Christmas might be a year away but it's never too early to think about MoneySaving for Santa's next sleigh landing. In January, many complain "I'm skint now", but you can prepare for 2015 by following our sackful of tips.
We show you how to get cheap fancy perfume, bag hidden local eBay bargains as gifts, spread the cost and much more (it works for Chanukah, Eid and others too).
Plan for 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 be broke.
Instead, calculate your budget (see the free Budget Planner), and ask: "What can I afford to spend on Christmas?" Christmas is one day - don't ruin the whole of the new year for it.
Pick up bargains in the sales
The January sales start earlier and earlier each year and it's a great time to pick up a bargain for next Christmas. It's often hard to predict what gifts to buy but you might be able to pick up generic items, like Christmas cards, wrapping paper and decorations. For help see our January Sales guide.
You could designate a drawer or a box in a cupboard to collect presents, wrapping or cards throughout the year and make sure you keep track of what you've bought to avoid over spending. See more about creating a Christmas cupboard below.
It's time to BAN unnecessary Christmas presents?
Consider not giving next Christmas. We're not talking 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 blog: Ban unnecessary Christmas gifts
You could always make a No Unnecessary Present Pact (Nupp) with friends, 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.
Forget department stores. A whole bunch of specialist online sellers offer perfume for a fraction of the high street price.
Better still, buy the even cheaper unboxed bottles, then get a pretty box and wrapping for a couple of quid. Read the Cheap Perfumes guide for full help.
Also see the Great 'smell-a-like perfumes' hunt, where MoneySavers have sniffed out dirt-cheap dead ringers for posh perfumes and the results of the MSE smell-alike test. They say Next's Just Pink smells like Ralph Lauren Romance, while M&S True Red is similar to Hugo Boss Deep Red.
Pick up bargains in the sales
The January sales start earlier and earlier each year and it's a great time to pick up a bargain for next Christmas. It's often hard to predict what gifts to buy but you may be able to pick up generic items, like Christmas cards, wrapping paper and decorations.
You could designate a drawer or a box in a cupboard to collect presents, wrapping or cards throughout the year and make sure you keep track of what you've bought to avoid overspending. For help see our January Sales guide and find out more about starting a present cupboard below.
Give charity gifts
Want 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.
Gifts start from a few pounds and include school supplies, clean water or a livestock. Or see the the fab Good Gifts, which lets you donate protection for 50 people against river blindness for £8.
Save with the free Christmas IOU generator
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… wait. Give the kids a nicely-wrapped IOU, telling them you're waiting for the sales.
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 extra and a lesson in money sense. Use our Christmas IOU Generator.
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 grab mega-discounts. Our Amazon Discount Finder manipulates Amazon web links to create customised bargain basement pages, such as beauty 70% off*, TV 25% off* and handbags 75% off*.
Remember - just because it's discounted doesn't mean it's a bargain. 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 has sold for less. Then use our MegaShopBot to check its price elsewhere.
Got a top tip we haven't listed? Tell us in the 40 Christmas tips discussion.
Buy a cheap turkey - and don't forget to downshift
With an “It’s Christmas! We need the best!” battle cry, everyone hits the supermarket shelves. Yet don’t assume you’ll prefer higher-brand goods.
To test this, on Martin's TV show he held a blind taste-test party for nurses at a hospital with champers, turkeys and more. They preferred the lower-brand goods or couldn't tell the difference most (62%) of the time.
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. Check out MSE's Tara's How to buy the cheapest turkey 2014 blog. We compared the cost across leading UK supermarkets and look at alternatives, like buying from your local butcher. Prices start from £11, for a frozen bird that will feed 10 people (apparently!). Remember, this refers to 2014 - but it might be worth checking out if you're planning for next year.
Don't forget to try our fun Downshift Challenge Tool to see if you can cut everyday 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 in-store.
50 sub-£5 gifts - our Festive Fivers
Our Festive Fivers contest challenges forumites to come up with the best 'make or buy' sub-£5 presents.
Past inspirational ideas have included 12 Dates of Christmas, a 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 personalised e-reader case? See 50 Festive Fivers for a full list.
Swap the bank's chequebook for our free Christmas gift cheques
Presents don't have to equate to big bucks. Whether it's a 'massage' (nudge, nudge) for your loved one, babysitting or letting the kids have a sleepover, your time could be the best present. So pledge to do something nice, not spend, by printing our free Christmas gift cheques.
