There are always a few bits and pieces we hope to get for Christmas… and extra debt definitely shouldn’t be one of them.
With the festive season, and the final paydays of 2023, fast approaching we spoke to Karen Barrett, Founder and CEO of Unbiased.co.uk, about actionable steps we can take to prevent Christmas from becoming an unaffordable event that takes months to pay off.
Last December, research by Lowell found that 24% of people took six months to pay off debts accumulated over the Christmas period, and with interest rates on credit cards and loans incredibly high at the moment - and an influx of Buy Now Pay Later services, treading the fine line between staying in the black and sinking into the red has never been more delicate.
Karen told Women’s Health: ‘A survey recently showed that 46% of women said money issues have negatively affected their mental health. That translates into anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and stress.
‘So taking some time at the end of the year to assess your financial goals and get to grips with a festive budget is going to help you start 2024 on the right foot, and not with new, added debt, which can affect your mental health.’
Here Karen shares four of her top financial tips for the coming weeks, and why there’s never been a better time to learn how to set - and stick to - a budget.
Set a budget - for money and effort
If you feel like you're heading into Christmas at an alarming rate, just sit down now and start planning out your budget. How much money have you got, and how much can you afford to put towards Christmas? No matter the amount, you can still have a good Christmas, a good festive period with whatever you've got - and sticking to a budget will help you feel so much more confident and calm. You won’t be going into December thinking you’ll ‘worry about it later’ and just stick everything on a credit card.
It's easy to get caught up in the lights and the smell and the festive feeling, and that's why you've got your budget because it's tempting to use credit cards for holiday shopping, but really you need to be cautious not to have accumulated debt that you can't pay off quickly.
To create your budget, outline what you are expecting to pay for, and allocate specific amounts. Think about food, presents, travel, and other expenses, and if you end up underspending on some lines, you can then allow yourself to balance it out with an overspend on another and you’ll still be within budget.
And, particularly for women who tend to take on the work of Christmas and the burden of doing all the shopping and the wrapping and everything else, I would argue that if you're with a partner or have a family, allocate the work. Decide who's buying gifts for whom, and then they can also be responsible for wrapping, gifting and everything else that comes with it.
Dish up and divvy out Christmas dinner
Create a budget for your big Christmas food shop. What do you need to buy if you've got friends or family coming round? I think it's absolutely acceptable to say, “Can you cover this? So-and-so's going to cover this and I’m going to cover this.” Whether that is splitting it into starters, mains, desserts, or just the crackers - or particularly big ticket items, such as alcohol or turkey - it’s absolutely fine to allocate to the group of people that are going to be sharing your festive holiday period with you.
Also, look around different supermarkets. They are all clearly all vying for your business at this time of year; it's hugely competitive and they need to perform well. So maybe you need to take a mix-and-match approach and visit a couple of different supermarkets to get the best deal depending on how focused your budget needs to be.
Skip the gifts
There are ways to reduce the financial burden of gifting for multiple people. If you want or have to exchange gifts with someone, then agree with them from the get-go you will both buy gifts to a maximum budget of £15, or £20, whatever you can afford.
Or, if you’re in a group of friends or have an older family, Secret Santa is really good and there are lots of free websites which will draw the names anonymously. So that way you can all be buying presents for one person, rather than five, to help lift the financial burden of all that gifting.
But how do you stick to a gifting budget? Well, the first thing is to create a list of the people that you want to buy gifts for and set a reasonable budget for each person. This means that you're going to as much as possible avoid impulse buying. You can also consider some homemade gifts, which not only adds the personal touch but can be more budget-friendly..
Take advantage of sales, too, but remember that making sure discounts are real is really important. You can do that with internet searches or by checking it against the price you’ve seen previously if it’s been on your list for a while - whatever it is, just make sure the offer is a real discount, not a pretend one.
Gift yourself a stable financial future
In my opinion, one of the main reasons for budgeting at Christmas and not overspending is to make sure that you’re able to invest in your future self.
It’s really tight for people at the moment, but if you have any spare money I would be putting it in to an ISA, which means you can get your hands back on it should you need to, and it will give you the highest rate of interest that is tax free, so it's the best way to save your money.
Additionally, now would be the time to think about maybe a side hustle or, you know, helping out friends and family with babysitting or doing anything you can to generate another bit of income.Because that will really go far in putting some money aside to go into your emergency fund. Or, if you don’t already have one, I would really urge you to start one.
And then, if you get on top of all of that, I think it is really important for women to look at their longer-term savings, and retirement planning. Time is the best thing that you can have on your side. Start putting something, if you possibly can, into longer term investments around pensions or retirement savings. Often your employer will match payments or they might offer a scheme so revisit how much you're putting in and start now, even if it's only a tiny bit because actually that will grow over the years ahead and that will just put you in such a great position when it comes to your later years.
Lots of people don't feel that they can do this alone, but it’s something we specialise in at Unbiased.co.uk. As well as lots of free resources to read, within 60 seconds you can be matched with a regulated and trusted financial advisor.
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