Housing – Priority Debts

The importance of treating housing costs as priority debts. Effective debt advice prevents homelessness.

9th January 2019 Nucleus Advice 

By Alan Murdie

It is over 10 years since Nucleus took the decision to specialise in debt advice, ahead of financial crisis of 2008 (then known as the ‘credit crunch’). Traditionally, housing was one of the key areas of the work for Nucleus, and over this last decade we have seen it evolve into an area of debt law where money advice is an integral part of the support and services provided to prevent homelessness.

Housing debt….top of the list and the bottom line

Debt is a multi-headed beast that blights lives of many in the UK. Its most serious effects arise when it causes homelessness, directly or indirectly.
As any money adviser worth their salt will state, housing costs – rent and mortgage payments – are the top priority which must be paid ahead of any other liability. Housing costs are the most important ones to meet. Falling into debt with these will put your home at risk. And if the roof above your head is lost all other debts and liabilities become irrelevant.

Advice that needs repeating

Although this may seem obvious, this is a lesson that needs repeating.
It’s not always grasped because losing your home appears initially to be a long drawn out process but one that progressively speeds up. Easy to miss a rent or mortgage instalment when stressed or ill, undergoing a family trauma or a relationship break-up. Unfortunately, housing debts soon increase, just as a car speeds up like a car careering down a hill. Putting a brake on this process and getting the
vehicle into reverse is what effective debt and housing advice seeks to do, to prevent the otherwise inevitable crash in the form of a possession order or eviction.

The bottom line is housing costs need to be paid first ahead of other debts.
….And creditors need to realise this too

It is a message that needs to be realised more widely, and not just those in debt. Creditors, both private sector and governmental need to recognise this too. One reason why people miss out on meeting housing costs and debts is often that they are being pressurised into making other payments – what debt advisers identify as ‘non-priority’ debts.

The message needs to get across to government departments, council tax collectors, fuel companies, credit controllers and debt collectors large and small that chasing non-priority debts too harshly may end up causing homelessness through mortgage or rent areas, with end result that they get no money back either.
The better-informed creditors and branches of local government realise this, as do the more responsible financial institutions, and some are taking positive steps. But the lesson does need to keep filtering down the lower levels of many organisations who communicate directly with debtors and ourselves when acting on behalf of our clients.
Misunderstanding of the debt law and procedures and often unthinking assumptions and even prejudice against debtors is still surprisingly widespread. Tackling these are among the many goals of Nucleus and Ealing Advice with our work in this vital sector in 2019.

New Year Clean Up

5 Ways to Clean Up Your Finances in the New Year

If you went over budget with your holiday spending or just want a better handle on your finances, the new year offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at your money habits and clean them up.

Making a few simple adjustments to the way you manage your cash — and your credit — can help you reach your savings goals, improve your credit and get you through the year without financial troubles.

Here are five ways to clean up your finances this year:

1: Get Your Budget On Track

Budgeting doesn’t always mean cutting out things you enjoy. Look at your budget as a plan or a tool that helps you track and monitor your spending, so you’re more aware of where your money is going and where you might be overspending.

Simply categorising your purchases can help you get a clear idea of your spending, so you can cut back as needed. If you’re not yet using a budgeting app, check out Mvelopes, Mint, or Acorns to help organise your money.

2: Start Tackling Holiday Debt

If you racked up extra debt over the holiday season, make it a priority to pay off some — if not all — of that debt as quickly as possible. Transferring high-interest credit-card balances to a lower-interest credit card can be a smart money move if you don’t think you can pay off those balances within a year.

If you pay more than the minimum amount each month, you can whittle down your balance more quickly — and hopefully before the next holiday season.

3: Make Smart Purchases with a Rewards Credit Card/ 0% Credit Card

If you have a rewards credit card, like the Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® or the Barclaycard Visa® Apple Rewards, you can use it to spend strategically across certain categories to earn miles or points toward future purchases.

You don’t have to make major purchases to earn rewards — review your credit card terms to determine how much you can earn from different types of purchases.

