Every January, many complain "I'm skint now" as if Christmas was a surprise. Well, here's a date for your diary - it'll be on 25 December again this year, and prevention beats cure.
This sackful of Xmas tips shows you halve perfume and aftershave costs, bag hidden local eBay bargains as gifts, a free Christmas IOU generator & much more (it works for Chanucah, Eid and others too).
In this guide
Affordability not desirability
Too many list every lusted-for item, gifts for all, and a corking meal, then only afterwards consider "how will I pay for it?" That’s a recipe to end up disappointed, or broke.
Instead, calculate your budget (see the free Budget Planner), and ask, “What can I afford to spend on Christmas?” Then work out how to have the best one possible within that budget. Christmas is one day, don’t ruin the whole of the new year for it.
Write 'it's a gift' on the receipt (if it is)
Legally, only the person who bought the gift has rights, so the recipient can't exchange. Many shops ignore this, but for safety, use a gift certificate or get the shop to write on its copy of the receipt and yours that it's a gift and who for. Rights are then transferred. For more info, see the Consumer Rights guide.
4% boost to Christmas budgets
Supermarket saving stamps schemes encourage year-long saving for Christmas, yet a loophole allows you to get the year’s bonus in one day.
Most stores pay it depending on how much you’ve saved by a specific day. So dunk the cash in the day before, and it’ll add up to 4% on top, but the cash must be spent at its stores. Full info in the Xmas Spending Boost guide.
Be ready to pounce for your xmas cupboard
Make a list of who you need to buy for and whenever you see goods at kick-bum prices, grab, wrap ‘n’ stuff them in a Christmas cupboard. Keep your eyes peeled for discounts and deals (we'll let you know via the weekly email).
For cheap yet thoughtful gifts, the Photo Print Finder lists the top photobook, canvas, card and calendar discount codes.
Time to BAN Christmas presents?
Now’s the moment to consider giving this Christmas. This isn’t about gifts from parents or to grandchildren, but the ever-widening glut of friends, extended family and colleagues. Christmas isn’t a retail festival, we need to end obliged giving and think more about what we're giving, to whom and why.
If you’re yelling over your wrapping paper “what about the joy of giving?”, remember gift-giving creates an obligation on recipients to give back, whether they can afford it or not. For some, the gift of “not obliging you to buy for me” is actually better. Read Scrooge McLewis's Ban Christmas gifts blog.
Plus, why not make a No Unnecessary Present Pact (NUPP) with friends now, or at least agree to a Secret Santa or £5 to £10 cap on gifts. If you’re scared to broach this taboo, our free Nupp Tool generates the email for you, showing recipients you’re not alone.
Amazon hidden gift discounts of 80%+
It's the original e-giant, and like any megastore the challenge is to see behind the shelves to dig out mega-discounts. Ideal for stocking filler hunting, our ever-popular Amazon Discount Finder manipulates Amazon web links to create customised bargain basement pages, eg, Jewellery 80%+ off* , Beauty 70%+ off* and Fashion accessories 75%+ off*.
Though remember, just because it's discounted doesn't mean it's a bargain. So in the tool there's an input box for the CamelCamelCamel site, which lets you instantly check a product's Amazon price history to see if it's ever sold for less. Then use our MegaShopBot to check its price in other stores.
Got a top tip that we haven't listed? Tell us in the 40 Christmas tips discussion.
Downshift your turkey
With an “It’s Christmas! We need the best!” battle cry, everyone hits the supermarket shelves. Yet don’t automatically assume you’ll prefer higher brand goods.
Martin once held two consecutive Christmas parties for a large group of nurses. Nowt salacious, it was a TV show experiment. Unbeknown to them, one featured high-brand goods, the other a brand level down and on their voting, the £100s cheaper party won.
So, don’t be a retail snob. Taste with your tongue, not by looking at the packaging. And buy what’s right for you, not the shop. This works all year round - try our fun Downshift Challenge Tool to see if you can cut costs by £1,000s.
If you're planning a huge shop, go to MySupermarket* and it'll compare the cost of goods at the big online supermarkets. These prices are similar even if you go in-store.
The top festive fivers ideas
Our Festive Fivers contest challenges forumites to come up with the best 'make or buy' sub-£5 presents. Among the inspirational ideas was the 12 Dates of Christmas, an inspirational date night package for someone you love (or lust after) - from a picnic in the park to a candlelit bubble bath.
Or how about a homemade vinyl wall clock, or 50 Sheds of Grey? For kids, plant a fallen bell from Santa's sleigh in your garden on Christmas morning to make the kids' eyes as wide as their smiles. See 50 Festive Fivers for a full list of winners and inspiration.
