Your three-month Christmas budget planner
There are 90 shopping days left until Christmas. Last year, the average household planned to spend around £850 on gifts and the festivities, according to YouGov research. Of that sum, almost £600 was expected to go on gifts, £180 on food and plonk and the rest on cards, trees and decorations.
With inflation currently running at 1.6% at the time of writing, improving economic growth forecasts and an inkling that lots of us try to better the previous year's festivities, it's pretty safe to assume the average spend this year will creep up - so let's call it £900.
That means organised households keen to spread the cost could be looking at coughing up around £300 a month between now and the big day.
So here are some tips for spreading that cost. But first a warning - breaking the back of it in October is the key!
* To get off to a good start, you need to do two things. The first is to make sure you're living within your means. Check your bank and credit card statements and look for things you can cut out or cut back on and then check whether you could be getting a better deal on all the things you do have to spend money on.
For instance, if you've already come to the end of your fixed-term mobile phone contract that came with a free handset, chances are you're still paying for the phone you already own outright. If you don't want or need a new handset, switching to a SIM-only deal could cut your bill substantially.
* The second thing is to work out how much Christmas 2014 will cost. Talk to your kids, grandkids and the rest of your loved ones to find out what they would like and assess the potential damage.
Doing so will help you avoid impulse purchases, which "can be the biggest blow to your Christmas budget, so avoid them at all costs", says Nick Swan, chief executive of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk. Then log on to any of the supermarket online delivery service to get an idea of food and drink prices.
* Once you know what your likely spend will be, you can decide how best to pay for it all. If your current account isn't sufficiently in the black to cope with the cost over the coming three months, the cheapest alternative is most likely a 0% purchase credit card. You'll be able to spread the cost without paying an extra penny for the privilege - assuming you repay in full by the end of the set time period and retailers don't charge you extra for paying by credit card.
If you haven't already got one, or your existing card has come to the end of its interest-free promotion, now's the time to apply for a new one as the process generally takes a few weeks.
The Halifax Purchase Credit Card currently has the longest 0% purchase offer available at Moneywise.co.uk/compare. You can spread your purchases over 20 months, before an APR of 18.9% kicks in. The Tesco Clubcard is just behind at 19 months interest-free and an 18.9% APR thereafter. And if you buy your groceries at Tesco, you'll earn points you can redeem in store every time you spend on the card.
It's also a good time to book trains for travel over the Christmas period this month as advanced fares go on sale. For example, Virgin Trains releases its advance tickets for standard and first class up to three months before. "But be quick, the cheapest train tickets sell out fast," it warns on its website - so if you get cracking early this month, you should still be able to snap up a good deal for your journey.
* Shop around. It's time to start swotting up on prices by finding where to get the best deals. For TVs, games consoles, cameras and other high-tech gadgets, pricerunner.co.uk's not a bad place to start your comparison, but if you're buying clothes, pricehunter.co.uk does a similar job. The salesgossip.co.uk site and app also rounds up online promotions.
Price promotions start coming thick and fast this month - and really heat up from around 28 November when Black Friday falls (the bargain day that follows the US celebration of Thanksgiving on both sides of the Atlantic – although the UK also experiences something called Manic Monday or Cyber Monday at the same time of year). You'll also give yourself plenty of time for delivery for items bought online.
Once you're armed with where to find the best prices, it's time to shop. And don't forget, if you're shopping online and spending £100 or more, if you pay by credit card your purchases are protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit, should anything go wrong.
November's also a good time to start stocking up the freezer and the wine rack. So much Christmas food can be bought – not to mention cooked – in advance and frozen. Stocking up early will not only help you stagger the shop but it'll save you the last-minute stress when the pigs in blankets have sold out! Moreover, with Morrisons Christmas saver cards, if you do six £40 shops you'll get a £25 voucher.
* Review what you've spent so far and how much of your list there is left to buy. The beauty of the plan you made back in October means you should know exactly what you can comfortably afford to spend and stave off unnecessary panic buying. You never know, if you've stuck to your plan and picked up some bargains in the process, you might have a bit more to play with than you thought.
And don't forget, if you need to buy presents for people you won't see until a few days after Christmas, you could always wait until the start of the sales on Boxing Day to find them a bargain gift.
Cracking Christmas extras for free
Money-saving maestro Jordon Cox is the teen founder of Couponshop.co.uk. He's been hunting for clever Christmas presents you can get for free."I have a few young family members and nothing lights up their faces more than a personalised message from Father Christmas," he says."There are two services that offer just that without you having to pay a penny.
"Royal Mail has a free mailback service, which sends your child back a personalised letter after they have written to Father Christmas.The letters do need to be sent to an exact address, which is: Santa/Father Christmas, Santa's Grotto, Reindeerland, XM4 5HQ." And they need to arrive by Friday 6 December.
"The second is Portable North Pole, which sends you a personalised video with information about your child – and their picture – that only ‘magic' (and a parent) could know about.You'll be able to sign up at portablenorthpole.com in the run-up to Christmas, although the launch date is yet to be announced. Last year's service started on 1 December.
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).
An account opened with a clearing bank (few building societies offer current accounts) that provides the ability to draw cash (usually via a debit card) or cheques from the account. Some pay fairly minimal rates of interest if the account is in credit. Most current accounts insist your monthly income (salary or pension) is paid directly in each month and they offer a number of optional services – such as overdrafts and charge cards – which are negotiable but will incur fees.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.
This is used to compare interest rates for borrowing. It is the total (or “gross”) interest you’ll pay over the life of a loan, including charges and fees. For credit cards where interest is charged at more frequent intervals, the APR includes a “compounding” effect (paying interest on interest). So for a credit card charging 2% interest a month (equating to 24% a year), the APR would actually be 26.82%.