Be wary when buying gift cards
If you're considering giving gift cards or vouchers, read our Gift Voucher Warning guide first. There are three key things you should be aware of:
- Sometimes retailers go bust. A host of big-name retailers have gone into administration in recent years. When this happens, they usually stop accepting cards altogether.
- Gift cards have expiry dates. Most gift cards must be redeemed within a certain period of time, so the recipient needs to spend them before time runs out.
- They could forget or lose them. Often people forget to use them, lose them or accidentally run them through the wash.
Remember, kids aren’t retail snobs
Young children don’t value your gift based on price - they often seem more interested playing with the wrapping. So don't shell out big bucks unnecessarily. 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. Though be careful to ensure burst balloon bits don't get in mouths.
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 anything else. As different shopbots are better at different things, we built a free MegaShopBot tool to auto-search for you. For a full 'how-to' guide, see 40+ Online Shopping Tricks.
Watch Martin's cost effective Christmas video tips
Cut the cost of the festive season with tips from Martin in the video below.
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 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 which find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes and auto-bid to seal deals.
Find and share Christmas tips on the MSE forum
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 prezzies and decorations, and share suggestions on having a more affordable Christmas.
Free petrol? Get extreme couponing!
This is an awesome bit of extreme couponing. It's fiddly and only works if you're already planning to make a big purchase at certain high street stores, such as Homebase or Currys. But play it to the max and you could potentially get a free tank of petrol.
How it works
Morrisons' Fuel Saver deal gives 1p/litre off petrol, diesel or LPG for every £10 of gift cards bought in-store.
There's a huge number of retailers to buy gift cards for, including Homebase, Debenhams, Currys, Pizza Express, Next, House of Fraser, Halfords, iTunes, TK Maxx, Oasis, Warehouse and Waterstones - see the full list. The offer's ongoing, but doesn't include Morrisons' own gift cards.
The discount's also stackable, so you can buy £50 of gift cards and get 5p/litre off. So if there's a large purchase you are going to make anyway - eg, £500 on a computer at PC World or a garden shed at Homebase - get it by first buying the gift cards and you'll bag 50p/litre off.
If you bought £1,400 of gift cards, it'd effectively make a £1.40/litre tank FREE. Morrisons has also told us there's no limit per transaction on the gift card. But the maximum coupon value you could get for one transaction is £1 off per litre. A £1/litre off voucher would be issued if you spent £1,000 on gift cards.
Petrol vouchers are valid for 63 days from the issue date. Forumite matthewh notes:
It really depends on if you were going to spend the money anyway! We were going to buy sofas at Next anyway - so I bought enough gift cards in Morrisons to cover the full price of fuel. Then bought the sofa with the gift cards - so I got nearly a £100 discount."
Use gift cards quickly
Though most of those mentioned here are big, safe companies, if the firm goes bust you'll probably lose the cash, so ensure you minimise the time between buying and redemption. It may take up to three days for the activation of cards to kick in, but you should try and use them as soon as you can.
It's also worth noting third party retailers (Morrisons in this case) don't have any responsibility to refund you if a gift card's retailer goes into administration. See the Beware gift vouchers MSE News story. Gift cards are generally valid for about two years, but always check.
With cashback sites, you sign up for free, then click through them to buy something. They get paid for sending traffic and give some of this to you, netting some £100s a year. Never let the cashback dictate where you spend. Focus on the cheapest deal, then see if cashback's available. Full explanation in Top Cashback Sites.
Free letter from Santa (or personalised video)
Give your little ones a bit of magic this Christmas with a free letter from Santa. If it's wizard imagry that you want, then try a personalised video from Santa. See the Free Santa Video guide for a nifty site that, with a few personal details, creates a personalised video message.
Chat to family and friends for free via the web
Christmas should be a time for family and friends but if yours are a long way away, save on the phone costs with free alternatives and talk for free anywhere in the world over the web. Most smartphones also let you download apps to do this via wi-fi, 3G or 4G. See Free Web Calls.
Yet for web to phone, don't believe the Skype hype: calling overseas mobiles and landlines is usually 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
It's not just the three wise men who are interested in gold at Christmas. If you've unwanted gold lying around you could sell it and use the proceeds to help with the cost of Crimbo.
Beware postal hucksters who offer you far less than your jewellery’s worth. Instead get a quote online, send in gold for verification and then they'll make an offer.
Even then, many companies can be unreliable, including some TV-advertised big names. But among the scrap are shining examples. 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 grandchild in Australia, transferring money overseas doubles the currencies, complication and cost. See our Sending Money Abroad guide for best buys, including your protection if it goes wrong.
