Christmas pay cheque: top tips to make it last

Lying in the gutter, bruised, battered and worn. The unforgiving bitterness of January doesn't relent, as you desperately try to sew-up the wounds. Yet no matter what you do, the scuffs and scrapes remain. In case you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about your credit card.

'Tis the season of the mighty long gap between pay cheques and, coincidently, also the season of frivolous spending and spontaneous jaunts. If you would like to keep tabs on your pennies a little more this year, and save your credit card the annual trip to A&E, this article will give you the best tips on making your money stretch a little further...

The Christmas Shopping Expedition

We are all guilty of it. You're stood in TK Maxx, contemplating whether your 3 for 2 mix and match box sets will suffice as adequate reimbursement for your relative's equally generic gifts, when all of a sudden you see that beautiful Persian rug your mum's been harking on about since early June. 

On your way over to the rug, you happen to see the DVD dad has been dropping hints for and, going to the checkout, you meander into a jacket that would look fabulous on you. Preferring not to look at the final figure on the till, you jab in your pin number before hauling the ungainly rug out of there - akin to Aladdin but without the magic.

People often choose to use catalogue websites to spread the cost - but beware of carrying a huge debt that will burden you well into the new year. Saving the money beforehand is always better than borrowing whenever possible.



If, for whatever reason, this doesn't sound like Christmas to you, then you've been doing it wrong. Our penchant for elaborate and expensive gifts in the festive season often means that employers give an advance on payday - giving you the extra cash boost you need in order to buy that totally necessary supply of Quality Street.
 
While this goodwill gesture by the employer helps you out with your yuletide spending, it also means that you face a lengthy 6-week wait until your next payday. Although this isn't exactly light years away, those bank-busting final weeks of December sour the Christmas cheer somewhat as you inevitably blow your budget on food and gifts. This ultimately proves to be the primary cause of those dreaded 'January Blues'.

It doesn't have to be this way though. With a little thought and planning, Christmas can be enjoyed financially care-free. Just check out our tips below to see how you can alleviate the stress and enjoy your scandalously overpriced turkey crown with peace of mind...

8 Money-Saving Tips for Christmas

Spread the cost throughout the year

This tip might be a little too late to try out now, but why not try it out next year? A friend of mine puts away £50 - £100 per month into a 'Christmas' account over the course of the 12 months, spreading the cost more. By the time December comes, he's already got around £800 saved, meaning his paycheck for that month doesn't have to be touched!

The great thing about this method is it is totally in your control - so if you have a tight month with bills or car repairs, you can just put £20 in the fund. If you work on commission and have a 'good' month, you can opt to put more in. Either way, you can make sure that you have a great little nest egg at year end for all of the presents, wine and food you need!

Shoppers in the UK spent £1 million every THREE minutes in 2014 on Black Friday.



Another, similar method to this is through using christmas voucher websites such as Variety Christmas Club. This allows saving over a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, accumulating vouchers that can be spent in most high street stores. 

Other people opt to use catalogue websites like Littlewoods or JD Williams to spread the cost - but beware of taking a huge debt on that will burden you well into the new year. Saving the money beforehand is always better than borrowing whenever possible.

The January sales can also be a fantastic way of grabbing a bargain gift you can give next year, providing you have a good hiding place to store it in for 11 months. Do take care with this though, as trends and hobbies will change over the course of a year, so buying 'evergreen' gifts is always advised.

Keep tabs on forthcoming internet deals

A good technique here is to set up your internet browser's bookmark bar with all of the major shops (or shops you like to use) around about 3 months before Christmas. Every week or so, have a click on each one and a quick browse to see what offers are on when. You might find that a certain item you want to get as a gift is much cheaper in the months before December.

General arts & crafts gifts are always nice - from homemade Christmas cards to handpainted ornaments. There really is nothing better than spending a cold December evening beside the fireplace crafting something special for a loved one.



