It’s that time of year when you realise it’s nearly Christmas… but you haven’t sorted everything out in time. Across the land, people are panic buying, battling the hordes on the high street and wondering what on earth to do about the turkey.

When people get flustered, we tend to make mistakes. So here’s my guide to all of those last-minute problems – and how to sort them out.

What do I do if I’ve overspent?

Even if you’ve started the shopping, it’s not too late to get back on top of your finances if you’ve overspent.

Start by making a shopping list, including the things you’ve already purchased and write down the prices you’ve paid. Have a look online to see what it will cost to buy the rest of the things on the list. There are some great free price comparison sites that show how the price of various items has varied over the year, so you know if you’re getting a good deal or not.

Now, take a deep breath and get the calculator out (there are loads of free calculator apps and websites online) and work out what the total spend is. Include things like the food for Christmas dinner, decorations and transport. This is no fun, but at least you know the reality of the situation.

If you’ve already overspent, then you should be able to cancel orders made online within 14 days from the purchase. If the items have been dispatched, then you may have to pay the costs of returning the goods. The most important thing is you contact the retailer and tell them that you’re cancelling the order. There are some exceptions to your 14-day cancellation rights. As a general rule, if you’ve ordered something that’s made to order, personalised or perishable, you’ll be stuck with it unless it’s faulty.

If you still can’t afford everything on the list, then it’s time to manage expectations. Have a chat with the family and friends about keeping things simple this year. Many people I know are having a family Secret Santa, where everyone buys one present for a specific person or alternatively to put in a pile so the guests can randomly pick a gift.

What if my delivery hasn’t turned up/is damaged/isn’t what I wanted?

The number one source of complaint at this time of year is package delivery. From items left in recycling bins to goods chucked over fences, parcels pinched from outside your front door to things left with that neighbour you hate, lots of things can go awry.

However, sorting out the dispute isn’t complicated. The Consumer Rights Act makes it clear that when you make a purchase, your contract is with the shop, not the manufacturer or delivery firm. That means the retailer is responsible for getting the goods to you on the delivery date, intact and in working order. They are also responsible for refunding you if there’s a problem or alternatively, arranging for the item to be replaced.

Unless you have specifically stated that an item should be left in a certain place, the courier firm should not be leaving the parcel anywhere else. A courier photographing an item outside your door does not mean you have received it, so push back if the business tries to argue it has been delivered. However, check the delivery instructions before you click to confirm your order. If you’ve previously left instructions on where to leave a parcel in the past, then these instructions might still be on the retailer’s website, even if you specified this years ago. If a parcel vanishes from your authorised ‘safe space’ then it’s not the retailer’s fault.

What do I do if the turkey doesn’t turn up?

Lots of people order the turkey, or other key Christmas meal items, for delivery just before the big day. There have been a number of high-profile disasters over the years with these orders. As anyone who has encountered a problem with a supermarket delivery over lockdown will know, things can go wrong, and substitutions can be wacky.

You are, of course, entitled to a full refund if your turkey doesn’t turn up, but that doesn’t sort out the problem of Christmas dinner. Compensation for ruining the big day tends to be pretty symbolic, so you may just be offered a £20 voucher, which might cause even more offense.

So have a back-up plan. There are reportedly some turkey shortages this year, so buy now and freeze the bird (or joint). If you defrost your freezer today, you can free up enough space to get all the Christmas dinner essentials in – plus doing so will make the freezer work more efficiently so it will use less energy and save you some cash off your bill too. If you can’t get your hands on a turkey, consider getting a turkey crown (it’s the best bit anyway) or failing that, have a family meeting and vote for an alternative, just in case. You may also find that local farmers have great deals on meat products locally sourced – and much fresher, home grown vegetables.

What do I do if my train is cancelled?

It’s carnage all round for those travelling by trains and planes (and the roads are going to be a bit of a nightmare too). I’ve covered all of your transport rights in my recent column in the Mirror last week:

Every year I face the desperate Christmas dash to a train at Euston for my reserved seat. This year, sensing the worst, I have decided to fly home, to my shame (sorry Greta) as it was cheaper than the train and more reliable. By the time you read this, I’ll have learned if the gamble paid off! Failing that, my mate Simeon will be driving me back to Manchester!

Refunds are all well and good but let’s face it, it’s more about getting to your destination for Christmas. If you are in the UK, then there are still some coach and bus tickets that might get you to where you need to be. Failing that, it’s time to form some car pools! Check in with your friends to see if anyone is driving in your direction and are willing to give you a lift in return for some petrol money. Even if it looks like your train is running, bear in mind strike action could have a knock-on effect and cancellations can still happen. It’s also likely that the trains will be very, very busy.

Speaking of strikes, time is running out for posting your Christmas cards, given the ongoing industrial action at the post office. If you’ve got a few relatives or friends in the same area, you might want to consider sending them in a parcel, as these do at least have some better delivery timescales – though you’ll need to ask the recipient to distribute the cards for you!

A little Christmas goodwill

Let’s not forget that after a really tough year, the spirit of Christmas matters more than anything. If you have elderly or more vulnerable neighbours, pop round and see if they are warm enough, have food and supplies and someone to talk to over the festive season. Why not put together an emergency contact list, with local plumbers, electricians and tradespeople, along with the details of people who live nearby who can be contacted if they need help?

Christmas is a time for togetherness and charity. So if you can, give what you can afford, or maybe share a little time instead if money is tight. It costs nothing to have a chat and check on your friends and neighbours.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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