Kick the Christmas Crunch
The Children’s Mutual has joined forces with Queen of Thrift, Jane Furnival to create a series of savvy spending tips to help you negotiate some of the expensive pitfalls of Christmas and the festive season.
“Being sensible about money and cutting costs doesn’t need to mean accepting lower quality. Especially at a time like Christmas, homemade gifts and cards are no less precious to people receiving them as those that are paid for.”
Top Ten Tips
Buying with children
1. Don’t fall into the trap of buying Christmas gifts or cards for children to give to others. You will encourage the child to develop a ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ view of the world, where you will always come to the rescue. Besides, other people would far rather have something small, inexpensive or home-made, but know that the child has taken the time and trouble to think of it or make it themselves.
2. Great examples of this are home-made cake, biscuits and jams. They are the universally-acceptable all-time favourites which children can even help to make them. And they are cheap!
3. Alternatively, you can help children to find suitable gifts to buy by doing a quick survey of the local shops – places a child can get to easily. You can often find a pair of fluffy bedsocks at £2.99 in a local chemist which a child can buy, rather than dragging them ‘Christmas shopping’ in a mall (and Christmas shopping with a small child is no treat for anyone).
Buying for children
4. When buying Christmas gifts for children, don’t just default to buying the toy of the moment. Try to add a few things which may set their imagination off into new areas. Good hobbies can last a lifetime and may even spark off a career.
General / fashion shopping
5. The fact that you have a discount voucher, or that there is a well-publicised store sale with 20% off everything, does not mean that you have to go and buy anything. Do not get caught up in the hype! If you decide that you really must buy something from a high street chain, use a price comparison site to find the best deal, then download a discount voucher from one of many websites before parting with any money. If possible, it is always an idea to check several sites as not all of them give you ALL the information you need, and some contain exclusive discounts.
6. There is no rule that says that you need a new winter coat nor pair of boots every year. In fact, now vintage is chic, look in the back of your own, your friends or even your mum’s and dad’s wardrobes and see what you can ‘reinvent’. Similarly, before buying the shoes or dress that you’ve seen in a shop and which you think will change your entire life, go home. Look under the bed (shoes) and in your wardrobe (clothes). You already have it.
Food shopping & entertaining
7. Be realistic when you food-shop. Think about what you actually need and do not buy too much. If no one likes pickled onions, redcurrant sauce or Christmas cake, don’t buy them. Be realistic about your presentation too. Magazines are full of photos of beautifully decorated homes and tables, but there are teams of people behind the scenes to create this ‘perfect Christmas’. Don’t set yourself impossibly high standards for Christmas and family feasts. The walk with the dog on the beach on Boxing Day will live longer in your memory than the special (and potentially expensive) Christmas table-linen.
8. Buy a stream of small, cheap toys for Christmas Day which no one’s going to cry about if broken, and keep some back for later in the day. Fortune-telling fish, for example, cost just 5p and can be played with from age 2 to 102.
Save a little …
9. When children receive cash as a Christmas gift, let them spend a little, but quietly put at least half in a savings or investment account. If they object, explain that they will be pleased to have the money plus the interest or growth it will earn, for some future target – for instance a school trip, university fees or a gap year world tour. If they are of Child Trust Fund age (born Sept 2002 or later) pay it into their CTF account where it may even grow to be worth far more in the future.
And say thank you!
10. Thank you letters are important, whatever the giver says. Invest in family relationships! Explain to the child that they will receive more nice presents if they say thank you.
And a few more for good measure…
Children change their interests quickly. Help them to clear out old toys, hobby equipment and musical instruments, to sell by car booting, classified advert, through the school or on the internet. You can raise money and tidy their rooms too. NB Never sell teddy – he’s an heirloom.
A book is a present worth far more than its price! Check out secondhand book shops the new and secondhand websites and bag a few bargains.
Buy at least 2 crosshead screwdrivers for Christmas Day and keep them somewhere handy. All battery-operated toys need these fiddly things to open the battery box.
Rechargeable batteries are cheaper than disposables when you have young children who constantly leave toys on, running down batteries. Buy a double supply, one to use and one to recharge. You are best off buying a supply from a reputable suppliers rather than pound shops, where the quality can be disappointing.
It’s strange how the price of turkey suddenly rockets at Christmas! You don’t have to serve turkey – chicken is fine and no one really notices. Buy fillets rather than exhausting yourself cooking a massive bird. Buy frozen vegetables and concentrate on spending time with the family not in the kitchen.
Do some cupboard and freezer-archeology. Use the bits and bobs you already have before buying more.
Don’t be a snob about where you shop nor what you buy. Supermarket basic ranges are fine for many things, including from washing up liquid and kitchen towels to family shampoo for 23p.
Try to overcome a child’s resistance to ‘secondhand’ things. There is nothing wrong with a quality secondhand gift. Point out that this enables you to buy them a nicer gift than if you had bought it from a high street store.
Dubbed ‘Queen of Thrift’ by the Guardian, Jane presented BBC-1’s primetime series Smart Spending and has recently been seen on GMTV. Her latest book is Smart Saving Tips, and her favourite book is Smart Spending with Jane Furnival. Jane wrote her cult book, Mr Thrifty’s How to Save Money on Absolutely Everything, after The European newspaper went bust, owing her thousands for writing and travel expenses. For Jane, then eight months pregnant and with a five year-old son, the experience proved a crash course in the art of living comfortably – but without being comfortably off. Before becoming a journalist, she had been creative director of an ad agency (one of the first women creative directors), so thriftless that she once sent a bike messenger to Habitat to buy her a bucket!