Also you could look at cashback cards or a good 0% Purchase Credit Card

Check Your Eligibility Here


4: Prioritise Your Savings

If you didn’t meet your savings goal last year, or you just want to build up an emergency fund this year, create a plan to make saving money a bigger priority. Once you have a budget and know where your money is going, you can allocate some of your income toward savings each month.

Treating savings as an expense can get you in the habit of saving without really thinking about it. Choose an amount that works with your budget and deposit additional funds when you receive your tax refund, a bonus or another financial windfall.

5: Check Your Credit Report

Your credit score can be a fair indicator of your financial health, and reviewing your credit report can give you a chance to check for any suspicious activity. You can request a free credit report from Annual Credit Report.com and get your credit score from sites like Credit Karma for a snapshot of what’s happening with your credit.

Fix any errors, and continue to monitor your credit score throughout the year to ensure your credit isn’t compromised in any way.

The new year is the perfect time to check in on your finances and set new goals. Use these tips to get your finances on track and make the most of your spending — and saving — in the year ahead.

The new year is the perfect time to check in on your finances and set new goals. Use these tips to get your finances on track and make the most of your spending — and saving — in the year ahead.

Economy Energy Goes Bust

Ofgem’s advice to Economy Energy’s customers in the meantime, about what their next steps should be

What Should You Do Next, If You Are a Economy Energy Customer

Economy Energy , an energy supplier goes bust with about 235,000 domestic customers, has ceased to trade.

8th January 2019NucleusadviceC

Electricity and Gas Suplier goes bust.
Ofgem’s advice to Economy Energy’s customers in the meantime is:

  • Do not switch to another energy supplier.
  • Take a meter reading ready for when your new supplier contacts you.

For more info go to the Ofgem website

Be a smart-Scrooge at Christmas!

The following are some money saving tips for the season

Some tips on avoiding excessive spending and debt this Christmas

By Alan Murdie, LL.B, Barrister, Chairman Nucleus Legal Advice

The run up to Christmas is expensive and some debt advice charities have already started issuing warnings how debt levels are rising; usually the effects start showing up at advice centres in February.

Some people are even dispensing with Christmas entirely on the basis they can’t afford it. But Christmas celebrations should what they should do is actually dispense with the idea that Christmas can only be enjoyed by having to pay out for it and that one’s only role is as a consumer. But who really wants to be Scrooge?  Rather, the thing to be is a Smart Scrooge…

The following are some money saving tips for the season

  • Free food and entertainment – many churches, clubs, charities and organisations are holding seasonal events including carol services, parties, talks and storytelling. Many are free, are designed to be fun and come with refreshments which sometimes act as a bribe to people to come to the less-well attended ones. Or why not volunteer yourself in helping organise such events? Even where a charge is imposed for refreshments there’s usually a surplus at the end, and waste in today’s economic and environmental conditions is wrong.
  • Saving winter fuel –  if you live outside London it’s probably OK to have a real fire if you have a chimney to heat your home as an alternative to turning up the heat. Alternatively, if you’re forbidden from lighting a real fire, go to the nearest library or public building where things are warmer.
  • Food markets at Christmas time – worth travelling to late in the day when lots of perishable items are left over and being sold at reduce prices to ‘clear them up’. Also market traders are often in touch with the harsh realities and may spare you a few extra items if you mention how you’re struggling on universal credit or say how small the pensioner’s Christmas bonus is these days and that Pension Credit doesn’t go far.
Considering how to save Scrooge

