I am hugely worried about the potential spending on Christmas by people of the UK. I asked my Twitter audience about what their intended spend was this Christmas.
I don’t know whether to be reassured by this result or worried. 47% of the people who answered the poll will be spending £100 or less. But 14% are spending between £1000-£2000 and then 9% spending more than £2000! Wow.
Are we as a nation going to spend like we have never spent before? Gifts for everyone, the best food, the best decorations and all the Christmas parties and drinks. We deserve it, right? After the last two years, and especially last Christmas that was cancelled for so many (I spent Christmas day alone in 2020, and was refreshingly chilled and enjoyable!), we do deserve it. But what if you can’t afford to spend all this money on Christmas? What if this spending will get you into debt?
Christmas is one day, or two months if you focus on the Christmas TV adverts and products now everywhere in the shops. It really isn’t worth getting into debt over. Christmas can be celebrated by spending less money and spending more TIME with the people that mean the world to you.
I have previously written about the mindful task of keeping a spending diary and then how to create a budget from this. It’s a great idea to create a budget for Christmas.
Have a good think about your Christmas gift list for this simple Christmas budget. The list of people that you want to buy gifts for. Your children, family and those people who have impacted your life positively this year. Do you really NEED to buy gifts for all these people?
Maybe you have written their names as you have always bought gifts for them, it’s a habit. But it could be time to break the habit. Have a conversation and agree to not buy gifts this year. You will be surprised how many people are grateful for this conversation, and that you are both free from the stress and cost of buying a Christmas gift. It’s a perfect solution for all those aunts/uncles/cousins where you give the gift of Boots smellies or gift vouchers. There is little point giving these gifts for the sake of giving and habit.
Include all the other Christmas costs like food, not just Christmas dinner but also those extra Christmas treats that you buy (All the cheese, biscuits, chocolates, gin, etc). Christmas cards, decorations, gift wrapping and the potential biggie, Christmas socialising. How many Christmas nights out/mince pie catch ups do you have planned (I definitely have a few)?
Once you have you first version of the budget, rationalise it. Do you really need to spend all that money on nights out? Do you really need £50 of extra chocolates and gin? Do you really need to send Christmas cards? I dare you not too!
Start to think about the essentials and where you will be buying gifts from. Check out budget supermarkets such as Aldi & Lidl for your Christmas food and ingredients for bargain homemade gifts.
Gifting is often the biggest expense of Christmas, and we are encouraged from all sides to overspend and ‘treat’ our loved ones. But do we really more stuff? Do we need to consume so much more, replace things that are perfectly workable? Do we need another jumper when we already have seven? Do we need the latest iPhone every two years? I would love for you to question your desire to consume driven by advertising, keeping up with the Jones’s and the commercial word we live in.
Homemade gifts are a perfect solution to this consumerism. They show that you really care after spending time to create these gifts. I am going to be making a selection of handmade gifts for family and friends. I make bottles of foraged blackberry/fruit gin, chutney, jam. All of these are best made early as they need to mature a bit before Christmas. These will cost around £4 to £5 per person including the Aldi basic gin, bottles bought from The Range, sugar, etc.
Scour the second-hand marketplace for gifts on your list. Can you find that perfect gift that your children want second hand on your local Facebook group, or on Gumtree or Vinted? I often see items that look brand new in packaging for sale on these sites/apps.
Also be aware of deals. There is a great app called Idealo where you can set up a price alert for gifts. This clever app keeps watch on all the internet and tells you when there is a price change up or down.
Be aware that Black Friday is often NOT the best time to bag a deal! Black Friday is a retail invented event that has recently arrived in the UK from America. Offers are rarely as good as they look. Only buy something on Black Friday if it is genuinely something on your Christmas or need list. Check out the previous prices on Idealo to check how good a deal it is!
A bill that is a huge worry for many is gas and electricity. The bill where usage always goes up during the colder winter months. Not only do we use more but the cost of energy has increased hugely during 2021.
There is an energy price cap in place, set by OFGEM of £1,277 for an annual energy bill until April 2022. General guidance currently is to not switch once your energy deal has ended, the price cap will protect you from bills higher than £1,277. Please note this may not apply in some cases, please find more information here.
There are steps that we can all take at home to use less energy too. Simple things like having the thermostat set to 1-2 degrees less than you are used to. Spend less time in the shower, set the alarm on your phone for four minutes. Only boil the kettle for that one cup of tea. Make use of the slow cooker for beautiful winter stews. And layer up! You can often find me wearing three jumpers whilst I work from home refusing to put the heating on.
We can all have good intentions to spend less at Christmas but the inevitable is that people will get into debt and will find themselves with unmanageable debt levels. There are three types of debt that people find themselves in. For more information on this you can listen to my Debt focussed Podcast episode with debt advisor – Sara Williams AKA Debt Camel.
Manageable debt is where you can afford the minimum repayment plus a bit more and can work towards paying off that debt without any professional help. The second debt situation is where you need to make some savings on bills and spending to be able to afford your minimum repayments, with some hard work and time you can organise your finances to get in control of your debt. I was in this situation in 2017 with £16k of credit card debt, you read more about that here.
Then there is unmanageable debt where you cannot afford your minimum repayment and/or cannot afford to pay essential bills such as mortgage, rent, council tax, energy etc. If you are in this situation please reach out to Step Change, Christians Against Poverty and Citizens Advice Bureau. They are free charities and will help you with the entire process of sorting out that debt, such as Moneyhelper. There is always a way out of financial problems, please reach out for help if you need it.
Christmas is a time to spend time with your loved ones, not to spend lots of money and potentially end up in debt, paying for one day for months into 2022. Have fun, dance, talk, laugh, and have a very merry Christmas.
Lynn Beattie is a personal finance expert and founder of Mrs Mummypenny. Her background is an ACMA management accountant of 17 years with a breath of experience working in commercial finance for Tesco, EE & HSBC. She is a single mum to three boys, living in Hertfordshire.
She left the corporate world in 2015 to run Mrs Mummypenny full-time. Lynn features regularly on campaigns for PensionBee, Zopa Bank, AMEX and Smart Energy GB. Also featuring regularly in the media including The Financial Times, The Sun, iWeekend and BBC TV/Radio. She presents a weekly Podcast/YouTube series, Mrs Mummypenny Talks. Lynn is the author of 'The Money Guide to Transform Your Life' published 1st Sept 2020.