Getting paid early is all well and good, until you hit that third week of January and start avoiding your bank balance. Here are the best ways to save money during the festive period and to make that December payday stretch a little further
Does the prospect of post-Christmas debt cause you serious stress? Often the happiest but also the most expensive time of the year, any good spending habits cultivated throughout the year often go out of the window once party season begins. Is there a way to have as much fun as possible during the festive period without risking financial ruin? If you’d asked us a week ago, we would have said, probably not; but that was until we spoke to Eleanor Lawrie of This is Money , who managed to convince us otherwise.
Here are Eleanor’s top money saving tips for making your December pay stretch until the New Year and for making the most of the holidays, without going bust.
GTG: A lot of people get paid earlier in December to allow for a little extra cash over Christmas and New Year. What would be your top tips in terms of how to budget?
EL: Christmas is a brilliant time of year, but there’s no need to lie awake worrying about how you can afford it - or getting into debt that you will spend the next six months paying off. It sounds boring, but doing a bit of forward planning means you should be able to have fun throughout Christmas and New Year, and not be too miserable when January comes around.
The trick is not to bury your head in the sand - sign up for online and mobile banking so you can keep track of what you’re spending. You can even arrange for your bank to send you texts to tell you if you’re getting close to your overdraft, so you know if you need to rein it in.
Unfortunately you still have to pay your rent and bills at Christmas, so if you can, put that money to one side as soon as you get paid (maybe even arrange a direct debit into a separate account that you won’t touch!)
For other big expenditures like train tickets, try to book in advance as soon as you know what day you want to travel - you can often buy advance tickets much cheaper on sites like www.thetrainline.com - plus you are guaranteed a seat in the rush to get home for Christmas!
Budgeting like this means that hopefully you will have some treat money left over if you do spot a new dress or fancy a day out with friends. But be kind to your future self by staggering your spending and keeping money aside for the essentials.
GTG: What are your top ways to make your pay check stretch that little bit further over the festive period?
EL: Special offers are your best friend over party season - if you are going out for dinner or drinks, check for 2-for-1 or discount vouchers beforehand at sites like Vouchercloud .
Look for promotional offers at bars and restaurants that have just opened, or try to meet straight after work to take advantage of Happy Hour deals.
If you are short on time and desperate to get your hair cut before a party, try ringing up your hairdresser for a standby appointment - you can often get a last minute slot at the likes of Rush if you are able to go in the same day, at about half the price of a standard cut. And if you can’t bear your roots any longer, look out for hairdressers’ colouring deals, which are often at odd times of the week like Mondays and Tuesdays.
Before you go and hit the shops for a new dress pre-party, have a quick look through your wardrobe and see what you already have. It’s so simple but it means you won’t end up splashing out on what is actually a very similar outfit, and it will (possibly) stop you from buying a dress that won’t go with a single pair of shoes that you own.
If you haven’t signed up for in-store loyalty cards, now is the time to start. Many retailers let you save up your loyalty points throughout the year and give them all to you at Christmas - which really takes the edge of those big spends. Some also let you trade up, for example Tesco runs promotions where you can convert your Clubcard points into vouchers for other companies, such as Pizza Express and Spafinder Wellness.
GTG: What would be your advice for staying fit, healthy and happy 'on a shoestring' during this time?
EL: Parties, drinks, dinners - the whirlwind of Christmas socialising is fun but it can take a toll on both your health, and your purse. To help with both of those, try not to drink every day - have at least two days off in the week.
And instead of meeting a friend for dinner or a drink, why not try a fitness class, or go for a run? Parkrun UK is a fantastic movement in force across the country at 9am. It’s staffed by volunteers, and is completely free. Don’t worry if you’re not a fanatical runner - they aren’t organised as a race. The idea is to have fun and get healthy, and maybe meet some new people at the same time.
You may not think it if you buy lunch at Prêt-A-Manger or Leon, but fruit and vegetables are cheap if you buy them in their basic form. Make sure you get your 5-a-day by taking pieces of fruit into work for a cheap and healthy snack. And why not bring lunch into work? If you are spending £4 at Prêt every day, that adds up to £20 per week, while making your own soup or sandwich is usually much healthier and will cost you a fraction of that.
Hosting Christmas parties is fun but can seriously derail your budget. To stop that from happening, get everyone to bring a dish (or a bottle) to spread out the cost. Or if you insist on doing the catering yourself, shop online and get a discount deal from one of the big supermarkets. Tesco , Sainsbury’s and Ocado all give first time online shoppers money off if they spend over a certain amount - usually about a £12 discount if they spend £60. Plus, looking online means you can search for the best deals, and spot cheaper products not offered by the small convenience stores you may usually shop at.
GTG: When it comes to presents, what are your top money-saving tips?
EL: Making your own gifts has never been so on trend thanks to shows like Great British Bake Off and Kirstie’s Homemade Home. Not only are homemade presents a fraction of the cost of shop-bought gifts, they are also often more appreciated because of the thought that went in to them - they are unique, after all.
So if you’ve got a long list of people to buy for, but not much cash, embrace your creative side. Buy some cute jars and fill them with homemade cookies, or make some Christmas decorations to give away to friends and family.
And if you’re not creatively-minded, you could always put homemade IOU vouchers in Christmas cards, with offers of babysitting or a home-cooked dinner.
Come clean to your friends - if you find yourself broke come December, they are probably in the same boat. Instead of going into your overdraft to buy each other presents, why don’t you organise a Secret Santa instead, where every person just buys one present for someone else in your friendship group? Set the limit at £10 or £15 and think creatively about what you can buy within that budget.
Since the recession, high street retailers have tended to discount more heavily pre-Christmas day itself. If you can bear to wait, save buying presents for the last 10 days before Christmas when you should be able to snap up some bargains in a few of the low-key early sales. This might not work if you have your eye on something specific though!
Another well-kept secret is cashback websites, which can get you a small but significant proportion of money back for shopping at thousands of retailers. All you have to do is sign up (for free) and make sure you access the retailer’s site through the cashback website first. The big cashback websites such as Quidco and www.topcashback.co.uk have millions of members each and you could get as much as 8 per cent off each purchase paid back to you, which will seriously help your money go further.