  • Making gifts and decorations – A recent expose in the Sunday Mirror described the scandalous position of a single mum on universal credit who was struggling with rent, energy bills and who broke down when she couldn’t afford any decorations or presents for her children, nor much else.Sad and shocking – but don’t despair. Why not make decorations (it’s what millions of households did in the past). It can be done easily with cutting up Christmas cards and coloured paper and can be a fun learning experience for young children. Traditional sprigs of ever-green and the cheapest of candles(handle responsibly) can bring warmth to even the gloomiest dwelling).
  • Similarly with presents – a home-made gift carries a personal, meaningful touch and enables you to practice your craft skills. It is, after all, so often the thought that counts.
  • Plenty of charities are dishing out good cheer and food. If you can’t bring yourself to be a recipient, go and volunteer to dish up to help even those in even dire straits. A couple of years ago one project in Bury St Edmund s had more helpers than recipients, many of the poorest households and homeless persons having been driven out of town by housing benefit and other social security cuts. They often get fed too.
  • Watch out for shops, bars and businesses closing down at Christmas – they often sell off stock or products. (One bar-restaurant in Dorset is reducing its alcohol prices by 75% for customers on its last day of trading to clear up the stock). Places that are closing may be glad to overload other things too such as pieces of furniture.
  • Supermarkets –there will be some reductions in prices (e.g. overstocking on mince pies) but others are being inflated by the addition of some holly and robin decorations on the packaging. Remember to look lower down the shelf for the same or cheaper items. They will taste the same, without the addition of the Christmas-themed packing.
  • The Boxing Day and supermarket sales. Boxing day was traditionally a time for hunting to replenish the medieval larder after feasting. Today the place to raid for bargains is the supermarket with all the unsold smoked salmon, cheese, pies, Stollens and Christmas puddings (pizza – yes, some people munch it even at Christmas time).
  • Cook rather than have takeaways (Fakeaways)– learn a few simple curry recipes, boil your own rice and get a few spices you can save yourself pounds
  • If you can’t manage December 25th, remember the Armenian and Greek and other Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on either 6th or the 7th of January .
  • Traditional foods– many of these are undergoing a resurgence and if you’re anywhere near one or a game and poultry auction can often be picked up at bargain prizes.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tips for saving money over the holidays

Christmas Money Saving Tips

It’s not an understatement when people describe the holidays as the happiest time of the year. The holiday season is all about enjoying the little things; like spending time with family, watching holiday movies, and overall making memories with the people who mean the most to you. Whether you’re attending a gathering, decorating your home or preparing for a festive family photo shoot, the holidays are bound to bring happiness and joy to all. Amidst these activities, a lot of money can be spent if you’re not too careful. The money used for purchasing presents, decorations or those cosy holiday pyjamas can add up faster than you think. But with the right preparation, mindset and these valuable tips, you’ll make it through the holiday season with minimal debt!

Create a Budget

Considering what to get your family and friends is one thing but analyzing the cost behind their requests can be quite intimidating. Everyone loves the thought of giving and receiving presents, so making someone feel special through the effort you put into their gift is essential. At the same time, your bank account could suffer from too many costly items. To ensure you don’t exceed your price limit, create and print a spreadsheet and take it with you on your shopping spree. If you’re a recent graduate or young adult who is pretty limited when it comes to spending due to college debt, consider refinancing to lower a student loan. That way, you’ll drop the price of a pretty heavy payment, and have more money to work with in your budget for gift giving!

Go DIY Instead of ‘Buy’

With DIY trends on the rise, there is no doubt that planning a ‘do it yourself’ present for someone is a great idea to save you some cash. Children and parents love receiving things that are homemade — there is more of an appreciation for your hard work and dedication to finishing a unique project. Search for a fun and creative way to incorporate the holidays into an arts and crafts activity.

Book Travel Ahead of Time

If you are required to travel during the holiday season to visit family, consider booking your flight or another form of transportation far in advance. When you purchase a plane ticket with a distant departure date, airfare is much cheaper, which can save you money for other travelling expenses such as a carry-on bag or a seat upgrade. If you’re not an over spender, consider a travel credit card to gain rewards. In the long run, you’ll save money that can be used for great incentives for future fights! Also, if your job has the benefit of paid time off, request this kind of time so your time away from the office won’t hurt your paycheck.

Invest in a Reusable Tree

Buying a fake tree is a great way to not only save money this year but to do so for years to come. Yes, going to chop down a real tree is a tradition for some, but a fake tree can be kept forever and re-used annually, making it a more economical option than buying a real one every year. If you’re worried about an artificial tree taking away from your holiday cheer, incorporate the scent of pine by lighting a candle, melting wax cubes or spraying a pine-scented air freshener.

