Don’t hate me, I know it’s early, but it’s time to prepare (not celebrate), as Christmas is coming. I hate tinsel and Jingle Bells before December as much as the next man, but many festive savings are only possible if you do them early.
This isn’t a trivial message. I’m fed up of every January people telling me they’re skint and when I ask why they reply, “Christmas of course.” Well I can tell you exclusively here, Christmas will be on December 25 this year, so it’s not an unexpected event – there is time to plan in advance to prevent problems.
So here are my seven key things you should do now that’ll save you for festivities. I’ve focused on Christmas, but the same techniques work for Chanukah, Eid, and Kwanzaa too.
1 Agree to not give unnecessary presents.
Gifts for kids, grandchildren or your spouse are fine. Yet it’s time to stop the ever growing list of people we buy for even when we’ve no idea what they want, know we’ll end up buying tat that’ll never be used, and add heaps of pressure on ourselves to do so.
I’ve been campaigning to end unnecessary gifts for six years, and more and more people are doing it. Yet it involves agreeing a pact not to buy each other. Even the joy of giving can be selfish if it obligates someone who can’t afford it to buy back. Julia tweeted me a couple of weeks ago: “@MartinSLewis, finally took your advice and told family I can’t afford Xmas presents. What a weight off my mind. Thank you.”
So contact friends and family now and make an agreement not to buy, or to cap the cost, only give homemade or even to give to charity instead. See my full ‘why Christmas presents are bad’ explanation at www.mse.me/BanChristmas.
2 Book your train tickets 12 weeks in advance.
Wherever you’re planning on spending the festive season, if you need to travel by train, book your tickets 12 weeks in advance. That’s when most cheap advance tickets launch, so you get maximum availability. So this is close to the perfect moment to be buying tickets if you’re away visiting friends and family for Christmas and New Year.
3 Small savings make merry
There are roughly 90 days, 75 working days and 13 weeks left until Christmas. So, if you buy a £2 coffee every work day, just give it up now, put the cash in a Christmas kitty instead and you’ll have £150 by the big day. I’m not telling you to do this, it’s about deciding priorities. If that’s cash you need for Christmas, are you willing to make the sacrifice?
4 Earn five per cent cashback on your Christmas shopping.
If you’re going to be spending for Christmas, you might as well do it on a card that pays you every time you spend on it.
The no annual-fee www.americanexpress.com Platinum Everyday credit card pays you five per cent cashback on your first three months’ spending (maximum £100), so get it now and you get the big cashback during the high spend pre-Christmas period. It then follows with up to 1 per cent after.
The cashback is paid after a year, so you’ll get it in time to help next Christmas, though there’s a minimum £3,000 spend to get it. That sounds a lot, but do all your normal spending on it as it pays you and you’ll be fine. Of course, only do this if you’ve a direct debit to repay it IN FULL each month, or you’ll be charged 22.9 per cent rep APR, which kills the gain.
5 Not saved for it – do it now then you can split the cost by three.
A typical family Christmas costs around £600-£800 – a huge amount from one month’s salary alone. But if you haven’t started saving yet, there is still time. For example, if you put £200 aside from your October and November income, it’ll spread the cost. Save what you can.
If you’re saying you can’t afford that, then I’m afraid you’ll need to go cold turkey. Christmas is just one day, it’s not worth overspending and ruining your New Year.
6 Set up a Christmas cupboard.
Become a tactical shopper. Work out now what necessary gifts you need to buy, and then if you spot a bargain, you can pounce on it when there’s a code, voucher or discount that makes it cheaper (I put the best in my weekly email at www.mse.me/tips).
Even better, as is part of many MoneySavers’ Christmas arsenal, once you buy a present, bag it, wrap it, and pop it in a Christmas cupboard – gradually getting the chores done.
7 Not used it since last Christmas, then flog it.
Walk around the house and examine everything; it’s time for your annual personal stock clearance. Many old items can be worth serious cash. And if you’ve not used things for a year, whether toys, prams, old coffee makers, mobile phones, gadgets, or even clothes, why not sell them?
This isn’t just about eBay or car boot sales, Facebook now has a lot of good local sales groups too that can be an easy way to do this. There are also lots of recycling sites that will pay you for old mobiles and gadgets – just make sure you do your research first to find the one that’ll give you the most.