herald

Wednesday 17 September 2014

10 tips to avoid Christmas debt

CHRISTMAS is fast approaching and shopping has begun in earnest for gifts, food, drinks, and some new glad rags. Economist Susan Hayes (25) gives us her top 10 tips for avoiding debt this Christmas -- so you don't wake up on New Year's Day with a raging credit-card hangover.

1 Around Christmas we buy things in haste or at the last minute, and very often we have to pay a premium for it. The premium might take the form of an item that has run out, forcing you to buy a more expensive alternative, or you could pay overnight shipping to make sure the present you ordered online will be under the tree in time. This is as a result of having failed to make clear decisions early on. List all foreseeable expenses, and who will receive a present from you. How many people will you entertain? See what you can do to reduce the cost of each of those things and then stick to your plan -- starting early will make it that much easier too.

2You won't be meeting some people until after Christmas and you might be able to find very nice gifts for them in the sales. In fact, if you have some wiggle room with your budget, consider buying some nice things at a discount for next Christmas.

3Give your time rather than an actual present. You might be looking for a meaningful present for your sister, but your mind draws a blank because it seems she already has everything. But what your sister would really, really appreciate might be a 'voucher' for a weekend of babysitting -- offer to come and collect the children while she and her husband finally get some time together for a romantic weekend.

4Don't get stuck in rounds around Christmas, it's very costly to subsidise other people's hangovers. After all, rounds might feel convivial, but you're always sick on your own ... All you need to do is open the evening with, "I'm going to stick to my own pace tonight" and then stand firm against cries of, "Ah but sure it's Christmas! You only live once!" -- your pocket will be very appreciative!

5Use a cookbook, a website, a free smartphone app or ask around for ideas to come up with recipes that will allow you to use Christmas leftovers. Often, we buy far too much food at Christmas. Take advantage of more free time during the holiday to leisurely cook up a feast and freeze batches, so that a third of your food doesn't end up in the bin.

6Have people over instead of going for dinner or drinks. Why not have a warm and cosy potluck dinner with friends instead of going out? Everybody gets to receive compliments on their signature recipe and to enjoy time together to catch up in a more relaxed way than if you were meeting at a restaurant.

7Do you need new clothes just for the Christmas Eve family dinner or for an office party? See if what you already have in your closet could be jazzed up with accessories, jewellery or a nice scarf. Alternatively bring what may not fit your size or style any more to a swap shop or clothes exchange to give yourself a new festive look without the cost.

8Cutting costs can go a long way towards a debt-free Christmas, but how about earning some seasonal money? If you have time on your hands, consider offering a paid service where you do other people's shopping for them, saving them a lot of time and stress as you might be able to shop during the day and avoid rush times? You might also sell your cooking or baking ability, your own Christmas hampers or handcrafted Christmas cards.

9A very sobering realisation might be to calculate how much your Christmas debt is going to cost you and how long it will take you to pay it back. A lot of debt around Christmas is caused because one can get caught up in the spirit of consumption. If you realise that an indulgent purchase is going to cost you 10pc in credit card interest above the price that's written on the tag and consequently you will be paying it until St Patrick's Day, you might decide that it's not really worth that much to you after all.

10Christmas is a reflective time, when we think back to the year that has lapsed and consider the year that is to come. Take the opportunity to do a complete financial review. How much money do you have exactly? How much money do you owe? How much are you spending and saving every month? You could leisurely go through that crumpled ball of bank statements with a glass of wine and some mince pies, and establish a few financial goals for the New Year -- how about paying off a debt? Saving up for a wonderful holiday? Bask in the warm glow of that Christmas feeling to dream and create an action plan to manifest a better financial future for yourself.

Susan's new book, The Savvy Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom, will be published on January 3 and offers advice on financial wellbeing, with step-by-step action plans -- plus the exact script Susan uses to talk to her bank manager with confidence!

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