Christmas should be a time for joy, celebration and good cheer. But the extra financial pressures mean the festive season often leaves many feeling the pinch. 

StepChange Debt Charity have launched their #ChristmasDebt campaign to highlight the Real Cost of Christmas, spread some extra cheer and share some insights on how to cope with the Yuletide pressures. Joe from StepChange shares 7 top tips for a fun and thrifty Christmas.

1) Make a list… and check it twice!

There’s a lot of pressure to spend, spend, spend during the festive season, not least of all from social media. Nearly a third of people surveyed by StepChange feel pressured by what they see on social media to have a good Christmas. Lower your Christmas spending by writing a list, sticking to it, and putting the smartphone down.

When you’re writing your list, it’s also worth having an open and honest conversation with your extended friends and family about gifts-for-the-sake-of-it. These may seem like little purchases – a box of chocolates here, a pair of socks there – but the cost soon mounts up. And let’s face it – does your third cousin on your mum’s side really need another deodorant and shower gel set? You’re not thrilled about the novelty tie he got you either! Do you and your distant relatives a favour and keep it simple: agree to only buy gifts for your immediate family. 

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2) Family Secret Santa

Now, hear me out. I know the dreaded Secret Santa work email can be a real pain, but with all the other financial pressures of Christmas, a family Secret Santa can be a great way of spending less on your nearest and dearest without feeling like Scrooge. It’s simple – agree on a budget, pick a name out of a hat and away you go.  

A family Secret Santa may feel at odds with the urge to splash out on loved ones at Christmas – after all, it’s meant to be a time for generosity and giving. But it’s important to remember that just as overindulging on the 25th can leave you with an indigestion and a sore head on Boxing Day, over-spending at Christmas could lead to a financial hangover in the new year

33% of those surveyed by StepChange will be using credit to pay for part, or all, of their Christmas spending this year and take an average of 7 and a half months to pay back it back. But you don’t have to cancel Christmas to avoid this: a family Secret Santa is a frugal yet fun approach to gift-giving that allows everyone to focus their festive efforts on one, bigger and more meaningful present. 

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3) Plan ahead

You might be thinking “what do you mean, plan ahead? Christmas is fast approaching – surely it’s far too late to start now?” Well, maybe, as far this year is concerned. But it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. Don’t wait until 1st January – get a head start on your new year’s resolutions and put a budget together. Here’s how to get started:

  • Grab a calculator and a pen and paper, or open a spreadsheet, whatever works for you. StepChange even has a budgeting form that you can download either as an Excel or PDF file
  • Decide on a realistic amount to budget for Christmas next year. Divide this amount by 12, and bingo – this is what you need to put aside each month starting from January. 

Your local credit union could help you save. Alternatively, you could open a bog-standard savings account with your bank. You can even try the good-old-fashioned piggy bank method by putting your cash in jam jars

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4) Resist the urge to take out credit

You might’ve been tempted to use a Buy Now Pay Later scheme this Christmas, like 25% of those surveyed by StepChange. Start saving in advance and you could have enough money in the bank for a debt-free Christmas 2020.  Even if you haven’t saved as much as you’d hoped by then, you’ve at least created a buffer to absorb the shock of those Christmas costs without having to rely on credit.

Although credit and buy now pay later can seem like a great option, the reality is the deadline for payments soon comes round. Often, it can be approaching the following Christmas when you’re still paying off the last one! Lots of retailers offer these schemes, especially at this time of year, and they make it incredibly easy to get access to hundreds if not thousands of pounds of credit. You don’t have to take it though, remember, Christmas is just one day but you’ll spend months paying back that borrowed money.

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5) Do some thrifty Christmas food shopping

If the sacred task of preparing Christmas dinner has fallen onto you this year, you can still cut your costs here even this late in the game. Keep an eye out Christmas food items with a long shelf life like cranberry sauce and stuffing mix and get these in early.

Don’t be tempted into buying branded items – own-brand products are just as good.  Caroline, a Debt Advisor at StepChange, has this Christmas wisdom to offer: “a top tip that I often pass on is to shop for reduced items and freeze them to go towards big meals at Christmas.” 


6) Don’t be afraid to say ‘ho ho NO!’

As soon as December arrives and the festive season is in full swing, we can feel overwhelmed as our financial obligations multiply.  It seems that the busier your diary, the emptier your bank account. You might be feeling guilty that your gut reaction to Christmas party invitations is “bah, humbug”. You might also be worried that you’re being a Grinch for wanting to opt out of Secret Santa at work. Well, don’t be! Christmas can compel you to freely spend your time and money, but you can only do so much.

It’s like decorating a Christmas tree – pile on too much tinsel and the whole thing is going to collapse. Less is more! Recognise when you’ve reached your limit – whether that’s with your time, your energy or your money – and don’t be afraid to say “ho ho no” if it will ease the Yuletide squeeze. Remember, you’re not alone: of those surveyed by StepChange, 7 in 10 said they won’t be able to comfortably afford Christmas this year.

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7) Be kind to yourself

At Christmas there’s so much focus on being kind and giving to others that we forget to do the same for ourselves. This is yet another thing that’s amplified by what we see on social media: 23% of those surveyed by StepChange say they feel less fortunate, and 20% said they feel anxious or depressed, after looking at what other people have posted about Christmas.

Don’t entertain any worries you may have that your Christmas isn’t as good as everyone else’s. Don’t let what you’re seeing on social media convince you that you haven’t spent enough on presents, the tree, decorations or Christmas dinner. Be kind to yourself and don’t compare. Remember that what you see on your smartphone screen often isn’t the whole picture.

Ignoring social media isn’t easy. In fact, various studies claim that social media addiction is on the rise. There are free-to-use apps available that can block your access to social media for a certain amount of time, so don’t be ashamed to use one if it helps you focus on yourself instead of others. It’s important to know that whatever you can realistically afford to spend, no matter what that is, is enough regardless of what others are spending.

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If you’re struggling with your debts, don’t spend Christmas worrying. Use our online debt advice tool, day or night, and get free, personalised advice tailored to your situation today. 

StepChange Debt Charity commissioned a survey by Censuswide, with 1,533 respondents aged 16+ in GB between 11.11.19 – 13.11.19.  The survey was conducted from a random sample of UK respondents who use social media and celebrate Christmas.

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