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.
- 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!