Martin: Student loan costs may rise £400/yr
27 September 2021
44 Xmas MoneySaving Tips
With just 100 days now left until Christmas, in order to avoid spending a fortune over the festive period you need to start planning now. This isn't about early celebration, it's about preparation. There are sackfuls of things you can do now to reduce the financial stress and avoid being skint in January.
This guide covers everything from budgeting for the big day to how to get cheap fancy perfume and when to book train tickets in advance. And for those who celebrate Eid, Chanukah or owt else, for the most part the same tips apply.
Before you start planning, consider this: 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 for ending up broke.
Instead, calculate your budget (see our free Budget Planner), and ask: "What can I afford to spend?" Christmas is one day – don't ruin the whole of the next year for it.
Consider not giving this Christmas. We're not talking about gifts from parents or grandparents, 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 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.
Watch Martin's three-minute video on why. It went viral with 19,000 Facebook comments. Also read his original Ban unnecessary Christmas gifts blog that started it all.
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.
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.
Be it a goat to help a family, lifesaving jabs for children or PPE for a health worker, the guide's packed with ideas, and gifts start from just a few pounds. The guide will be updated for 2021 shortly, though much of the info still stands.
Make a list of who you need to buy for and whenever you see goods at decent prices, grab, wrap, and stuff 'em in a Christmas cupboard.
Plus this year, if you see something at a bargain price, don't count on it being available in December - supply chain issues could mean shortages on the shelves. The British Retail Consortium says well-publicised supply issues around stock of many items including toys, could mean less availability and higher prices.
Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, says: "In the 20 years I've been an economist, I've never seen as much widespread evidence of shortages as in recent months. So more so than ever this year, doing your Christmas shopping early will be the best way to make sure you have want you'd like at a reasonable price."
For cheap yet thoughtful gifts, the Free Photo Prints deals page lists the top photo book, canvas, card and calendar discount codes.
Chances are your best childhood Christmas memories aren't about beautifully co-ordinated baubles, finest-range turkeys or even getting that year's must-have toy. For many, it's the build-up that's the most fun – experiences that involve spending more time with parents or carers.
So we've 22 free (or very cheap) traditions to create memories, from driving round after dark to admire twinkly streets to leaving something heavy on the sofa to make a dent "where Santa plonked his big bottom". See MSE Jenny's Free Christmas Magic blog.
With an "It's Christmas! We need the best!" battle cry, everyone raids 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) 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. Our Downshift Challenge guide will help you to see if you can cut everyday costs by £1,000s.
Back in 2012, our Festive Fivers contest challenged Forumites to come up with the best 'make or buy' sub-£5 presents. And while it was a few years ago now, many of the ideas still work just as well today.
See 50 Festive Fivers for the full list (though we've archived the guide, so a few points may not be fully up to date). Here are some of our top picks which definitely still work today:
Presents don't have to equate to big bucks. Whether it's breakfast in bed, sorting some life admin or cleaning someone's car, your time could be the best present. So pledge to do something nice, not spend, by printing our free Christmas gift cheques.
Cashback credit cards pay you every time you spend on 'em, so you can grab cashback on every gift you buy. You grab the card, 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.
The Amex Platinum Everyday (check eligibility / apply*) is the top fee-free card. It offers Amex newbies a 5% intro bonus on spending up to £2,000, so a max £100 reward. After you've spent this, or after three months if you haven't, it pays 0.5% cashback up to £10,000, and 1% above this – though importantly you need to spend £3,000+ per year to get any cashback.
You can therefore get the boost on any Christmas spending (though cashback's paid after a year, so you'll get it for next Christmas).
Always repay IN FULL each month or you'll pay 22.2% APR interest, which wipes out the gains from the cashback. Full help and more options in Top Credit Card Rewards.
If you're considering giving gift cards or vouchers there are four key things you should be aware of:
Taking into account all of the above, we think giving cash is a much better alternative to gift cards.
If however you still want to buy one, there are some multi-shop gift cards, such as Love2Shop, which you would be able to use at other retailers in the scheme if one shop went bust.
