As we sweat under the blazing sun, Christmas won’t be weighing heavily on your mind! And if you’re looking ahead to winter at all, you’re probably worrying about your gas bill, as Centrica and EDF hike prices. (If you’re worried, check out my list of ways to cut your gas bill and consider signing up to one of the energy price caps a few companies are still operating.)
But with budgets tightening, planning for Christmas is shrewd. For years I left my shopping to the last minute. Panic buying ensued and I endured miserable hours in the seven leagues of shopping hell, spending more than I should.
My former boss Simon showed me the light. He and his wife start planning Christmas as early as January. I’m not as organised, so I start during the summer. The idea is to spread the cost of Christmas over the year, instead of taking a big hit, as well as taking advantage of the sales. Plus you’re not shopping whilst bombarded with Christmas marketing techniques.
I adopted this strategy two years ago and it worked brilliantly. The year before I’d bought my Mum some jewellery, so a good present idea was a jewellery box. In Marks & Spencer’s sale I found a lovely one reduced by 75 per cent to £5 (hope you’re not reading this, Mum!). Then for DJ’s mum who likes to travel, I found a gorgeous set of toiletry bags on ebay for £5 – so nice I nearly kept them!
You can’t buy ahead for everybody. My Dad is very particular about what he likes, although he doesn’t always know what that is! But you can still put away money. And you could ask family members to decide now, so you can buy in advance and save cash.
I make a list of each person, jot down ideas and keep to a budget for each. That might be £10 each for close family members and £5 for others. Avoid the trap of needlessly swapping presents with friends. We’ve all done it. You feel compelled to buy them something, but their presents are often off the mark. Explain that your budget is tight or say you think it’s wasteful for the environment and their good company is present enough. Whether you’re religious or not, Christmas isn’t about presents, it’s about the spirit of it all.
It’s difficult to buy Christmas food ahead. But you could start saving towards it. Some food shops operate Christmas clubs enabling you to save for festive grub. But the collapse of Farepak was a real turn-off and as you won’t get interest on your cash or be able to touch it before Christmas (plus you’ll be forced to buy your goods in that shop), putting cash in a savings account may be wiser.
If you like a drink, look for booze bargains now or consider making your own beer. It’s probably a bit late to make most wines, though, which usually need to be left for a year. Last year I made a Christmas pud. It was really easy and delicious. I made mine a week before, but it’ll be tastier made months ahead.
What are your plans for Christmas this year? Will you be spending less this time around because of the credit crunch? Got any good tips for saving money over the festive season?