Martin Lewis: Christmas is just 70 working days away so start saving now
Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis talks you through how to get your finances ready for Christmas.
Ho, ho, oh no. Christmas is coming.
Sorry for raising the spectre of the C-word this early.
I growl at jingle bells in October as much as the next Scrooge. Yet this isn’t about early celebration, it’s about preparation.
Every January people tell me they’re skint yet Christmas is on December 25 every year, it’s not an unexpected expenditure, so planning matters.
And for those who’ll be celebrating Eid or Chanukah this winter, don’t worry, the same tips apply.
• Agree now with friends to ban unnecessary presents. Many feel pressured to buy gifts for an extended list of friends, family and colleagues.
This tit-for-tat giving means we end up with tat.
Even the joy of giving can be selfish as it obligates someone to buy back for you – and they might not be able to afford to.
The best gift can be releasing someone from the obligation of buying you something.
Make a no unnecessary present pact, or at least cap the cost with a Secret Santa.
• Make £150 in time for Christmas by switching bank accounts.
One big festive help is extra cash. Perhaps the easiest way to get that is to switch bank accounts to one willing to pay you for your custom.
As it can take up to 60 days to get the cash, do it now to have it in time for any necessary pre-Christmas spending.
The biggest bonus is HSBC Advance account which pays new switchers £150, plus a further £50 after a year. You need to pay in £1,750/month (earn over £26,100 and it just means have your salary paid in there).
Alternatively First Direct has won every customer service poll I’ve ever done and gives switchers £100. Marks and Spencer gives a £125 gift card and adds £5/month to it for a year. And both require a smaller monthly pay in of £1,000/month.
• Not saved for it? Do it now - then you can split the cost by four.
The surveys say a typical family spends around £800 at Christmas. For most that’s totally unsustainable from one month’s income.
So if you haven’t started saving yet, there’s still time. For example, put £200 aside from your September, October and November income, and spread the cost.
• Small sacrifices now can make big savings. There are some magic numbers you need to know now 93, 70 and 14.
That’s the number of days, working days and weeks left. And small sacrifices now can add up.
For example if you give up a £2 coffee every work day, you’ll save £140.
• Train-ing home for Christmas? Get ready to book. Train tickets are usually released 12 weeks before travel, and that means it’s the best time to ensure you get hold of cheap advance tickets.
So if you know when you want to go we’re nearly at the booking point for Christmas and New Year.
• Don’t plan the perfect Christmas.
That’s a dangerous mind set. Instead, first work out your budget and let your financial situation rule. Then ask yourself: “What’s the best Christmas I can have on the money I’ve got?” Remember it is just one day. Far better to have a slightly less expensive Christmas than a financially frantic New Year.
• Free £100 Amazon/M&S/Boots voucher in time for Christmas.
Accepted new American Express Rewards Gold charge card customers get 20,000 bonus points for spending £2,000+ on it in the first three months. These can then be swapped for a £100 Amazon, M&S or Boots gift card, or airline points.
Just put all your normal spending on it and as long as that’s over £700+/month you’ll qualify.
But watch out, there’s a £140 annual fee after the first year, so if you don’t want to keep it, make sure you diarise to cancel it.
• Walk around the house looking for anything unused since last Christmas.
Shops don’t just value the cash in their till, they value their stock too. And this is a great time for your annual personal stock check. If you have unused items, why not flog them for cash – whether toys, prams, old coffee makers, mobile phones, gadgets, or even clothes.
Martin Lewis is the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com.