Order goods online, and in the majority of cases you've 14 days after they arrive to cancel the order, and a further 14 days to send back any items.
This is great if you change your mind, need a different size or want the item in a different colour. But if you've ordered a Christmas present online, there's a chance that by the time someone's unwrapped it, that window will have closed. So make sure you're happy with what you've ordered BEFORE you wrap it, so you don't lose your legal return rights.
Of course, many stores go above and beyond your statutory rights and offer extended returns policies over the Christmas period, but they don't have to, so remember to check.
For more information, see our Consumer Rights guide.
Rail operators generally launch tickets 10-12 weeks before the date of travel and cheap tickets vanish quickly, but you can sign up to get a free alert when your tickets go on sale.
Even if you've left it late, don't assume you've missed the boat (or rather, train). Always check if cheap advance tickets are still available before travelling – many firms now let you buy them on the day. See how to book early, late. Our Cheap Train Tickets guide includes full help.
If you're ill-prepared for Christmas, it may be possible to relieve pressure, increase happiness and avoid the nightmare before (and after) Christmas.
As Martin said in his 2018 Christmas Cold Turkey blog: "If you're really struggling and have nothing, then do truly go cold turkey – see family [if possible this year], spend time, think about life, watch the telly, but don't spend money on it. Christmas is just one day. Far more important is a happier, financially less-stressed New Year."
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 Forumites sniff out dirt-cheap dead ringers for posh perfumes.
The web usually beats the high street on price. To help, comparison sites search the net to find the cheapest CDs, books, games or anything else.
We found Google Shopping is the most consistent at finding the cheapest price – the MSE Deals team even use it as a starting point when checking out deals.
Google Shopping searches a wide range of retailers, including biggies such as Amazon, Currys PC World, John Lewis and Tesco.
For a full how-to guide and other price comparison sites to try, see 40+ Online Shopping Tricks.
Far better to budget, but no matter what we say, some will borrow. See the 0% Spending guide for full options. If you can't get 0% in time and it was your only option, frankly, cancel Christmas spending.
Just enjoy a meal, raise a glass and focus on a financially good New Year.
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 and how far you're prepared to schlepp, and it maps nearby gems.
For more help detecting hidden bargains, our eBay Buying Secrets guide lists tools which find underpriced goods, exploit spelling mistakes and auto-bid to seal deals.
To help with Crimbo preparation, the Special Occasions forum 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.
Supermarket saving stamp schemes encourage year-long saving for Christmas, yet a loophole allows you to get a year's bonus in one day.
Most shops pay it depending on how much you've saved by a specific day or month. So dunk the cash in the day before, and the store will add up to 5% on top, but the cash must be spent at its shops. Full info in Christmas Spending Boost (to be updated for 2021 soon).
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 though. Focus on the cheapest deal, then see if cashback's available. Full explanation in Top Cashback Sites.
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.
If Christmas goods are late, you can only complain if you or the retailer specified 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'. See our Consumer Rights guide for more details on your rights.
Many drive miles to outlet villages to snap up end-of-line bargains. Yet now, lots of high street and high-end shops have online outlet stores. You can usually find them on eBay or via special websites.
Our Discount Outlets guide lists the best – big names include Office shoes, Kurt Geiger, Superdry and many more.
It's become an MSE tradition to remind MoneySavers of those in need at Christmas. You may still be counting the pennies, yet there are many ways to do some good for free.
For example, click through to The Hunger Site and amid a pile of banners you'll see a yellow button at the top of the page with the message 'Click here – it's free!'. Do so and some 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 ways to volunteer and donate for free, including being there for isolated older people and more volunteering, in How to do good at Christmas.
If you need to order online, do it well in advance. Each year, we compile a full list of major retailers' last order dates, including the last free order dates, plus how much you'll pay if you leave it later (to be updated for 2021 shortly).
Each year a few stores start their main sales early. To get it in time for Christmas, delivery may cost a bit more, but it works. There will be more in our Christmas Deals Predictor as we get closer to the time.
