Spend wisely and still have a great Christmas

By Annie Shaw , Thursday 22 November 2012

Christmas may be coming and the geese getting fat, but many of us will find ourselves tightening our belts over the festive season.
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More than one in ten Britons are still paying off the bills for last Christmas, so overspending during the holidays, like overeating, can cause regrets for months to come.

Research from supermarket giant Morrisons found that more than half the people it surveyed were more concerned about how they would pay for Christmas this year than last, with 17 per cent saying they will need to borrow money to fund their celebrations, and a quarter of people planning to buy cheaper food to cut back on costs.

The good news is that cutting your bills doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out any of the best bits of Christmas. Spending wisely can mean you will have a good time with friends and family without breaking the bank.

Turkey

You don’t have to have a turkey for the perfect Christmas feast, but if you must have one, downsize. If you are making spicy gravy and having all the trimmings no one will notice if you opt for a cheaper, frozen bird than your usual fresh one.

Alternatively, choose a turkey crown – breast with the legs removed. You get proportionately more white meat and not so much of the less popular brown meat. Another advantage is that there are fewer leftovers if you are catering for a small party.

Drinks

Don’t be snobby about party drinks. Look out for special offers at your local supermarket, or see what the bargain stores such as Aldi and Lidl have on offer. Many of the cheaper supermarkets’ wines and spirits stand on their own merits and win plaudits from the experts. If you are making punch or mulled wine, you really don’t need to pay top prices for the ingredients.

Pudding

Last year the must have Christmas pudding was one created by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal with a whole orange baked inside. When Waitrose sold out the puddings were spotted changing hands on eBay for nearly £200. This year Waitrose is promoting the chef’s latest creation, Heston’s Hidden Orange Christmas pudding, priced at £13.99. But, if you like orangey pudding, you may be able to get a better deal. A tasting test by consumer group Which? of 32 puddings ranked Aldi’s Orange Topped Christmas pudding, costing just £7.99, second-best of all the puddings it sampled. It was beaten only by another non-orange Waitrose pudding costing nearly twice as much.

Wrapping paper and gift tags

Dedicated penny pinchers will have saved wrapping paper from last year and cut up old Christmas cards to make gift tags. If you didn’t do this last year, you’ll know to do it this – and buy cut price wrapping paper in the January sales, too. If you binned all your old wrapping material, or you’ve forgotten where you’ve put the wrap you bought in the sales, look out for high street retailers who offer free gift wrapping.

If you’re the arty type you can use cheap brown paper and decorate it with felt tip pen and glitter.

The tree

Once upon a time only a real tree would do. Now artificial trees are the last word in chic, not only saving the forests but easy on your purse because you use them year after year.

According to research by the consumer magazine Which? fewer than one in five homes will have a real Christmas tree this year. Meanwhile, 49 per cent expect to put up an artificial tree that looks like the real thing and another 19 per cent will have a coloured fake tree – usually white or red.

For real traditionalists, however, only a real tree will do. Trees that don’t drop needles cost a fortune, but superscrimpers won’t mind putting an old sheet on the floor to catch the needlefall from a cheaper specimen. If you are going for a cut-price option, buy your tree as late as possible, leave it outside as long as you can and keep the heat low in the room where you eventually situate it. Keeping it indoors with the central heating on maximum will guarantee a display of bald twigs by Boxing Day.

Wreath

A festive wreath hanging on the front door is a must for anyone having guests round, but those made professionally can cost a fortune, so it’s time to cheat. You can make a wreath yourself using anything from twisted twigs, chicken wire or even a bent wire coathanger as the base, with foliage wound round the frame. Once you’ve made your base, decorate with flowers, pine cones or fruit such as oranges and apples as you fancy. Some ribbon and artificial snow or glitter spray finishes the job. After Christmas keep the base to use again next year.

Holly

Another area for cheating is holly. The bad weather over the summer has played havoc with the holly crop, and any berries that have appeared have mostly been snatched by hungry birds. There’s no need to worry. You can make fake berries from Fimo clay, beads or dried peas dipped in red sealing wax and threaded on wire. After Christmas save the “berries” to use again next year.

Crackers

Making your own crackers can end up more expensive than buying them ready made. Penny pinchers will buy pound shop crackers, prise them open and insert fancier gifts.

Cards

Don’t even think of sending e-cards as a money-saving measure. If you move in the sort of circles where e-cards are acceptable, that’s fine, but sending an electronic message to traditionalists, particularly among older members of the family, could cause raised eyebrows.

To save money on cards, cut down your list and only send to people you really want to keep in touch with. You really can leave out the couple you met on a cruise five years ago and have never heard from since.

Buy cards of a standard size – and certainly A5 or smaller – so that you only pay basic rate postage.

Choose lightweight cards for sending overseas to keep postage costs down, too.

Post early so all your post qualifies for second class rates. The last posting date for 50p second class is Tuesday December 18. Leave it a day later and you’ll have to pay another 10p per card to ensure your greeting gets there before Christmas Day. Other posting dates are on the Royal Mail website.

If you’re on a low income, remember that customers in receipt of pension credit, employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit can buy 36 stamps, either first or second class or combinations of both, at 2011 prices - 46p and 36p respectively. You should have received a voucher delivered to your home about the offer, and you need to take it to the Post Office with proof that you receive the relevant benefits, such as an awards letters, dated within the last 12 months. Alternatively, take your Post Office Card Account statement that lists one of the relevant benefits. If you haven’t received a voucher you can order one to be sent to you.

* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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