Belfast Telegraph

Two in three of us worry about ending up with sack full of debt for new year

By Harriet Crawford

Two in three people in Northern Ireland will struggle with the basic costs of running their home because of festive demands.

Of these, three in four will find it difficult to heat their home and 63% will strain over the cost of food this Christmas.

The holiday is supposed to bring festive cheer rather than financial fear, but almost two in three people in Northern Ireland worry that they'll end up with a sack full of debt this year, a new survey has revealed.

And one in three people fear this Christmas will be spoilt by its expense, according to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU).

Consumers expect to spend a total of £571 on Christmas this year, with parents forking out an average of £233 on "Santa presents" for their children.

Despite the majority of people here feeling that they spend too much on the holiday, the same proportion expect to borrow an average of £416 this year to be able to afford everything they want. One in three consumers has approached a pay day lender for a seasonal loan, and the same amount has considered it.

The number of people seeking debt advice from Advice NI increases in January, according to Sinead Campbell, Head of Money and Debt Services.

She said: "Christmas is a very stressful time for people. Financial pressures are high due to children's and friends' expectations, invitations to nights out, Christmas parties and buying new clothes. Also on a more practical level, utility, food and transport costs can increase during the colder periods."

With Christmas only a few weeks away, charities have joined the ILCU in urging families to know their financial limits and avoid borrowing - particularly from pay day loan companies or moneylenders - in order to avoid debt.

Chris Cupples, of Christians Against Poverty Northern Ireland, said: "Whilst Christmas should be a great time to relax and enjoy spending time with friends and family, the pressure to buy expensive gifts and create the 'perfect' Christmas can easily become overpowering. Many people fall into the trap of overspending, leading to New Year debt.

"No one can blame people for wanting to create a lovely day, especially for children, but if we set the bar too high, there will be regrets later. It's better to be honest with family and friends, manage their expectations and take the pressure off having to buy things the family can't afford."

Savvy shopping, careful saving and setting a Christmas budget can help people keep a rein on Christmas expense, according to Rosemary O'Doherty of the ILCU.

She said: "We all need to remember that Christmas really is about giving, not robbing the family finances."

The average consumer will take 13 weeks to recover financially from overspending at Christmas and 8% of people will take nine months to recover. The Trussell Trust, which runs 15 foodbanks in Northern Ireland, anticipates an increase in number of people they will feed this December.

Five tips for surviving the cost of Christmas

1. Set a budget in advance.

2. Ask yourself ‘do you really need it?’ Don’t get carried away.

3. Never buy on impulse.

4. Think twice about signing up for a store card.

5. Avoid unauthorised overdraft charges.

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