Plan a Secret Santa for Your Friends

If spending time with your friends is the main priority throughout the holidays, finding and buying presents for each person individually can cost a lot. To help you all save some cash, suggest a Secret Santa event and determine a price limit. To put on a successful Secret Santa, write each participant’s name on a piece of paper and put them all in a hat or bowl. Whoever you choose, that is the only person you buy for. Through this activity, everyone receives and gives a gift, which makes it extra special!

Use E-cards Instead of Mailable Ones

Many families spread their holiday cheer through creating a holiday card and sending it to other family members and friends in the mail. Unfortunately, these can be quite costly and can take up to a week to complete and send out depending on the size of your mailing list. Manage your time by creating an email greeting card! This kind of service can be free, and if not, there are always coupons or discount codes to use to lower your total cost. If you want to add a little fun, incorporate music and display animation on your card for an interactive touch.

Don’t Spend on Extra Things

We all know that can be difficult to save money during the holiday months. The store shelves are stocked with candy canes, coffee shops have their signature peppermint blend and restaurants have their designated holiday dish to serve. The urge to buy is off the charts! Saving involves a major focus on determining what you really, truly need versus what you want. Instead of impulse buys like purchasing a morning coffee on the go, make coffee at home more often. You’ll be shocked at the amount of money you will save!

Do you have any additional money-saving recommendations? Comment down below with your favourite ways to save during the holiday

Saving on Shopping

Change your shopping habits

Stop making shopping mistakes! Here are six top tips for smart shoppers.

Number 1.
Spontaneity is all very well in action heroes but when it comes to shopping, it’s a big no-no. Plan your meals, make a list and stick to it. Supermarkets are dab hands at tempting you with tasty treats.

Number 2.
Buy in bulk. Dedicate one monthly shop to dried foods, cans and bottles. Keep your eyes peeled for mega-packs, which are usually far cheaper per hundred grams than small packs. This can save you up to 50%.

Number 3.
Offers, offers, offers! The buy-one-get-one-frees may sound like a bargain, but make sure they are actually cheaper than other brands. Beware the ‘end of the aisle’ specials, which may not be great value. The trick with these is to ask yourself one simple question – Do you really need it? Well do you?

Number 4.
Shop around! When it comes to shopping, loyalty can be overrated. You can’t rely on one single shop to sell every type of product at the best value. For your fresh weekly shop try markets, butchers and local shops, which can offer great value.

Number 5.
Throw shop etiquette to the wind and bring along a calculator. Or, use the one on your phone. Without a calculator labels can be confusing, making it nigh-on impossible to compare price per hundred grams. Premium brands of tea can be twenty times as expensive as cheap ones. So this tip can save you 95%.

Number 6.
This may sound unexpected, but don’t always buy the cheapest product. Some things cost more for good reason. Buy sausages and burgers with plenty of meat rather than fat, gristle and who-knowswhat. They’re probably better for you, cost just a little more and you don’t have to eat five of them to feel full.

This is a useful site to help you


Halloween Money Saving Tips

Halloween Money Saving Tips

Halloween is just around the corner. Many children are beginning to get excited about their favorite holiday. They are already talking about what they want to be this year – and the candy!







To help here’s 10 money saving tips for Halloween.

Table of Contents

1. Shop early!
2. Shop online
3. Get creative!
4. Buy ONE great accessory
5. Costume swap
6. Check out discount stores
7. Avoid a bestselling Disney character
8. Keep your costumes!
9. Buy candy in bulk.
10. Check out the dollar store.
11. Wait to buy your pumpkin.
Related Posts

1. Shop early!

As we get later into October, the price of Halloween costumes goes up as demand increases. My sister recently just purchased two Halloween costumes for her children at Costco. They each cost around £18 for a two to three-piece costume set.

2. Shop online

Check out amazon for Halloween costumes. Normal Halloween stores will charge you well over retail prices. Google the Halloween costume your child has their heart set on and see where you can purchase it cheapest.

