How to control your Christmas spending

Christmas is coming, and if you don't want to start the New Year buried deep in the red you need to start planning your festive budget.

Last year, the average family spent £561 on Christmas, according to HSBC's Christmas Spending Survey. But you don't have to flash the cash to have a good time.

No one wants to look ungenerous, but by making a few changes you can cut your spending without becoming a Scrooge.

Hannah and Richard Mills, from Somerset, have always tried to budget their Christmas spending and lower their costs where possible and were even recently crowned the UK's savviest family in a competition run by loyalty card, Nectar.

Hannah, 25, says: "We try to use discount coupons and vouchers where possible and I always scour the internet to find these before heading out shopping."

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Online

Shopping around online for the cheapest price is one of the best ways of cutting the cost of Christmas gifts. By looking at price comparison websites, such as Kelkoo, you can often find the same item much cheaper. For example, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC H90 digital camera will cost you £164.99 from PC World but only £121.67 from Amazon.

The Mills also take advantage of supermarket savings schemes, which allow you to put a little away on each shop. Every time they've done their weekly shop throughout the year they've bought a £1 Iceland savings stamp, and they now have around £60 saved, which will help them buy all the ingredients for their Christmas dinner.

Several supermarkets offer similar schemes and they can be a great way to spread the cost of Christmas.

Although you won't earn interest on the money saved, you will get bonuses depending on your balance. For example, Asda's savings scheme - the Asda Christmas card - gives you £6 to spend instore for every £144 saved.

Made with love

Closer to Christmas, Hannah likes to enrol the help of her children, Lillie May, seven, and Keisha, two, with the preparations: "Getting the girls involved is a nice way to spend time together while making some new Christmas decorations or presents they can give to their friends."

Homemade gifts and crafts can be a great way of saving money as well as giving a present that has an extra personal touch. You do need to set aside some time for this, though, as making homemade gifts can be time-consuming. So this is one cost-cutting option for the time-rich but cash-poor.

Also factor in the costs of all the materials and ingredients as these can quickly rack up. For instance, when knitting a scarf the price of good quality wool and needles could well set you back more than simply buying a scarf instead.

 

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Bonnie Wilson, 33, from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, only gives homemade presents at Christmas and usually makes a big stock of jams, chutneys, covered notebooks and scented fabric hearts.

"I save the jars throughout the year and just make one or two flavours so I'm not spending too much. It probably takes a few weekends to make everything but I can do this in advance as the foodstuffs keep for ages. Also, I recycle material for the sewing projects so it's very cost-effective," she says.

The key to keeping costs down when making gifts is bulk-buying. You can buy large packs of pretty bags and boxes online to fill with sweets or biscuits and if you're savvy when it comes to picking your treats, for example opting for peppermint creams rather than chocolate liqueur truffles, you'll make big savings.

Handling the kids

However, one festive cost that is harder to keep down is the price of presents for children. Almost everywhere you turn there are adverts persuading you to spend your money on the latest must-have toy - this year's is expected to be Web-Shooting Spiderman, an action figure that will set you back £34.99 in Selfridges.

 

Getting your kids to make a Christmas wish list can help your budget. "The girls are always seeing things they want but we always tell them to write down the item," says Hannah. "Then nearer Christmas time we go through the list and pick out things they really want."

The more the merrier

Of course, the bigger your family, the higher the costs of Christmas. But there are plenty of ways to keep spending under control. Setting and sticking to a budget will help. List everyone you need to buy a gift for and how much you can afford to spend. Then stick to your spending limits.

Another way is to reduce the number of presents you buy by doing 'Secret Santa'. This works by putting the names of all the people involved into a hat and setting a budget. Everyone then pulls out a name and just buys a gift for that person.

 

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With lots of mouths to feed, paying for your Christmas dinner can be costly. But there are several ways you can make savings. For instance, bulk buying food from a cash & carry store such as Costco is a good way to trim the bill. And local butchers often let you spread the cost of a turkey over several weeks, so you don't need to pay for it upfront.

In addition, watch out for supermarket tricks. They often stack their festive aisles full of tempting food hampers and luxury biscuit tins. But it's usually a lot cheaper to buy goods individually or choose own-brand products instead.

And why not ask family members to bring along a dish each? This will not only cut the cost but also means you can spend more time enjoying Christmas Day rather than slaving away in the kitchen.