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5 ways to have a cracking Christmas - without breaking the bank

The pressure to overspend at this time of year is immense, but beware the festive financial fallout. Vicky Shaw seeks out some advice

The pre-Christmas sales are now in full swing and retailers are bombarding us with their apparently 'too good to miss' offers.

But now can also be a particularly dangerous time for people being tipped into debts by festive spending - which they could spend much of 2019 trying to pay off when bills thud onto doormats.

Previous research from the Money Advice Trust charity suggests more than a third (37%) of people put last Christmas on credit, and 13% of people say they regularly worry about money in the run-up to Christmas.

While for some, their money problems may simply stem from not sticking to their budget, there may be other factors at play too, such as a sudden change in circumstances which means that a bill you thought you could cover is now going to be a struggle.

Sue Anderson, a spokeswoman for the StepChange Debt Charity, says: "Among StepChange clients, debt often occurs as a result of a change in circumstances that causes people to lose some or all of their usual income."

Debt help bodies often see a surge in cries for help around the start of a new year.

And StepChange's figures show that January 2018 was a particularly busy month for people calling and seeking debt help on its website.

But there are steps you could potentially take now to help lessen the chances of a post-Christmas debt hangover in January.

Here are some tips from Anderson and from StepChange Debt.

1. Set a budget and stick to it

It can be difficult to resist falling into the generosity trap, spending money we can't really afford because we want to treat our loved ones to special presents, food, festive decorations and the whole works.

But think of it a different way - by setting an affordable budget and sticking to it, there's more chance of being able to afford the little treats that can satisfy our generosity urges for loved ones throughout the year ahead as well, rather than finding the new year has to be all about belt-tightening to pay for the aftermath of Christmas.

2. Don't forget to include hidden costs

Budgeting for things like the cost of travel to get to wherever you're going at Christmas, the cost of joining in the work Christmas do, contributions to Christmas activities that children might be involved in at school, or the Secret Santa, are easily overlooked.

Before you know it, they've blown your budget. So try to sit down and make a plan of everything you need to factor in - not just the cost of food and presents.

If something has to give, then at least you have a chance to think about which area of spending you're most prepared to cut back on.

3. Beware of the pressure to pay later or put it on plastic

Making good memories (or even good presents) doesn't have to be about spending lots of money.

Your children's home-made Christmas biscuits may be just as welcome (and more fun). For the items you do buy, think about the consequences of paying later or putting it on plastic. It's still real money in the end.

Your friends and family wouldn't want you to get into difficulty for the sake of buying them stuff.

4. Plan ahead

Although there's not long to go until Christmas, you can still plan the load a bit. That can help you spread (or even reduce) costs.

If you have a freezer, making food you might otherwise buy can prove cheaper than buying ready-made versions.

Looking further ahead, starting a savings plan from January to save up all year for the following Christmas may mean a borrowing-free Christmas a year from now.

5. If you do overspend, don't panic, but don't ignore it either

Go back to basics and make sure you draw up a budget that will get you back on track. If that isn't enough to solve the problem, one of the reputable free debt advice charities will help you. The sooner you tackle any debt issue, the better.

  • For further free advice and support, visit www.stepchange.org

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