The school summer break only recently began and many of us are in holiday mode. So it probably feels a bit unnatural to start fast forwarding ahead to the winter months. With sunshine, beaches and barbecues on our minds, the last thing we want to think about is turkey and Christmas carols.
However, last weekend marked five months until Christmas Day. And as lots of us are still watching our pennies as the recession drags on, it’s a good idea to start planning ahead for the festive season this year. Christmas is something of a financial anomaly. It comes but once a year and it’s always the same time every year so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Yet for some reason the festival can have a catastrophic effect on people’s pockets. According to research by the British Retail Consortium, the average consumer spends almost £1,000 a year on Christmas. What’s more, 4 million of us are too lazy to shop in advance, so we leave it until the last minute and overspend by an average of 39 per cent.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during nearly two years of trying to live frugally is to plan ahead. It really is one of the most effective ways of saving money and avoiding spending cash you shouldn’t have to, whether that’s working out your meals for the week and how you can use up your leftovers, putting money away for Christmas or organising what you’ll be doing while on a summer break.
Here are some tips and ideas for planning towards a frugal Christmas:
1. Take an unseasonal approach to the festive season and do your shopping and budgeting for it in the summer or even earlier in the year if you can. This way you’ll be able to go Christmas shopping in peace without being bombarded by fake snow, sleigh bells and carols in the stores which will put you in a festive mood and probably make you part with more money into the bargain.
2. Put together a special Christmas budget. Think about where you’ll plan to spend the festive season – will you be visiting family or having everyone over to yours? Work out how many people you’ll be buying presents for and a budget for each, and roughly how much money you’ll need to cover Christmas meals and activities.
3. Start putting money away now each month in a savings account or moneybox. The cash will soon add up and you’ll avoid having to pay for Christmas on a credit card and suffering in January for it. If you don’t have a savings account, avoid Christmas clubs and check out your local ethical financial cooperatives which operate Christmas saving schemes. Logon to www.abcul.org to find your nearest one. With many Christmas clubs you won’t get interest on your money, you won’t be able to get at the cash until Christmas and you may be forced to spend your money in the store operating the club. Remember Farepak!
4. Stick to your budget. It’s easy to be guilt-tripped into overspending on presents for loved ones, but don’t be. You’re buying a thoughtful or useful gift, not a material reflection of how much you value that person or some kind of status symbol proving your own worth.
5. Check out the summer sales for bargain Christmas presents as you’re out and about. It’s not always possible to buy things in advance for everyone, but you might see something which would suit one of your friends or loved ones. If in doubt, ask relatives what they want for Christmas in advance so you can source it cheaply.
6. Don’t forget Freecycle, boot sales, charity shops and other frugal ways of sourcing presents. Don’t be shy – take a look around your home and see if there are any unwanted Christmas presents or other items in good condition that could be ‘regifted’. Just make sure that the items are suitable and that you’re not giving them back to the person who gave you them in the first place!
7. If you are hosting Christmas for a number of family members or friends, don’t be shy in asking for a contribution from them. Ask them to bring along some wine or beer or provide the Christmas pud or a DVD from their collection to entertain everybody. Money is tight for many of us this year and most people will understand.
8. Remember that Christmas is supposed to be the season of goodwill to all men and women – not a spending competition – and try to enjoy it. Why not do something different such as volunteering or carol singing?
Got any other tips for a frugal Christmas? Leave a message and let me know.
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