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 Boost partners to get 3x your points' value (£10 becomes £30) on items such as jewellery.
For more details, see Boost Tesco Vouchers.
If you're struggling with debts, and it's giving you sleepless nights, then free one-on-one debt help is available. They're there to help, not judge, so don't worry. Except they get rammed in January, so don't leave it – get your appointment now.
Read our Debt Help guide for a full list of free one-on-one help options. Many say, after help, "I finally got a decent night's sleep".
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.
If using Royal Mail, ensure you send parcels and letters before the last posting date. The cut-off depends on where and how you send your post.
For example, last year the cut-off for second class UK mail was 18 December and for first class it was 21 December. See Royal Mail - the full list of dates for 2021 should be up on its site soon.
For a full list of ways to cut costs, including discount web couriers, see our Cheap Parcel Delivery guide. Also see MSE Jenny's How to slash the cost of sending gifts overseas blog, eg, Australia £6 instead of £65.
If a few quid more in the Christmas fund would really help, act now. Flogging owt via eBay's a good way to start – our 40+ eBay Selling Tricks guide is a crash course.
Facebook has been snapping at eBay's heels as the place to flog unwanted stuff, though. The best bit is sales are often instant and there are NO fees, so you keep the profit. See Facebook Selling Tips for a how-to.
If you prefer speed and ease rather than max price, several sites let you enter details, they offer a price, and you post goods for free. Full info in our Boost your income guide.
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.
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 give it a try? See the 40+ Comping Tips guide.
Thankfully now widespread in offices, there's no reason not to extend this to loved ones. For those who don't know, everyone's name goes into a hat, then you draw out who you're buying for. So you only buy and receive one gift, usually within a spending limit.
These days you don't even need the hat – an online tool can organise it all for you with a few clicks.
One of the slickest is free site Elfster. Just sign up and enter a few details, such maximum budget and the date you'll do the exchange. You can either enter the other people's emails or cut and paste a sign-up link. You can even set up wishlists. Another free option worth a look is Drawnames, which works in a similar way.
Ex MSE Steve is a secret Santa fan:
My wife's family have done this for years, and it works well. In fact, it's a huge help when you don't know what to buy the in-laws. A limit's agreed – this year it's £50 – and we use a free tool to organise it all and allow people to send a wish-list.
It saves everyone cash, cuts down on gifts people feel obligated to give but no one really wants – and it's adults-only, so the kids still get spoilt.
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.
Legally, only the person who bought the gift has rights, so the recipient can't exchange. Many shops ignore this and will help, but for safety, ask for a gift receipt.
If a store offers gift receipts, it suggests it's willing to deal with the recipient rather than the buyer. You should be able to exchange an item, though if you want a refund the retailer may insist that the payment be refunded to the same card.
Alternatively, get the shop assistant to write on its copy of the receipt, and yours, that it's a gift and who it's for, eg, "bought as a gift for Bob Smith", and this again should help to at least exchange the item.
See Returning Unwanted Gifts for a full guide.
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, and the policy requires a receipt, you do need one. See Consumer Rights for more.
Grab giftwrap, Christmas cards, baubles, decorations or even a new plastic tree as heavy discounts hit in January.
Don't think we're a nutty lone voice saying the new year's the time. By the second week of February 2017, in a poll of over 8,000 MoneySavers, 48% had already bought Christmas 2018's cards, wrapping paper and gift tags, 21% crackers and 17% decorations and lights.
MoneySaving's about cutting bills, not cutting back – thrift's about spending time, not cash. Its doyens live in our Old Style Forum Board. There are hundreds of tips in there – here are a few for inspiration.
A typical family spent £528 on Christmas presents and celebrations in 2020, according to research by Ebay Ads. This year, 30% of people polled said they planned to spend even more. Yet many struggle to foot it from December's pay packet alone and end up borrowing.
So next year, why not put money aside from January? Better than borrowing and paying back later with interest. Work out your budget, then use our Top Savings Accounts guide to find the most profitable home for your cash.
If you can't afford to save, cut your cloth accordingly.
Clever ways to calculate your finances