The most expensive Christmas yet?

So as the festive season approaches and we start to hunt for those bargain, just how much are we planning to spend over Christmas? New research released by American Express suggests that we could spend as much as £1551, up £51 from last year’s spending. So how do we get through it? How do ensure that we cope financially? Is it now time to apply for that unsecured loan whilst rates remain low?

It may seem a high figure, but it does take into account the total cost of Christmas and not just what we spend on presents, which is £341. However there is also the Christmas food shop at £75, the costs of hosting a party £90, and some new festive clothes for the season at £69.  Everyone needs the obligatory Christmas jumper and a new outfit for the office Christmas party. Increasingly however people are using the Christmas holidays for festive breaks and getaways. Trips within the UK, Christmas markets for example, equate to £255, whereas those trips abroad are the most expensive on the list at £457. Then we have the costs of visiting family at £88, Christmas nights out and festive catch ups are £80 and of course the annual pantomime trip is £60. Finally factor in all those new must have Christmas decorations at £36, so it is no wonder the total is so high.

However of course it’s not all doom and gloom, it is after-all the most wonderful time of the year, and there are of course some ways to cut the costs. Setting and sticking to a budget is the key, although 31% admit to setting a budget but not sticking to it. But unless you want to start the New Year with a financial hangover it is important to be prepared.

If that perfect present comes along, then make sure you cannot get it cheaper elsewhere, especially online. Check cashback websites as you will get money back for something you were going to buy anyway so that can work in your favour. Also use the second hand and refurbished sites to find the bargains, these can save you literally hundreds of pounds.

Use loyalty and reward points to help you save. American Express confirmed that 25% of all those surveyed used loyalty or cashback rewards around Christmas time, and furthermore 44% of these saved them up all year especially for Christmas. It meant an average saving of £60. Lots of supermarkets run incentive and loyalty schemes, with double point events, and special shopping days, again use these to your advantage and you could end up with a free Christmas dinner.

The biggest discount day is just about to hit so it has got to be the best time to bag a bargain. Black Friday on 24th November sees many retailers slash the costs of many items, by as much as 70%. Indeed many have already started this week, 24 hour online flash sales where different items each day are slashed for just a short period are increasingly popular this week.

Any travel plans that you do want to make, ensure that you book them early. Flights are particularly cheap immediately after the Christmas period, so try and plan early for next year’s travel plans. Again keep your eyes peeled for any special deals and offers.

Making your own homemade decorations, cards and even gifts can save a huge amount of cash. Look online for inspiration, there’s a wealth of information available from homemade pinecone decorations to recycled tags and cards.

Use plastic, but use it wisely.  Look for a 0% purchase card which is a great way to spread the costs. Or look for any cashback cards, American Expresses Platinum Cashback Everyday Card offers 5% cashback for the first 3months, which could earn shoppers up to £100 back. Always ensure that you pay off the balance in full when the statement arrives or before the interest free period ends, to avoid paying interest charges. Likewise it may be worth considering unsecured loans. Although the Bank of England base rate has recently risen, it is only a small rise and the rates are still at the most competitive they have been for years. Use the additional money wisely and make sure you budget for the repayments.