Remember, kids aren’t retail snobs
Young children don’t value your gift based on the price, it’s often said they’re more interested in playing with the wrapping than the gifts.
So don’t shell out big bucks without need. A perennial favourite of this site’s Festive Fiver Christmas gift contests is the balloon box. Get a huge box, fill it tight with blown-up balloons, then wrap it. It’ll be the most adored £2 you’ll ever spend - though be careful and make sure burst balloon bits don’t get in mouths.
pay by credit card if it’s over £100
Sadly, firms go bust. If that happens and ordered goods haven't arrived, or have but are faulty, it's a nightmare. However, Section 75 laws mean if you use a credit card (not debit card, cheque or cash) to pay even partly for something costing between £100 and £30,000, the card company's jointly liable for the whole amount.
If the firm goes bust, you can get redress from the card firm instead – valuable extra protection. Though only do this if you can clear the card in full each month to avoid interest.
Earn with DemoHoHotivation
Small sacrifices can boost your Christmas coffers. While a little late for 2012, for Christmas 2012, from November, for example, walk instead of taking a £1 bus every day and you could save £50. Buy a £2 coffee every working day and you could save £2 x 40 = £80, or do something weekly and multiply it by 8.
People swear by (and at) our www.demohohotivator.com tool, which reveals your annual spend on coffees, snacks, cigs, mags and other discretionary purchases to help you cut back. Try it to see how much you could save in time for the festivities.
fancy perfume on the cheap
Forget department stores for perfume. A whole bunch of specialist online sellers offer it for a fraction of the price. Better still, buy the even cheaper unboxed bottles, then get a pretty box and wrapping for a couple of quid. This way, they think you went to extra effort but actually you saved extra cash. Read the Cheap Perfumes guide for full help.
Also see the Great 'smell-a-like perfumes' hunt, where MoneySavers have sniffed out some dirt-cheap dead ringers for posh perfumes. They say Next's Just Pink smells like Ralph Lauren Romance, while M&S True Red is similar to Hugo Boss Deep Red.
Don't miss out on updates to this guide Get MoneySavingExpert's free, spam-free weekly email full of guides & loopholes
Find the cheapest place to buy gifts in seconds
The web usually smacks the high street's bottom on price. To help, shopbots are special shopping robots that search the net to find the cheapest CDs, books, games or owt else.
As different shopbots are better at different things, we built a free www.megashopbot.com tool that auto-searches the best shopbots for each product.
For a full guide to slashing the cost of buying anything and everything online, see the full 40 Online Shopping Tricks guide.
Watch a video guide
the video guide
The twelve saves of Christmas
Courtesy of Watchdog, BBC, December 2009
Find hidden eBay local bargains
Whether Wiis or children's books, eBay sellers often specify items must be collected in person. As this often means fewer bids, there are bargains to be had.
You can't normally search collection only, so we've built a mapping tool. Tell our Local eBay Deals Mapper your postcode, how far you're prepared to schlep, and it maps nearby gems.
For more help tracking down hidden bargains, our eBay Buying Secrets guide lists tools to find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes, auto-bid to cheaply seal deals and more.
MoneySavers do it together...
To help with the Crimbo preparation, the Special Occasions board is full of top tips to cut the festive season's cost. MoneySavers post bargain pressies and decorations, and share suggestions on having a more affordable Christmas.The Special Occasions Board
NEED TO borrow? THEN Get a 0% card
Far better to budget, but no matter what I say, some will borrow. If so, see the full 0% Spending guide. If you can’t get 0% and it was your only option, frankly, cancel Christmas spending. Just enjoy a family meal, raise a glass and focus on a financially good new year.
Before Christmas is the year's costliest shopping time, January sales the cheapest. So if you’re after a big-ticket family purchase like a telly or games console… just wait!
Give the kids a nicely-wrapped IOU, telling them you're waiting for the sales to get the gift cheaper. You could also buy a small extra gift from potential savings to show the benefit of waiting. This way, kids get a triple whammy: the gift, the benefit and a lesson in money sense.
To create your own personalised certificate, use our Christmas IOU Generator.
grab cashback on pressies
With cashback sites, you sign up for free, then click through them to buy something or get financial products. They get paid for sending traffic and give some of this cash to you. Some people make £100s a year.
Never let the cashback dictate where you spend or what prezzies you buy. Focus on the cheapest or best deal, then see if cashback's available on it. Full explanation in the Top Cashback Sites guide.
Start saving Early
The average family Christmas spend’s over £600, a big bill to foot from December’s pay alone - meaning many end up in debt.
