Did anyone see Martin Lewis' Christmas special show in the week? If not then you'll still be able to catch it via the ITV player for a while yet - it's well worth a watch.
One point Martin made which he has stressed before was that each and every year people end up in debt to pay for Christmas - presents, food, travel etc can all mount up, and yet, as Martin says, it shouldn't really take us by surprise - we do after all have a full year's notice of the next one! He also made some very valid points regarding the buying of unnecessary presents - you know, the people you buy for because they always buy for you, with no idea what they might want, or even like...
We already budget through the year for our holiday, insurances and car costs, so for us it was just a short step to start budgeting for Christmas-related stuff too. Our annual trip to Birmingham to meet up with friends and attend the Good Food Show is an associated cost - we usually do a fair bit of our Christmas shopping at the show, so for the past 12 months we've been putting money aside each month to cover the expenditure. We travel up to Birmingham by car, which means we can combine the journey back with some Christmas shopping, and our (budget) hotel is paid months in advance so accommodation costs won't spring a nasty shock to our finances either. We also have a general "presents" savings account which will cover the vast bulk of what we spend on presents for Mums, Dads, Niece & Nephews. When children in the family hit the age of 18 they get "proper" presents bought for them for the last time - beyond that age a token "little something to unwrap" is bought.
Another thing Martin touched on in his programme was the vast amount that gets spent on food for the Christmas period, and how so often people buy a "better" brand than they usually would, feeling that it will be better, or more appropriate to the occasion. Almost more shocking is the amount of this food that will, a few days after Christmas, be finding its way into people's wheelie bins and from there into landfill. If you're buying a whole turkey, then I do feel it's worth buying a free range and preferably local one - not only can you sit down to your Christmas dinner with a clear conscience, but there is a likelihood that the meat will taste better than a supermarket mass-produced frozen one too. Whichever sort you're buying, plan ahead what you're going to do with the leftovers from the bird - whether that's turkey sandwiches on boxing day, or a big pot of turkey curry to be divided up and popped in the freezer. If you buy tins of biscuits or sweets out of habit then think twice - particularly if the less popular ones always get wasted! Why not buy a couple of packets of favourite biscuits that everyone likes and pop them into an airtight tin or box? Look past the branded options too - I know lots of people who swear that "Value" Jaffa Cakes and Bourbons taste nicer than the branded (expensive) options.
Maybe you're skipping off on holiday over the festive period? If that's the case then you might not need to think too much about buying food to feed an army, but a holiday in itself needs planning and careful budgeting, for most of us at least. Mr EH and I are hoping to get away next New Year for an extra Hebrides trip - and as a result we have already started planning for all the associated costs - only if we can manage to put the money we'll need for it aside by savings from our regular income and expenditure will we be able to go, so planning ahead is vital for us. Another thing about planning ahead is that you can often take advantage of things like Boots Christmas Shopping evenings - when if you spend £50 or more they give you 1,200 advantage card points. You could use it to buy christmas presents, or, as I've just done, buy essentials that you will use anyway through the year - being able to get my favourite deodorant on offer was an added advantage, as was the total of 2,166 advantage points that got added to my card thanks to various vouchers, and the special offer points!
Christmas SHOULD be more about spending time with loved ones, than about spending money on them. It should be about relaxing, rather than about stressing about the big bills that will arrive in January. If you're buying gifts, and you can afford to do so, then fabulous - I know I get as much pleasure out of buying for other people as I do about receiving things myself. We've tried for a while now in our family to give gifts that are useful, practical, and potentially the either will save the recipient buying for themselves, or that they simply couldn't justify buying for themselves. So MrEH loves getting a bottle of his favourite Whisky for example, camera memory cards are fantastic for me, and Mum asked for a hairdryer last year as her previous one was too heavy & cumbersome to use easily. If you don't know what someone wants, then ask them if there is anything in particular they might like. With friends, set a budget and stick to it. Above all don't get dragged into feeling as though you have to spend money you don't have to keep up with some kind of perceived idea of a "perfect Christmas".