There are all types of online costume retailers now. Check out Ebay! Search very specifically such as a Pottery Barn baby elephant costume. You could end up with an expensive costume for half the price!

3. Get creative!

Do you have a talent in sewing, can you reuse another child’s costume? If you have a talent at sewing check out Pinterest. There are a ton of sewing patterns and ideas on there for those who are crafty!

These crafty costumes can range from easy to hard to create. Get your kid involved in the crafting and help them design their own costume! This is a sure fire way to save some bucks.

Check out Pinterest for Halloween costume ideas!

4. Buy ONE great accessory

Sometimes all you need is one amazing hat to pull off a costume (eg: “Mad Hatter”) or maybe you already have pompoms and your daughter wants to be a cheerleader.

Look for that one amazing accessory piece to make the costume instead of buying one generic costume.

5. Costume swap

Swap costumes with friends, neighbors and family. This is an excellent way to recycle and reuse last year’s costumes.

Bring out your old costumes and invite friends and neighbors over for swap. Let the kids try on the costumes and choose one they like best. Everyone will come out a winner! Check out tips here.

6. Check out discount stores

Go to 2nd hand shops, TK Maxx. A lot of times these places carry fantastic pieces that will make up a great costume. Shop early, as others will be on the lookout come early October. Note the stores discount days.

7. Avoid a bestselling Disney characterhalloween costume

If you can encourage your child to choose a costume that is not this year’s “Pop Culture” character, you’ll definitely save a few bucks.

Suggest their favorite children’s book character, animal, or superhero. The pop culture costumes tend to be costly and hard to find

8. Keep your costumes!

Each year make sure to clean your child’s costume and either store or put in a dress up bin box. Next year your younger child may be interested in wearing it.

9. Buy candy in bulk.

The best way to save money on candy for Halloween is to buy the candy in large amounts. Purchase candy at your supermarketstore or at a discount big box store. Buy it early.

If you really want to save, buy the generic brand of candy or consider giving out other items such as small canisters of play-doh.

10. Check out the Pound Shop.

Kids really get excited about decorating for Halloween. They love monsters, ghosts, witches and anything that feels slightly scary!

For the best deal on decorations check out your local Pound store. They carry things like fake spider webs, skeleton bones, and black birds. You can also find trick or treat bags, and wreaths.

10 Money Saving Hacks

10 Money Saving Hacks

1 Set a limit on spending. You have to be rich to make a really grand anti-materialist gesture à la Nigella (Lawson). One year, she told her children that they could only keep one present: the rest were going to a local children’s hospital. An alternative is to declare a budget. I’ve warned my five children that there’s a £50 ceiling for their main present, though Santa may shove some bits and pieces into their stocking. So far they have taken the disappointment well: the budget is sufficient to get a Sainsbury’s cashmere cardigan (£35) or a Zara Basics belted jacket (£49.99). For discounted toys try www.thetoyshop.com, whose star buys section has an electric guitar reduced from £69.99 to £19.99, Baby Born dolls at £17.50, and Playmobil Pirate ships (£19.99). Under-a-tenner ideas include the following: www.cartoonme.com turns photos of your nearest and dearest into hand-drawn cartoons for £3; a Glana four-photo frame from Ikea is £9.99; cushions from TK Maxx cost £9.99; a four-pack of tulip wine glasses at M&S are currently reduced by 30 per cent, to £9.50.

2 Make your own presents. Christmas mornings this year will resound with cries of “Oh, how lovely”, as people swap apple chutney. My sister has already been hard at work with her copy of Pam Corbin’s Preserves (Bloomsbury, £12.99), making raspberry vinegar, pickled shallots and quince-paste membrillo. I’ll go for preserved lemons: easy, cheap and a nice colour on the shelf; I’ve already stocked up on cheap Kilner jars; www.waresofknutsford.co.uk and www.jbconline.co.uk sell them.

