I went to the Crescent Shopping Centre last weekend with my family and we were browsing, going from shop to shop, looking for nothing in particular. As we entered one shop, however, there was gentle music playing in the background and I stopped to listen more closely because, surely, I was hearing things. I wasn’t; it was George Michael singing Last Christmas
The Christmas madness has begun, but then again there are only 50 days to go until Christmas day and judging by the number of shoppers I saw that particular day and the bags they were carrying, it looked as if seasonal shopping was already well under way.
The consumer group Retail Ireland released figures earlier last month in which it predicts this year will be see a spending frenzy in December not seen since 2008.
The group is forecasting that we will collectively spend about €4 billion this December, which is an average of €2,450 per household - an increase of €600 in the amount we spend in any other month of the year.
The difficulty, as I see it, is that only half of us plan to fund the festivities using disposable income, while the other half borrow money to cover the cost of Christmas.
According to an Irish League of Credit Union survey, 51% of consumers borrow to fund the cost of Christmas.
Of course, Christmas is a time of year that is more expensive than any other, but having a great holiday doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. You don’t have to take on debt levels that would make even the Greeks blush and you don’t have to use your existing savings to enjoy yourself either. There are ways to reduce the cost without thinking of yourself as Scrooge.
Make a budget
It sounds simple and it makes sense but how many people actually sit down and decide they are going to spend X amount this Christmas? So, your starting point is setting yourself a budget, and apportioning the amount you are going to spend on presents, food, nights out etc. The second step, which is even more important, is sticking to it.
Agree a spending limit
This is linked to your budget. When you are buying gifts for family members of friends, consider a spending cap of say €10 or €20 per person.
Putting a limit on your spending prevents you from picking up something because you personally like it or you are under pressure to get something.
It’s nice anyway to receive a gift from someone who put some thought into it rather than just getting the default option of a gift card which will probably cost more than a gift anyway.
Letting the person decide what they would like to buy themselves is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to get something other than an envelope.
You can cut back on food bills at Christmas by going through your cupboards, fridge and freezer now! I like mustard with ham, so every year when we are doing our Christmas shop I pick up a jar of it.
My wife will always ask me if we don’t have a jar already and of course I will say we don’t because if I don’t immediately see it when I open our press then I assume we don’t have it.
If I was to delve a little bit deeper I will find about three jars of mustard, two un-opened, so take the time out to see if you have food items that are in date and can be used this year.
Plan your shopping trips and leave the kids at home
Shopping with no idea of what you are looking for and with no budget in mind is almost guaranteeing you will spend more than you had planned to.
Make a list, and check it twice. Imagine you are fed up and tired and need to get that present for your brother, so what you end up doing to get out of there is pick up anything in a panic purchase just to escape the crowds. The result is probably you spending more than you needed to and him receiving a present he didn’t really want or need in the first place.
Shopping with children at the best of times can be difficult but when at Christmas, they’ll bore quickly and to placate them you will spend money on something to give yourself an easier time. So even when you are shopping for non-Santa presents, leave them with Granny and shop solo.
Avoid leaving it to the last minute
There is a lot to be said for avoiding last-minute purchases. Not only will it make things more stressful, but it will make it more expensive as well. Avoid leaving things to chance when buying presents online, particularly Santa presents, and worrying yourself sick in case they don’t arrive on time.
Also be careful posting presents to family or friends abroad, who won’t be home this Christmas. Not only will you make sure the gifts arrive on time, but you may also avoid having to pay express delivery charges.
Don’t miss monthly repayments
Many people deliberately miss a car or loan repayment in December so they can use that money for Christmas because they otherwise wouldn’t have it. I understand this as they think they will catch back up with that missed repayment in January or February. The problem, of course, is they don’t. But, worse than that are the consequences it could have on your credit rating which could come back to haunt you for years. Missed repayments for whatever reason reflect badly on your credit rating and will make it more difficult for you to borrow money in future so try not to miss repayments.
The chances are good that if you spend a few more minutes online comparing prices, before you hit the shops, you can easily get what you want for less. Just be wary that there will be many bogus websites appearing from now until Christmas and if you come across one that is offering to sell you something at a price far below the cost on other websites, log off immediately – it is probably a scam. Whenever you can, though, shop local – there is plenty of value to be had right here in Limerick.