Often overlooked as a purely 'second-hand' website, eBay can also be a great source of bargain hunting, as there is a diversity of wholesale items that can make present buying fun and unique. The same goes for Groupon too, as they are constantly offering unusual gifts at great prices - but the offers are limited so timing is of the essence with this one!

A more recent phenomenon that has found it's way across the Atlantic and become rather popular here in the UK now, is Black Friday. Last year's event caused mayhem, with deal-hungry shoppers queuing through the early hours (often descending into petty violence) in order to clinch that elusive 42" LCD TV for £100. Shoppers in the UK spent £1 million every THREE minutes in 2014 on Black Friday. 

It also exists online too (with Amazon originally bringing it over here 5 years ago) but you might find the internet starts slowing up and pages crashing due to the sheer volume of traffic. This year, Black Friday was on the 27th of November, although some retailers started early.

For a truly unique present you won't find on the high street though, you have to check out Firebox. This place sells everything from the wonderfully unique to the brilliantly bizarre.

Switch supermarkets for your christmas shop

This could be blasphemy to some, as I know how loyal people become with their supermarket - the familiar lay out, those 'own brand' flavours, the premium 5p bags. However, have you ever considered having a fling with another supermarket? Even just for Christmas? What might seem like minimal amounts of saving per product will soon add up, especially when it comes to that massive festive shop.

As it is a time for family and friends, showing them you care can be done in a much more emotional way than buying them a pair of Beats headphones or Louboutin heels.



Without saying one supermarket is cheaper than the other (because I don't truly know myself), it is easy to check out which one is offering the best discounts by using the MySupermarket comparison site. This genius website basically amalgamates all of the best offers the supermarkets have on - so you will know when ASDA is selling mayonnaise cheaper than Morrisons and vice versa. 

The extra effort of visiting various supermarkets isn't even an issue, as you can do all of that online now and have it delivered to your door! With a cheaper, more convenient method like this available, it makes me wonder why there are still so many people pushing trolleys up and down the aisles 



Low-cost but meaningful

Being a super-creative person myself, this is probably my favourite approach. The thing people often overlook when it comes to Christmas is the true value of a meaningful present over monetary values. As it is a time for family and friends, showing them you care can be done in a much more emotional way than buying them a pair of Beats headphones or Louboutin heels.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here's what I did for my older brother a couple of years ago. I bought a medium-sized gift box, in the style of a treasure chest, and labelled it 'memories'. I then printed off 50 photographs of us together over the last 23 years - this can be done super-cheap on Photobox.

The problem with using your card for purchases is that it's all too easy to rack up a huge bill. So how do you avoid it over Christmas? Simple. Put a ban on using your cards.



I'm quite the sentimental type, so I've actually kept a lot of fairground receipts and cinema tickets from our days out over the last 10 years. I scanned each one of these to make a copy and put them in the box, along with the photographs. I then slotted in a small bottle of his favourite wine and some odd sweets and treats that I know he likes. 

This all came together to be a relatively inexpensive way to totally steal the show. The effort and meaning behind it was far greater than going out buying some expensive aftershave, and the reaction on his face reflected this just nicely. It also prompted a conversation where we reminisced long into the night, making that family time truly special.

Other ideas include baking and designing cakes for everyone (if you are a proficient baker that is). General arts & crafts gifts are always nice too - from home-made Christmas cards to hand-painted ornaments. 

There really is nothing better than spending a cold December evening beside the fireplace crafting something special for a loved one.
Cash over Credit Card

The power of plastic is scary when it comes to shopping. Within a few moments you can swipe your card and boom £1000 gone. The problem with using your card for purchases is that it's all too easy to rack up a huge bill. So how do you avoid it over Christmas? Simple. Put a ban on using your cards.

By drawing out the cash you need, you will find spending it a lot more difficult. The actual act of handing over physical readies is more painful than the relatively anonymous feeling of a credit card. This way you will become a lot more frugal and a lot less spontaneous with your purchasing over the Christmas period.