3 Let’s keep bookshops in business. If you want to buy someone a book, the answer is not always Amazon. Find the best price for it on www.find-book.co.uk. WH Smith is selling Jamie’s Ministry of Food for £10, while the Guinness Book of World Records is £9 at Asda.

4 Choose useful presents, but don’t go too far. My sister’s godmother once gave her loo rolls. Oxfam shops are stocking some relatively fun ideas that can’t be deemed useless luxuries, including a Hippo Water Saver for £1.99. Placed in your cistern, it will save roughly a third of the water flushed down the loo; if the recipient looks unconvinced when they unwrap it, tell them it’s an item much-loved by Cate Blanchett. The charity also sells notebooks with recycled bright plastic covers bearing a description of what they used to be – cup, box or bag – at just £2.49 a pop. They also have an ingenious wind-up torch (£19.99) which will never need new batteries – an ideal gift for credit-crunched dads.

5 When it comes to lunch, plan ahead. I wish I had. I’ve missed the boat for raising my own turkey in a plastic coop in the back garden: June or July is the time to install a pullet to give it time to fatten up. Having to kill, draw, hang and pluck the bird would be a downside, but if the financial belt has to be tightened still further, it may appeal next year.

6 Serving Christmas pudding to my children has always been a waste of money; this year I’m copying the chocolate version from Nigella’s Christmas (Chatto & Windus, £25) – essentially it’s a normal cake recipe, except that it’s made in a bowl, steamed for an hour and a half, and served draped with chocolate sauce. That will stop the children hiding the heavy fruit version under their spoons once they’ve got the sixpences (5p bits) out. It is also comparatively cheap to make.

7 Waste nothing. When Sheherazade Goldsmith inadvertently boils the family jumpers, the wife of zillionaire Zac cuts the resulting felt into a cross shape and sews it into pencil holders. Another of the ideas from her Christmas Book (Dorling Kindersley, £16.99) is to pot up cuttings of your best plants. (B&Q sells 23cm terracotta pots for £1.) She decorates labels with glued-on seeds and leaves. Delia’s good at scrimping, too. In Frugal Food (Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99), she recommends using dry cider in place of wine to make coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon – everyone needs a break from turkey – and claims they have turned out “beautifully”. Alternatively, I freeze the dregs in wine bottles for cooking with another time.

8 Go on a booze cruise. Twice a year I head to Calais to stock up as duty on wine in France is 0.02p per bottle, as opposed to £1.46 in the UK. Majestic were the first to offer free Seafrance car ferry trips to customers – alternatively, they give cash back. See www.majesticinfrance.co.uk for details. Oddbins and Sainsbury’s offer similar deals. I went with a girlfriend; between us we spent just over £800 and got £96 back, which paid for the crossing and lunch at Le Channel near the port (four courses €21.50; 0033 32 13 44 230). Majestic’s best cheap blended plonk is Cuvée Richard (white and red) at £1.69. Five years ago, they mostly stocked beer and Liebfraumilch; the range now is much the same as in UK stores.

9 While in Calais, go to a hypermarket. There’s a choice: Auchan and Carrefour, as well as Sainsbury’s. Even with the dire euro exchange rate, there are some good buys: check online at www.auchancalais.com and www.carrefour-calais.com. I load up with cheeses, pâtés, olive oil, apricot jam, tomato concentrate, mustard, vinegar, coffee, madeleines, powdered hazelnuts (good for meringues), lardons, jambon cru fumé, circles of ready-rolled pastry (why can’t you buy them here?), oysters, fresh yeast and tins of Bonduelle peas. Recent best-buys were a giant (32cm) Le Creuset-style cast iron casserole for €55.45, a salmon-sized (60cm) fish kettle for €29.95, and six one-litre preserving jars for €10.92. NB: diesel is still cheaper in France but unleaded isn’t – and I wished I’d bought petrol before going to the supermarket because the Auchan pump gave me a €5-off voucher.

10 Talking of money-off vouchers, dedicated discount hunters can chase up the best deals by going to www.myvouchercodes.co.uk. Yesterday, they were showing 15 per cent off first orders over £25 from Littlewoods and 20 per cent off clothes from Asos.

