The 12 cons of Christmas: Part three
When those Christmas bells begin to chime, wallets are loosened and the nation goes shopping crazy. Research by ING has found that we will spend £350 each on gifts alone.
But, unfortunately, all our Christmas cheer is meat and drink to rip-off merchants and fraudsters only too willing to exploit our goodwill. This third installment of our four-part guide will help you avoid the cons and make sure your Christmas spirit lasts through to the New Year.
7. NOT SO CHARITABLE CHRISTMAS CARDS
If you tried to sell a meat pie that contained less than 2% meat, Trading Standards would come down on you like a tonne of bricks, but the same laws don’t apply to charity Christmas cards. Retailers can label cards as charity cards even when only a measly 2% of the price goes to good causes.
For 12 years, the Charities Advisory Trust ran its annual Scrooge Award to name and shame the retailers donating the least. The last winner was Asda in 2013, in response to only 6.6%, or 20p, per each £3 pack of five cards going to the two charities supported - Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Campaign. The awards have now come to an end as most retailers now donate at least 25% of the sale price.
A better, and often cheaper, option is to buy your Christmas cards direct from charity shops or catalogues. Or if you want a broad range of card choices you could look for CardAid outlets (or buy them online at cardaid.co.uk), where a range of different charities’ cards are on sale and at least 40% of the price goes to charity. Or better still find your local pop-up Cards for Good Causes store (cardsforcharity.co.uk) - it’s the same as CardAid, except at least 75% of the card price goes to charity.
The store also sells charitable advent calendars, decorations and wrapping paper so you can get all your Christmas stationery in one place.
8. WATCH OUT FOR MODERN DAY SCROOGES
Scrooge may have hated Christmas, but modern money-lenders love it as so many of us fall into debt over the festive period. Here are a few money no-nos to avoid in the run up to Christmas. Payday loan companies make a song and dance about how quickly you can get your hands on a few hundred quid. Money can be in your account 15 minutes after making your online application.
But these loans are hugely expensive. APRs up until recently exceeded 5,000%. The regulator has now stepped in to make sure fees and interest never account for more than 100% of the original loan yet this still means a borrower could still repay twice what they originally borrowed.
Don’t use your credit card to get cash out from a cash machine. You’ll start paying interest immediately on the withdrawal, at your card’s standard rate. Always use your debit card, or ask your bank for an agreed overdraft or to extend the limit on your existing one.
If you go beyond your overdraft limit your bank manager will start rubbing his hands with glee. Unauthorised overdraft charges can be eyewatering. Some banks charge penalties each time you make a withdrawal, on top of double-digit interest on the amount borrowed.
Try to stick to a budget during the festive period, and if you do need to borrow some money do so sensibly with a 0% interest credit card or by dipping into a low-cost overdraft.
9. MAKE SURE YOUR PARCELS ARRIVE IN TIME
The best way to avoid Christmas delivery frustration is to send your parcels early. Make sure you know when the last posting dates are and don’t leave it to the last minute.
For valuable items it might be worth sending by Special Delivery. This guarantees delivery before 1pm the next working day, offers online tracking, electronic proof of delivery and compensation of up to £2,500 if the item is lost or damaged. But it isn’t cheap – prices start from £5.90.
As a general rule, the later you leave your Christmas posting the more expensive it will be. One tip to avoid Post Office queues is to buy your postage labels online and print them off. As long as you can weigh your parcels accurately at home the Royal Mail website calculates everything for you.
Short-term cash loans designed to be borrowed mid-way through the month to tide the borrower over until they next get paid, whereupon the loan is settled. Generally used by people with bad credit ratings and/or no access to short-term credit such as an overdraft or credit card. Like logbook loans, this type of borrowing is hugely expensive: the average APR on payday loans is well over 1,000% and in some instances can be considerably more.
An overdraft is an agreement with your bank that authorises you to withdraw more funds from your account than you have deposited in it. Many banks charge for this privilege either as a fixed fee or charge interest on the money overdrawn at a special high rate. Some banks charge a fee and interest. And other banks offer a free overdraft but impose very high charges for exceeding the agreed limit of your overdraft.
Issued by a bank as part of a current account and, in a nutshell, serves as electronic cash. Unlike a credit or charge card, where you get an interest-free period before you have to settle the bill, the funds spent on a debit card are withdrawn immediately from your current account. Unless you’ve arranged an overdraft, if you don’t have the cash in the account, you can’t spend it.
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.