02:00PM, Friday 13 November 2020
Black Friday usually looms large over the festive bargain market, and this year it looks set to be a Black Week, or even Black Month. “The indications are that it’s going to be a lot more spread out this year,” says Guy Anker, deputy editor at Money Saving Expert, “partly because, for obvious reasons, we can’t have the usual mass stampede in stores.”
“None of us know exactly when deals will start, so be on guard. If you already know what you want to buy for Christmas, it’s a really good opportunity.”
Planning ahead also trickles your costs across the season. Your overheads may be the same overall, but time genuinely does equal money, and spreading out spending simply hits the wallet less hard.
Not every good deal comes with a discount sign, and there’s always mileage in shopping around. It’s not terribly romantic, but if you can find out early what your loved ones may want, you’ve got a good shot of landing your gifts at friendly prices.
“Definitely compare prices,” says Anker, “particularly for electrical or mass market items where you know exactly what you want. Google Shopping is a simple way to do it – put in the product and it will show you a range of stores so you can find your cheapest option. As a nation, we’ll be shopping online more than ever this year, so all the more reason to use online comparison websites.”
Of course, the simplest way to slash gift budgets is to buy fewer of them, and clubbing together can ensure relatives get thoughtful gifts while spreading the financial burden. A Secret Santa system can dress up economising as a fun activity, and usually comes with a helpful price limit to keep every gift in the same ball park.
Alternatively, retain the limit without the game: “A price limit agreed with family and friends was the most popular Christmas money-saving hack last year,” says Liz Edwards, Editor-in-Chief at shopping comparison site Finder, “according to our research. It may well come as a relief to others when you suggest it.”
You could also operate a one-in-one-out system – for every new present you buy, sell an old item you don’t use anymore – or simply make presents yourself.
“We hear from our users all the time about presents they make at home,” says Anker, “and it can be as simple as baking a cake.”
Gifts don’t have to be material, and the most personal presents can consist of just doing something nice. “I promise I’ll make you breakfast in bed, I’ll do the washing up, I’ll buy you something in the January sales,” proffers Anker, “there’s a lot of people who can’t afford to buy Christmas presents, and if you can’t give a physical item, you can promise something nice in the future.”
Look after the pennies
Everyone knows the purse strings draw a little tighter around Christmas time, and there are plenty of smaller savings that, taken together, add up to a healthy wedge of extra cash.
It may not seem in the spirit of the season, but Christmas trees are an obvious starting point. Fake trees are a straightforward, long-term economy, or, for real trees, we bet no one will notice if this year’s offering is a foot shorter and a few percentage points less bushy.
Christmas cards drum up festive feeling, but if you haven’t seen someone for 30 years, are they really going to miss one annual greeting? For a more modern solution, consider the increasingly popular Christmas email. Find a festive picture, add a fun font greeting, and enjoy extra space for family updates and musings.
Look at your outgoings, too. Most of us have at least one lapsed membership or subscription taking bites out of our finances, and cancelling them stops a steady build-up of waste. “For Christmas entertainment,” says Edwards, “use a one-month free trial from Amazon Prime or Hayu. Put in your diary when the trial ends to review or cancel it, so you don’t default into a subscription you may not want.”
With Christmas being the mid-winter festival, inevitably heating bills loom.
“We’re going to be indoors a lot this winter,” says Edwards, “and according to the regulator, Ofgem, there are around 11 million households on a default tariff. Most of these are overpaying, and would save around £200 by switching to a fixed-rate deal from a good supplier.”
2020 has been hard for many, so if you are fortunate enough to be getting by OK, you may be able to ease the cost of Christmas for others.
High streets across the land are buckling under pandemic pressure, and independent stores could certainly use your custom more than internet giants.
“It’s not our responsibility as consumers to look after the high street,” says Anker, “but if you can, perhaps support your local businesses to help them ride the COVID storm.”
Even shops which are shut may be offering click and collect services, or deliveries to your front door.
And don’t forget about charities. Giving is simple and easy, and you can gift anything from clean water to aid for farm animals. “I recently bought vaccines for children on behalf of someone,” says Anker, “and donating to food banks has risen in popularity, in part thanks to Marcus Rashford’s campaign.”
No matter your financial situation this year, there are plenty of ways to save money and help out.
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