An unseasonal approach to Christmas

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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6 Responses to An unseasonal approach to Christmas

  1. Christine says:

    Bah humbug Piper she says laughing. How dare you mention the C word this early in the year!! Do you remember when Christmas was a religious festival, something to do with the birth of a baby and singing of carols to celebrate the event? It had nothing to do with being one enormous party based on shopping. It seems that the meaning has turned into a spendfest where everyone tries to outdo everyone else and has no real meaning for 99% of the population. And I\’m not even sure that many people really enjoy the period.Some shops are already selling off the left over decorations, wrapping paper and cards from last year. And those are not the charity shops either. I\’ve seen one toy shop today suggesting that people join their Christmas club. Right then – so that has set the children off early as they are still on holiday. Just 5 months of commercial hype to come then. But for the serious Christmas planners, a lot of the shopping will have been done in the sales last January for small items that can be stored – especially for cards, wrapping paper, crackers, replacement decorations and other such fripperies. In the spirit of real frugality, if Christmas is not a religious festival for you, then it\’s a holiday and should be enjoyed as a period of rest and relaxation rather than a costly period where you need to go back to work to recover from debt, drink, too much food, too much housekeeping and too many visitors. It should be planned with the same care that you plan any other holiday. My main advice for a frugal Christmas is to settle down before you do any planning and consider whether you really want to be involved in a lot of entertaining, going out, visiting, partying, present giving and spending. You may decide that a couple of small gatherings with a simple meal and good company will be quite enough thank you very much. A little simple food well cooked and served often seems to be enjoyed more than too much food that becomes leftovers for a week and which no-one enjoys after Boxing Day – as well as less tiring for the host and hostess. And the same goes for the present list – a "no stuff" Christmas doesn\’t need to be miserable. Why does Great Aunt Ethel need some more soap rather than a visit and why do you need to be given/give a meaningless present from/to someone you haven’t seen since last year? Of course this year will be total chaos as Boxing Day falls on a Saturday so that the following Monday is also a bank holiday. Can\’t you see it now? Christmas Eve will be a scrum in the supermarkets due to there being no food shopping for – 4 days! Wait for the “we might starve” trolley loads at the checkout. Hey ho, nothing frugal about food that won’t get eaten is there?

  2. Bill says:

    Agree with you entirely Christine. From the mid 60\’s until 2,000 I always used to work every Xmas, oft for standard pay, in order to avoid all the stupidity. Any deserving a pressy would recieve a budget to purchase their own, & I would take a packed ploughman\’s to the office for Xmas lunch, or purchase such at the canteen. I used to avoid working Xmas Eve, at least until midnight, by which time most of the drinkers had disappeared in a drunken stupor, leaving me to work in relative peace.It is extreme surreal to be on the road in the wee small hours of Xmas morning, only meeting other traffic every hour or so, quietly saluting as we pass. That, to me, was the real spirit of Xmas. It still brings tears to my poor eyes as I remember it.Obviously it is not ppossible today, with 24/7 drinking, & the winter sales beginning at 09:00hrs on Xmas morning. The M-way is a rush-hour race track 24/7 throughout every "Bank-Holiday". The banks are also open 24/7, including Xmas day, complete with all ATM, \’phone, & Internet.Nothing but a binge drinking rip-off.

  3. piper says:

    I enjoy Christmas but I agree with you that it\’s a mad to put so much emphasis on just one day of the year. I think it turns out to be a pretty hollow and meaningless spending spree for a lot of people out there, which is very sad.

  4. Kerri says:

    I enjoy Christmas, I enjoy the planning and to an extent I enjoy Xmas shopping among the crowds on a cold afternoon. However, I do try to be fairly frugal, well sensible at least. I write a list of people I am going to give gifts to and last year put away a sum of money each month to spend on xmas gifts. I am doing the same this year too. I actually found that I am far more careful about what i decide to buy people when I have a nice little bundle of cash to part with, rather than just bunging on the Debit (not Credit) card. Of course, I also do a proportion of my shopping online – far less hassle (as long as the item that arrives is what you ordered and isn\’t damaged). This also makes the shopping I do instore more enjoyable as I don\’t have so much to do. I have already bought my wrapping paper in the Jan sales (missed out on the matching tags but hey ho! I usually remember what each present is as I am the one who wraps them). I do also enjoy going out in the Jan sales, I try not to go silly and buy things I don\’t need, often if my hubby asks what I want for xmas I tell him to get me something small to open on xmas day (I\’m still a kid at heart and love opening the paper), then to give me some cash so I can go and enjoy the sales, that way the jumper he saw for me before xmas, will cost 50% less come boxing day 🙂

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