The Joy of Christmas Gifts and the Woes of Christmas Debt

What do society, friends and family expect of you at this time of year? Is the pressure on to find gifts that will deliver Christmas Joy as an antidote to the long, dark, winter nights?

According to the Bank of England, the typical UK household spends an extra £800 in December – £3,300 compared to £2,500 per month for the rest of the year. But polling by YouGov suggests it could be even higher with an average spend of £1,116.

That’s not necessarily a problem if it’s planned, but how many people set a budget for Christmas and stick to it? Some do, but more than a third of us will get into debt, with most of that going on credit cards.

It can be difficult to stay disciplined with special offers, peer pressure, demanding kids and increasing desperation as Christmas approaches and you’ve not finished (or even stared) your shopping yet.

But there are a few techniques to help avoid counting the cost of Christmas well into the new year.

Set a budget and stick to it

Take an hour or so to work out how much money you can actually afford to spend over the Christmas period. Fair enough if you want to allocate some of your January income to repay credit card bills, but don’t allow Christmas debts to linger into February and beyond.

Once you have your budget, split it into categories, for example:

  • Gifts
  • Food and drink
  • Activities and travel

Keep a spending log to check how well you’re staying within budget and don’t cave-in to special offers to upgrade on gifts and short breaks away.

It’s worth thinking about the amount of food waste every year at Christmas – don’t overbuy. Honestly, you’ll manage fine without that extra lump of cheese, bottle of Prosecco or family sized box of biscuits.

Agree expectations

Discuss your spending plans as a family and keep an eye on the bigger picture. The prize is to avoid the stress of additional debts and help create a more confident and positive start to the following year.

Ask yourself “What will that mean for me?” If you control your Christmas spending, will it mean more spending money in January to help get through the dark winter towards Spring? Better holidays next year or maybe faster progress towards bigger financial goals?

Consider scaling back a bit on childrens’ gifts. Some suggestions I’ve seen outline a 3 gift approach:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something that can provide a great family experience

Be creative and personal

More thoughtful gifts are often appreciated much more than expensive purchases. Some great special offers can be found on experiences rather than physical items – discounts can be found on afternoon teas, hotel stays, spa days, escape rooms and many more ideas from discount sites like Groupon and vouchercodes.co.uk.

Or how about making cards and gifts that can be personalised for the people you care about. A home-made hamper full of a friend’s favourite items can be really touching and inexpensive. (Well, depending on how expensive their tastes are!)

Summary

Remember that Christmas Day arrives and disappears in no time. The lingering stress of over-spending can last an awful lot longer than the appreciation of new things or an over-abundance of food and drink.

If you decide to spend less this year and stick to your plan, you can still have a great Christmas. Focus on the people, the experience and how you spend your time. Switch off the TV and devices and get out for a family walk and reflect on what’s important.

Imagine how good it will feel to start the new year without unwelcome credit cards bills. It might just be the incentive you need to push back on the marketing and peer pressure of Christmas spending.

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