Andrew Hagger, finance expert, offers advice on how to manage the festive period if you're struggling to make ends meet.
Despite the joy, excitement and seasonal cheer that Christmas promises, if you’re on a tight budget, the reality can be very different.
If you’re already struggling financially, and are barely managing to make ends meet from one month to the next, Christmas is probably the time of year that you dread the most.
Relentless advertising of the latest must-have games, toys and gadgets is probably the last thing you want to see. Not to mention the endless enticing images of expensive festive food and drink.
If you don’t have access to credit cards to help spread the cost, as is increasingly the case for many people, it’s not the end of the world.
There are a number of things you can do to get through Christmas, even if you’ve little extra money to spare.
Be open and honest with your friends and relatives
Pick up the phone, or drop by and tell them about your current financial situation. Explain that it means you don’t have the funds available to be able to afford the sort of presents you sent in previous years.
If you’re up front and explain your situation, true friends will understand. It’s much better than saying nothing and then not sending a Christmas gift. People will be more understanding than you probably expect.
Agree with friends and family on a maximum spend
Once you’ve explained your situation, agreeing on a maximum spend will be easier, and it doesn’t matter if it’s just a few pounds. Or simply suggest that each of you just exchange cards this year.
Budget for how much you can realistically afford to spend
Christmas cards, presents and food and drink soon add up, and spending as little as possible is easier said than done. So, however limited your finances, it makes sense to calculate the amount that you would like to keep to.
Cut back on food shopping in the first half of December
Try to buy just the absolute essentials for a week or two. This will not only create some space in the cupboards, but it’ll also help you to save a little bit extra for your Christmas fund.
Have a rummage through your kitchen cupboards and freezer to make use of what you already have. Chances are you’ll find more than a couple of potential meals already there. Many of us have food buried at the bottom of the freezer that we’ve long since forgotten about, so now’s the ideal time to use it up.
Design and send vouchers for your practical services
Rather than spend money on presents, you could offer to give up your time to babysit, provide a taxi service, clean the car, or walk the dog. It will cost you nothing but your time and a little creativity.
Other ways to cut the cost of Christmas include:
- redeeming store card loyalty points that you’ve accumulated during the year
- sending ecards, or hand-delivering cards where possible; a first-class stamp costs 63p, so this could save you plenty
- selling unwanted CDs, DVDs, or things you no longer use, on online auction sites, to raise some cash
- making use of money-off vouchers and discounts through sites such as quidco.com and vouchercodes.co.uk
- taking a look in your local charity shop; you never know what you might unearth, given a little time and imagination
- buying £1- or £2-worth of Christmas savings stamps every week at the supermarket, so you’ll be in a better position this time next year
Be realistic at all times; if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it just because you don’t want to lose face, or are trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s a case of trying to accept that things have changed, but that hopefully it’s a temporary situation, and in time, you’ll gradually get back on your feet.
However desperate you feel, don’t be tempted to turn to payday loans or doorstep lenders – it may seem an easy way out initially, but the extra financial burden of this costly credit will only increase your money worries come the New Year.
Try to remember that Christmas isn’t about expensive presents; it’s a rare opportunity to relax and spend quality time with your friends and family. So have a good time, but don’t get into debt over it – it’s really not worth the stress.
About the author
Andrew Hagger founded MoneyComms in 2012, and has over 30 years’ experience of working as a finance expert for major personal finance brands. A frequent media spokesperson, he also writes regular money columns for the Independent, Daily Mirror, The Scotsman and Money Market.