Double-check 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. Even if Christmas delivery isn’t specified, things should be delivered within a 'reasonable time'.
Bag 5% off ALL Christmas shopping
Cashback credit cards pay you every time you spend on 'em. 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.
American Express's Platinum Everyday* credit card pays a big 5% cashback (max £100) on ALL spending in the first 3 months (up to 1.25% after). Apply now to use for spending over to Christmas period. ALWAYS set up a monthly direct debit to avoid its 19.9% rep APR. Full help and options for those with poor credit scores in Top Cashback Cards (Official APRs).
Track Santa as he delivers prezzies
Check out this nifty site to watch Santa's progress bringing gifts for your little ones on Christmas Eve. Log onto NoradSanta from 1 December and see how he's getting on.
Need fast Christmas cash? 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.
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. You can usually find them on eBay or via special websites.
Tell the 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.
Uncover hidden BIG brand flash sales
To hint at 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 list of 70%-off designer Sample Sales.
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 at the top of the page with the message "Click here - 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 user and the sponsors, as they create good public relations for themselves. There's a full list of sites and how they work in Feed The Starving for Free.
Corking wine and bubbly deals
Whether you want to search by type, country or grape, you can use our Wine Discount Finder to find the biggest discount or cheapest crate at Tesco Wine, M&S, Majestic and more. We also list codes to save you more in there.
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, we can't stop banging on about this.
Yet don't save them for Christmas food treats. First check Tesco's Clubcard Partners (formerly called Rewards) to get up to 4x their value (£10 becomes £10, £20 or £40) on items such as jewellery or restaurant vouchers.
Around Christmas Tesco ususally runs a double exchange that lets you double the value of Clubcard vouchers in-store and online for items including toys, gifts, wine, champagne and more. For more details see, see Boost Tesco Vouchers.
Debt worries over Xmas? Get help
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, 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.
Sort Xmas post early
If you use Royal Mail, ensure you send parcels and letters before the last posting date - bear in mind there are different dates depending on what you send and where, particularly for international destinations. Each year the Royal Mail posts these dates on its website - those for 2014 haven't yet come out, though.
Use the web to cut delivery costs
Sending a package to friends? If it's more than 2kg, you can save a packet (sorry) using a discount web courier instead of Royal Mail - and even have goods collected from your home. See Cheap Parcel Delivery.
Comping for Crimbo prezzies
Try comping - systematically sourcing and entering 100s of the right competitions using web gadgets. From cars to five-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 try? See the 40 Comping Tips guide.
Start saving early to spread the cost
A typical family spends more than £820 on Christmas, according to YouGov. Yet many struggle to foot it from December’s pay-packet alone and end up borrowing.
So why not put money aside from January, at no cost? Better than borrowing and paying back later with interest.
Earn with DemoHoHotivation
Small sacrifices can boost your Christmas coffers. People swear by (and at) our DemoHoHotivator tool, which reveals how much you could save on coffees, snacks and other discretionary purchases to cut back. Try it to see how much you could save.
Collect 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, and stuff 'em in a Christmas cupboard - the earlier the better. Even if you're fully prepared for this Christmas then you can always start stocking up for next year - the January sales are perfect for grabbing a festive bargain!
For cheap yet thoughtful gifts, the Photo Print Finder lists the top photo book, canvas, card and calendar discount codes.
Supermarket saving schemes Xmas cash boost
Supermarket saving stamps schemes encourage year-long saving for Christmas, yet a loophole allows you to get a year’s bonus in one day.
Most stores pay it depending on how much you’ve saved by a specific day. So save it in a bank first (see Top Savings), 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.
Secret Santa can keep costs down
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 and secretly draw names for who needs to buy for whom. This way you need only buy one present for the group, rather than for scores.
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.
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option which can help if you use a Visa, Mastercard or Amex credit card, or any debit or charge card.
If the goods don't appear or are faulty, you can ask your bank/card provider to reclaim the cash from the seller's bank, so long as you start the chargeback process within 120 days of realising there's a problem. See the Chargeback guide.
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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 receipt or get the shop to write on its copy of the receipt, and yours, that it's a gift and who it's for. Rights are then transferred. For more info, see the Consumer Rights guide.
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.
If you’ve no legal right but are just utilising a store's returns policy, if it requires a receipt, you need it. See Consumer Rights for more.
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, only expect exchange, repair or part-refund.
- Within six months. The shop must prove goods weren't faulty when they sold ‘em – after, you must prove they were.
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.