11 Raid your garden. I was given a magnificent home-grown lettuce by a friend for my birthday recently – and couldn’t have been more thrilled. Complete with roots and wrapped in cellophane (see tip 19), it doubled as a table decoration until I had finished nibbling it.

12 The best gifts can be free. Famously thrifty pensioner Gay Cossins once asked each of her children for “just one hour of your time”. Each of them agreed to do a job for her , such as clearing out her food cupboard and helping her sort her wardrobe. A pledge to clean someone’s car would be similar gift. Get tickets for a favourite BBC show from www.bbc.co.uk/tickets (sadly, under-18s can’t go to Top Gear); ask for free samples when buying something from a cosmetics counter (they make great stocking fillers); or give away some of your treasures. I was thrilled when my sister gave me a dress she no longer wears.

13 Give presents that will provide hours of pleasure… How about “three-for-two” paperbacks this year? A more extravagant option that should ensure warm feelings all year is a subscription to a favourite magazine; cheap deals are available from www.discountpublications.co.uk (eg, National Geographic for a year for £29) or www.qualitymagazines.co.uk (eg, Harpers Bazaar for £24.99). A bottle of perfume lasts for ages, and you can get it cheap from www.fragrancedirect.co.uk or halfpriceperfumes.co.uk . Find discount make-up at www.feelunique.com.

14… or gifts that support a good cause. Chit Chat is a double CD of interviews conducted for a talking newspaper for the blind, with old favourites (living and dead) including Peter Ustinov, Yehudi Menuhin and Spike Milligan. All proceeds go to Fight for Sight Eye Research (£10 inc p&p from Wienerworld, 020 8206 1177, www.wienerworld.com ).

15 Make your own tree decorations. With a bit of effort and know-how, you can dress a tree on the cheap. Among the ideas on www.save-money-guide.com is one for wrapping up chocolate biscuits and sweets in silver foil and hanging them from the tree; it works best if there are no dogs in the house. Children can make little hard iced biscuits that make good tree decorations if dotted with silver baubles. If you’re not draping it in lights, make paper chains with pages torn from glossy magazines. Oranges look good, too, when turned into pomanders: stick cloves into the skin, and suspend them with ribbon. Make hearts by bending gardening wire and wrapping ribbon round it. Stars can be made by bending twigs into two triangles and tying them together. Make your own angels using sheepswool stuffing from craft suppliers myriadonline.co.uk

16 Don’t forget the jokes. The most memorable presents are often the cheap, silly ones like Smiffy’s extendable fork for pinching food from others’ plates (£4.50 from many joke shops, including www.the-joke-shop.com). Hawkin’s Bazaar (www.hawkin.com, 0844 5734000) has Gelli Baff (£4.99) which turns bath water into coloured goo (and then back into bath water). Another cheap bath joy is a glowing LED “glow in the duck” (£4.79) from crazyaboutgadgets.com; they also sell reindeer mugs with noses that light-up when you put a hot drink in them (£5.59).

17 Share the cost of Christmas by gathering as many members of the family together as you can. Each person can provide one element – the turkey, booze, puddings, etc. You could also set up a Secret Santa scheme. Each person buys a gift for one other person, chosen by ballot, spending to an agreed limit. Alternatively, make opening cheap treats more fun by putting them, wrapped, into a festively-decorated dustbin filled with shredded newspaper and turning present-giving into a Lucky Dip.

18 Christmas cards are a major expense. Send free ones online via ecards.co.uk. Or take a child’s drawing along to a Prontaprint: at my local branch, 100 cards with envelopes costs £62.71 inc VAT. More expensive but memorable: print your own photo with personalised message, £6 for 4 from Moonpig.com. Or make your own using coloured card (100 A5 sheets: £3.79 from www.viking-direct.co.uk) and potato cuts. (NB December 18th is the last day for second class postage.) I’ve never made an online calendar but I’m impressed when I receive one. Vistaprint.co.uk is selling wall calendars half price (from £4.99). The cheapest delivery option is 21 days: £3.08 for one calendar, £3.78 for 10. Or make a calendar of your favourite recipes, £10 plus p&p from www.mydish.co.uk.

