Monday, 21 July 2014

Let's Talk Christmas

I KNOW.  OK, I know.  It's July.  The last thing you want is a chorus of Jingle Bells and to start thinking turkey and tinsel.  But don't hate me yet, bear with me. It'll be worth it in the end, I promise.  And in case you were wondering, I haven't been to any of those Christmas in July things that PR companies so kindly wave in front of your nose, in three days time, in central London, with no offers of travel costs, or even consideration for the fact that parents tend to have children.  And I'm not about to tell you what theme your Christmas table should have (Scandi-style is SO last year), or which toys your children will be clamouring for come December.  But it is worth starting to think.

Christmas seems to be getting increasingly competitive - who can give the biggest, best, shiniest, most expensive gifts.  And if that's what floats your boat, go to it, I guess.  But it takes planning, and that's why I'm writing this now.  It's no good having an entire room stuffed with colour co-ordinated presents if you're struggling to pay the electric bill.

The obvious way to prepare for Christmas is to start saving, as early and as much as possible.  But let's be honest.  That's not always possible, or easy for a lot of people, so here's some alternatives.

Savings clubs and hamper clubs - both national ones like Park, and local ones at the corner shop, allow you to save a little each week, without the temptation of having the cash at home or at the end of the debit card, so that come Christmas the presents and food are already paid for.  They have had some bad press, but that was an isolated incident, and as a rule your money is safe, and you can choose how to spend it - either on vouchers or on well priced items as the clubs are able to use their membership numbers to negotiate discounts from suppliers.

Taking on a part time job, or offering to do things like babysitting or ironing for cash to your friends and neighbours can bring in some additional cash - though please bear in mind that this could affect any benefit entitlements - and if you can put this money aside, there will be a nice little nest egg ready and waiting in December.

High street Hire Purchase companies and Coin-Op TV companies may seem affordable, with their low weekly payments and bright shiny adverts, but do you really want to be still paying for this year's Christmas presents in 3 years time?  That's the average length of their loans, so think about it very carefully.  And don't even get me started on payday lenders and doorstep lenders.  I've said before that they are toxic, and I'm fully in agreement with MP Stella Creasy that they are simply legal loan sharks.  So please, for me, steer clear.  If they look like your only option, seek advice first, there is always an alternative.  (I am not going to link to any of these companies. I have some rules around here)

Sometimes, with all the will in the world, credit IS the only solution.  I don't live in cloud cuckoo land (though I think it's not that far away)  Even then though, it takes planning.  Speak to your bank if you're likely to go overdrawn. It's much better to have an overdraft facility set up & not have to use it. An authorised overdraft will have much lower charges (if any), and won't damage your credit rating later on.  Credit Unions are another good way to access a relatively cheap loan, and they work in local communities, putting that investment back into the community for a warm & fuzzy feeling at the same time.

And if you are having money problems, seek advice sooner rather than later.  Citizens AdviceStep ChangePayplan and Christians Against Poverty offer free advice and help dealing with debts.  There are other debt management companies out there which charge for their services, but these organisations are free, and working in the interests of their users.  You aren't the first person to get into a financial mess, and you won't be the last. You won't be judged, and they can do an amazing job if you let them.

So start thinking now, and you can look forward to a great and stress-free Christmas.

I was not asked to write this post. All links are provided free of charge and come from my own knowledge of the agencies and situations involved.

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