The way to do this is simple. As soon as you get paid, go through all of your direct debits (such as monthly phone bill, rent/mortgage etc.), work out exactly how much they all cost. Then add your 'monthly maintenance' outlays (these are things such as weekly fuel, dinners, dining out). After this you will hopefully be left with your disposable income. 

This 'selling on eBay' malarkey isn't just reserved for your old clothes either: remember those arts and crafts items we were talking about earlier? Sell them!



Don't withdraw all of this, but take out most of it when you go to do your Christmas shop. Depending on your willpower, purposely leave your card at home. This means that you can only spend what you have in your pocket - much like when you're a child going to the shop for some sweets! Now you can buy all of your gifts in the sound knowledge that your bank account will not be running into a hefty overdraft.

Make room in your wardrobe 

Chances are you will receive some items of clothing for Christmas - from underwhelming pairs of socks to surprisingly nice t-shirts. As a result, you might need to free up some space in that wardrobe of yours. To do this, most people will give to charity or simply just throw it away. There is another way though. Remember eBay?

Something that isn't at all necessary to your life, but you buy it nonetheless, well that type of shopping wreaks havoc on your wallet.



If you have a large amount of clothes that you don't wear but keep hold of for the nostalgia and faint hope of squeezing into them again (let's face it, we all have that one pair of jeans somewhere), it might be worth listing them on eBay. Even if you only get a small fee for them, the money is better in your pocket and can help to supplement your December spending.

Whatever you decide to sell, ensure you take plenty of clear pictures (people buy with their eyes on eBay) and list a realistic starting figure. Depending on the item, you can choose to make the postage & package free as an added incentive to the potential buyer - but just remember this is an added expense that you will be footing.

This 'selling on eBay' malarkey isn't just reserved for your old clothes either: remember those arts and crafts items we were talking about earlier? Start your own shop on there and have it as a year-round second income!

Avoid spontaneous purchasing

I'm definitely guilty of this. You know the feeling that you need something? Something that isn't at all necessary to your life, but you buy it nonetheless. Well that type of shopping wreaks havoc on your wallet.

With access to the internet these days, most items you find in the shops are available on the world wide web anyway - so that initial urgency and need to purchase something 'there and then' isn't as, well, urgent.

The best thing you can do if you see something you feel compelled to buy is to take a step back, breathe, and walk away. This will give you time to assess whether you really need it. Is there a cheaper, similar alternative available? Only when you have asked yourself all of these questions and categorically decided that you still need it, then you have my permission to splurge.
 
Plan to the penny

The concept of doing this is equally satisfying as it is near impossible. When it comes to planning anything, from money to holidays, I like to be fairly meticulous. I'm not shy of lengthy checklists and partial to a good accounting spreadsheet - but to plan every penny you spend in December is a very difficult task. 

Unlike the rest of the year when you can pretty much account for any forthcoming monthly events or additional outlays, the festive period often creeps up on us and constantly implores overspending. There is a way this can be reigned in a little though, and that's through intentional overestimation.

Basically make a list or spreadsheet of everything you need for Christmas. Next to each item put a rounded up figure. For example, round any presents you are buying up to the nearest £10 and food or drinks to the nearest £1 and you will be left with a very satisfying, round number at the end.
 
By knowing this number is a rounded total, it should be very difficult to overspend - as there is a purpose-built 'overflow' allowance. The best bit is, when you do inevitably come in under this budget, whatever money you have left can either be saved or used to buy some extra treats for the stockings!

Conclusion

All of the points raised in this article have the potential to significantly help you stay frugal over the Christmas period, without actually having an impact on the quality of your festive break. By trying more than one of the techniques you will be making savings in all directions and likely having more fun in doing so. Thought and ingenuity don't cost a thing, and it's these two elements that actually make Christmas and the art of gift-giving truly special. 

So before you go splurging your monthly wages in the expensive and predictable high street stores, think a little about where else you can buy those items and what you can give in terms of meaning and emotion. Christmas without thought can be expensive, but Christmas with it is always priceless. From everyone at Agency Central, we wish you a Merry Christmas!