So for next Christmas, put money aside from January - it's better than borrowing and paying back later with interest on top (see Top Savings). If you can't afford that, cut your cloth accordingly.
Free message from Santa
Important message from Santa: "No need to pay for letters from me, my elves and I have arranged them for free (ho, ho, ho)."
See Free Santa Letter and Video for a nifty website that, with a few personal details, will create a personalised video message.
Chat to family and friends for free via the web
If you AND the other person are online, talk for free anywhere in the world over the web via the likes of Skype. Some smartphones also let you download apps to do this via wi-fi or 3G. See Voip: Free calls via your PC.
Yet for web to phone, don't believe the Skype hype: calling overseas mobiles and landlines is much cheaper if you use special numbers. Our free International CallChecker finds the cheapest number for each country from landlines. Many countries are just 0.5p/min.
It searches a range of companies that let you call overseas super-cheap without changing provider or setting up an account. Simply dial a prefix, then dial the normal number, it's billed to your home phone. They're no-frills providers, so don't expect quality service, just cheap prices.
sell old gold for a quick cash hit
Gold prices have rocketed, encouraging gold-buying companies to flood in to entice us to flog old jewellery and make £100s.
Beware postal hucksters who offer you far less than your jewellery’s worth. Here, you get a quote online, send in gold for verification and then they make an offer. Yet many are unreliable or poor players, including some TV-advertised big names.
Among the scrap are shining examples - meaning £15 per 9ct stud earrings and £85 per 18ct gold ring are possible. For a list of top gold buyers plus full warnings, see the Gold Selling guide.
Slash the cost of sending Xmas cash abroad
Whether for a Stateside nephew or a backpacking daughter, transferring money overseas doubles the currencies, complication and cost. Doing it in a bank could cost £25. See our Sending Money Abroad guide for best buys, including your protection if it goes wrong.
DO ensure Christmas delivery’s specified
If Christmas goods are late, you can only complain if you or the retailer specified (and can prove) it was for pre-Christmas delivery. Then it's a breach of contract, and you've a right to a refund. Though even if Christmas delivery isn’t specified, things should be delivered within a reasonable time.
Track Santa as he delivers prezzies
Check out this nifty site to watch Santa's progress bringing gifts for your little (and not-so-little) ones on Christmas Eve. Just grab a mince pie and log onto NoradSanta.
Bag 5% off ALL Christmas shopping
Cashback credit cards pay you every time you spend on 'em.
Because they take a few weeks to arrive, it's a bit late for Christmas 2012, but this is something to bear in mind for next year.
The idea's you grab one, set up a direct debit to repay in full every month so it's interest-free, and to boost the gain use it for all spending instead of cash, cheques or debit cards.
If you've a good credit score, the American Express Platinum* gives new cardholders 5% cashback (max £100) for three months (and 1.25% after) but has an annoying £25 annual fee.
Always set up a direct debit to repay in full so you avoid interest, or it's 14.0% representative APR on spending (18.7% rep APR including the fee). Full help in the Top Cashback Cards guide.
Free Christmas wallet armour
Shops can be sticklers at Xmas, so arm yourself by printing our free Christmas consumer rights wallet mini-guide and you'll be permanently tooled up with your legal rights.
Online Outlet Stores Discount Finder
Many drive miles to outlet villages to snap up end-of-line bargains. Yet now, lots of high street and high-end stores have online outlet stores, either via eBay or special websites.
Tell the new Outlet Store Discount Finder what you want, the price and discount, and it'll find it for you. You can also drill down to specific stores, too - big names include M&S, Argos, Net-A-Porter and many more.
Need fast cash for Christmas? Flog it
If a few quid more in the Xmas fund will really help, act now. Flogging owt via eBay usually pays best. Our 40+ eBay Selling Tricks guide is a crash course, from cutting eBay fees by tweaking start prices and using no-charge listing weekends, to adding extra pics with special tools.
If you prefer speed and ease rather than max price, several sites let you enter details, they offer a price, and you post goods free. Full info in our Flog It guide.
Uncover hidden BIG brand flash sales
To intimate exclusivity, a range of branded and designer goods e-tailers operate 'membership clubs'. You register for free, then they send alerts for online flash sales lasting 2-5 days. A bit poncy, but it can mean big discounts. Our big list of Secret Sales reveals the best.
If you've strong elbows, try a non-virtual version with our Sample Sales list of 90%-off designer discounts.
Feed the starving for free
It's become an MSE tradition at Christmas to remind MoneySavers of those in need. You may still be counting the pennies, yet there are many ways to donate for free.