19 Wrapping is another money guzzler but there are alternatives to expensive sheets and ridiculously short rolls. Use up left-over bits of wallpaper – not only is it decorative, it doesn’t rip when children inspect what’s under the tree. Alternatively, you can get a 300m roll of brown paper from www.rajapack.co.uk for £19.59. I go to my local wholesale flower market for big florists’ packs of tissue paper but you can get 240 sheets for £6.99 from floristsuppliesuk.com. From the same source you can get 250 yards of thin curling ribbon for £0.75, and various kinds of fancy cellophane (from £10.56 for 120m). Add a touch of gold: a can of spray paint (£4.99 from www.londongraphics.co.uk) will jazz up everything from twigs and pine cones to walnuts and apples.

20 I’m hopeless at decorating but Liz Bauwens – whose book Thrifty Chic comes out in March – has some good ideas. She makes door wreaths by cutting supple twigs from the garden – willow is bendiest – and binding them at regular intervals with wire. Disguise the wire with ribbon or raffia. Cheap baubles from a pound shop will add sparkle. She makes her own bigger baubles by winding coloured ribbon (see tip 19) around plain polystyrene baubles (10 x 50mm balls for £2.49 from www.craftsuperstore.co.uk). She secures the end with a coloured drawing pin and hangs them in groups.

21 Holly is always expensive and hard to find but Posy Gentles, interiors expert and cash-strapped mother of four, finds good substitutes in local hedgerows. Rose hips are abundant, as are hawthorn berries. She also uses old man’s beard, a variety of wild clematis, to drape as fake snow from her tree. Make a few showy flowers go further by floating them in a dish as a centrepiece, as Sarah Raven suggests in her Complete Christmas (Bloomsbury, £25). Grapes dipped in egg white and sugar make a glistening centrepiece.

22 Cheap lights work out expensive: once one bulb goes the whole lot is useless. This year I’ve invested £69.99 in 10m (100 bulbs) of heavy-duty LED lights that won’t give up on me and are cheap to run (0845 370 0333, www.xmasdirect.co.uk). Make your home twinkle with 8-hour nightlights (£6.16 for 100 from www.klaremont.com).

23 What to wear? My children have rumbled that the label “Atmosphere” means clothes have come from Primark, so I can no longer expect whoops of delight and they are suspicious if I cut out the labels. However, Ugg boots are cheaper this year than they have been for 10 years because the Australian dollar is low (AUS$2.3 to £1). A short pair is £40, plus £10 p&p, from uggbootsrus.com. Also, www.shopzilla.co.uk lists clothes for under £20. And there’s always www.asos.com for cheap versions of designer items. If in doubt wear red. It’s cheering, no more expensive than dreary black and Michelle Obama has given it the seal of approval by wearing it when she was shown around the White House. Research shows that men are more generous to women who wear red. When life gets gloomy I pull on some red suede Footgloves from M&S (£39.50).

24 Relax cheaply. Doing a jigsaw is a great way to unwind. I immerse myself in a 1,000-piece puzzle every Christmas. This year, I’ve ordered a Mona Lisa from editionsricordi.com for €15.99 . The Jigsaw Gallery (01420 525515, www.jigsawgallery.com) also has a huge selection. Or you can make a jigsaw from a photograph through www.fabulousphotogifts.co.uk. Or play a board game. The new Cleudo (£14.99) is a hit in my house. “Colonel Mustard with the lead piping in the library” has given way to “ageing football star Jack Mustard with a baseball bat in the home cinema”, but it’s just as much fun. If that palls, watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I found it for £11.98 (£6 off the RRP) at Amazon.

25 If you want to get out, head for the nearest wind/rain-swept hill or beach. Or find a half-price restaurant meal deal from toptable.co.uk. If you must escape abroad, check out www.traveljungle.co.uk.