wrote in December 2021 on this, though if you can, let me know!)
The main gift
As a general rule most people tend to choose one main gift for their loved ones. In recent years, this has tended to be something electronic, like a new smart watch, an interactive toy or a gaming system. However, for a variety of reasons, from supply problems to importing goods from abroad, many retailers are warning about limited supplies of these items. Whenever demand is high, people panic buy. This can lead to mistakes and overpaying.
If you are after a hot ticket item, do your research before you purchase. Check out the many online free price comparison sites so you have an idea of how much the item cost over the year. Next up, if you are buying online don’t assume that because an item is for sale it is in stock. Call the company and ask them if the goods are in the warehouse, ready to ship. It’s a good idea to check the delivery date too, which can sometimes change when the item is in your online basket – so go over everything before that final click. In fact, why not hit the high street? That way you know you have the main gifts in your hands.
The big meal
I’d like to call a Christmas dinner amnesty for everyone around the UK. Why not speak to everyone who is coming round for dinner and in the spirit of saving money (and having a better time) ask them what their favourite bits of the dinner are – and the bits they hate?! Lots of food gets wasted at Christmas, so you might as well make a meal that everyone loves (more or less).
There’s no shortage of horror stories about Christmas dinner this year, with top of the list being the bird flu epidemic that’s had a major impact on the turkey industry. First of all, don’t panic. Despite some of the negative news, many farmers, butchers and local vegetable suppliers tell me they have enough produce – it’s getting it to their customers that’s the problem.
You might not think it if you live in the city, but surprisingly, most of us are never that far from a local farm or produce seller that you can buy direct from. Not only do you get to buy direct from the source, you’ve on the radar of a business that can give you priority when it comes to ordering the Christmas dinner and trimmings. Oh, and if you’ve got the space, my chefs and food expert collages tell me you can freeze pretty much all the components of the traditional Christmas dinner though you might have to cook some first. So defrost the freezer now and start stocking up! Check out my guide on making the most out of your freezer here.
Second hand, vintage and previously loved goods
There’s been a notable shift in recent years towards buying and selling second hand goods – and recycling items that we no longer want or need. If you pop online, you’ll find a whole new world of second-hand specialist online marketplaces, that allow you buy and sell anything from a vintage dress to a PlayStation 3.
Before you buy anything, check the website or app’s dispute resolution centre or buyer/seller agreements. This is important because if a dispute arises, you need to know what your rights are. Buying through an online marketplace is convenient, in the sense that it brings together hundreds or even thousands of individuals and smaller businesses, so there is much more choice. But your consumer rights vary, depending on whether you are buying from a business or an individual.
The dispute resolution scheme will specify what your rights are if the goods are damaged or misrepresented. They also cover things like deliveries, complaints and guarantees if there is fraudulent activity. As with any online purchase, do not send money by bank transfer. Only buy using your debit or credit card, or an e-payments service like PayPal.
Lots of people are telling me that they are considering cutting back on the decorations this year for cost reasons. But you don’t have to fall back on tatty tinsel lurking in the loft. Many families have made a modern tradition of buying just one new decoration each year, like a posh bauble, while getting creative with the things they already have. When it comes to lights, if the packaging says ‘Christmas’ on it then you’ll pay a premium. So why not buy copper wire LED lights instead? Prices start at a fiver for ten meters of lighting.
This Christmas, if you want to save some cash while teaching the kids about saving money and the environment, why not make some decorations? There are tons of guides and ideas online, YouTube and TikTok, for cheap, creative ways to make decorations. Rather than spending a fortune on wrapping paper, half of which might not be suitable for recycling, why not get crafty? You can usually find offcuts of wallpaper cheap at wholesalers or hardware stores. Alternatively, you can by fabric cheaply as a creative way to wrap gifts (no torn paper) and reuse the material after.
What makes Christmas special?
Think about the things that make Christmas special for you and your family or friends. We tend to focus on gifts, but what about the things that you enjoy doing together, like family traditions, music and films and going for walks after the big dinner.
Why not go to the loft or the dusty storage cupboard and dig out a few party games? From old classics to a humble packet of cards, games are a great way to keep your family entertained over the holidays – and most of us will have lots of them lying around the home, waiting to be rediscovered – and all at a cost of zero pence. Ask your guests to bring some along too.
You can’t move for Christmas albums at this time of the year so why not make a Christmas playlist on the free streaming sites? Encourage people to bring their own lists too (no arguing or speaker hogging though!)
Planning out a rough schedule for the Christmas period can give you a bit of structure and take the emphasis on the costly bits – gifts and food. You don’t need to spend a lot to have a good time with the people you love.
Don’t despair if you’re on a budget
No matter what, don’t borrow to get through Christmas. Follow the Mirror’s guidance if you are struggling financially, but don’t be tempted down the high interest credit or buy now, pay later route. Remember it’s never too early or late to seek help if you’re struggling.
Featured in Mirror – Martyn James