Click through to The Hunger Site and amid a pile of banners you'll see an orange button in the middle of the page. The emblazoned message is "Click here to give - it's free!" Do so and a cup of a staple foodstuff is bought for someone, somewhere, who is hungry.
Is there a catch? No. It's a win-win-win situation for those in need, the internet user and the sponsors, as they create good public relations for themselves, especially powerful in helping promote ethical brands. There's a full list of sites and how they work in Feed The Starving for Free.
Don’t save Tesco vouchers for festive food
First, quickly check if you can Reclaim Tesco Vouchers online. So many find big cash, often £100+, so we can't stop nagging about this.
Yet don't save them for food treats. Check Tesco's Rewards to get 3X or 4X their value (£10 becomes £30 or £40) on items such as jewellery or restaurant vouchers. Do check you can get them in time for Christmas though, as last order dates are coming in fast.
debt worries over xmas?
Sadly, Christmas isn't jolly for all. If you (or a friend) have debt worries, read the Debt Help guide for free one-on-one help. Many say, after help, "I finally got a decent night's sleep."
Boring, but make a list, and check it twice!
Christmas shopping on impulse is dangerous. So make an old-fashioned shopping list and stick to it. Remember, shops spend a fortune on targeting your spending impulses – a list helps you beat them. Even if you're shopping on the high street, remember to benchmark the prices using shopbots first.
Free Christmas Gift Cheques
Presents don't have to equate to spending big bucks. Whether it's a 'massage' (nudge nudge) for your loved one, babysitting for a friend or letting kids have a sleepover, your time could be the best present you ever give.
So pledge to do something nice, not spend, by printing our free Christmas gift cheques. They're specially designed for you to write in your own 'gift' and present them to family or friends.
Sort Xmas post early
If using Royal Mail, ensure you send parcels and letters before the last posting date. For UK deliveries, it's 18 December for second class, and 20 December for first.
For international airmail, most have already gone. You needed to post by 5 December to the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, the Far East (including Japan), Asia, New Zealand and Australia.
It's 7 December for Africa, Caribbean, Middle East, South and Central America, and 10 December for Canada, eastern Europe and the USA. The last date for western Europe's 12 December. See Royal Mail's full list of last posting dates.
use the web to cut delivery costs
Sending a package or parcel to friends? If it weighs more than 2kg, you can save an absolute packet (sorry) by using a discount web courier service instead of the Royal Mail - and even have the goods collected from your house. See Cheap Parcel Delivery.
A gift to make a difference
Feel the need to give, but don't want to waste cash on tat? Yule love our rundown of wonderful and weird Charity Gifts, which includes how much goes to good causes.
At Inspired Gifts, £11.50 vaccinates 100 kids in the developing world against polio; there's Gift of Sight, where £8 buys an eye operation; and the fantastic Good Gifts.
If a charity donation's a financial struggle, consider helping save a life by giving blood - our blood banks need it. For full info, click where you live: Eng & Wales | Scot | NI.
DON’T think ‘no receipt’ means ‘no return’
With faulty goods, you just need to prove you purchased them. This could be the receipt but other legit records, such as bank statements, should be fine.
However, if you’ve no legal right but are just utilising a store's returns policy, then if it requires a receipt, you need it. See the Consumer Rights guide for more.
Comp for Crimbo prezzies
Try comping - systematically sourcing and entering 100s of the right competitions using web gadgets. From cars to 5-star USA holidays, MoneySavers have won it all.
Smaller prizes such as toys, handbags and gift vouchers, make cracking gifts. No guarantees, but why not give it a try? Full help in the Comping guide.
Why not follow the old tradition of Secret Santa? This is where a group of work colleagues, friends, or even a school class set a budget, eg, £5 or £10 per present, and secretly draw names out of a hat for who needs to buy for whom.
This way you need only buy one present for the group, rather than for scores.
DO take prezzies back as quickly as possible
If something’s faulty, returning it speedily is crucial.
Within four weeks. You can usually still get a full refund as you’re unlikely to be seen as having ‘accepted’ the goods. After that only expect exchange, repair or part-refund.
Within six months. The shop must prove goods weren't faulty when they sold ‘em – after that, you must prove they were.
Don't neglect next Christmas, either
In many ways, even now it's too late to get the very best MoneySaving Christmas. The perfect time is January.
Buy cards and decorations in December and prices are sky-high. Yet, come January, the price plummets and you can pick up massive reductions on festive treats.
You can also start a savings fund, putting cash aside each month and earning interest on it. Then come December, you'll know exactly what money you've spent and can have Christmas without the worry of debts.