It’s the end of the year – the time of gift-giving and mulled wine, dark evenings full of sparkly lights, cold noses, mince pies, gingerbread and fruit cake. It’s time to bundle up in scarves and gloves and hats, to wind down for the year and prepare for the next one.
Yes, the holiday season is upon us – and whilst festive celebrations are likely to be different for many of us this year, there’s plenty that will stay very much the same. Maybe we’ll eat too much, drink too much, end up snoozing on the couch, playing the After Eights game or charades, watching the BBC specials, singing carols on zoom (though hopefully not). Maybe we’ll listen to Slade too many times, argue over the Pogues, debate which is the best Christmas number one. Maybe there’ll be turkey, or perhaps you prefer a nut roast – as long as there’s crispy potatoes, I’m sure it’s perfect. Whatever your festive season looks and sounds like, there’s umpteen traditions to enjoy.
Of course, whilst it may be the most magical time of the year (can you tell I’m a fan?), it’s also fair to say that the impact on our finances can feel less than wonderful. Many feel pressured to spend well beyond their means on gifts and food, both for the holidays and for New Year’s Eve. The pandemic has made things even more of a challenge, with budgets simply not going as far.
But there are things all of us can do to make the season merry and bright – for ourselves and for others. Being careful with our money where we can, doesn’t mean we can’t have a jolly old time.
Plus, whilst it’s the season of giving, we can also look at how we can donate to important causes and spread generosity and cheer as well.
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The first thing to consider if you’re finding your heart rate increasing over the holiday period is reviewing your relationship with your money.
Yes, I know, we suggest this a lot, but so much can be achieved by being completely honest with yourself about your finances.
Consider what really matters to you at this time of year – do you value the time you spend with family and friends? Or is the holiday all about getting dressed up and having a few too many mulled wines? Is it a desire to show off that has you spending more – perhaps a sibling rivalry or neighbourhood competitiveness? Or do you have a giving personality that goes into overdrive in December?
There’s no right or wrong or good or bad way to enjoy the holidays or your spending – but being able to identify what you value most will help you work out why you’re really feeling stressed about your finances, overspending or feeling guilty about not spending more.
You may also decide once you’ve done a little seasonal audit that there are some things you want to cut back on to save money. You may even go that step further to look at your bank statements, bills and income to really identify any unnecessary subscriptions and such that you no longer need. This is also a helpful place to start if you’re hoping to snag some good deals on presents, decorations and food. Once you’ve inventoried your finances, you can fully appreciate how much you really have to spend and make a more accurate budget so that there are far fewer surprises.
Planning ahead and research can also help us feel more in control of our spending.
The holidays are full of hype – even beyond the jingly adverts on TV, there’s Christmas markets and friends dressed up in the latest festive fashions and so on. There’s so much excitement, it’s easy to get caught up in it all.
Many shops and high street retailers are hoping for a bounce in the last few weeks before Christmas – with predictions pointing to a record-breaking spending spree as people splurge on presents after a year of lockdown restraints. Driven by a positive emotional state, and no doubt boosted by the good news about possible vaccines in the near future, 56% of shoppers seem open to spending more than planned this year.
However, according to Opinium and Yolt, around 11 million people in the UK feel unable to spend as much this year, with around 21% of respondents to their survey saying they estimate a decrease in their spending. Further research says that many shoppers – and especially parents – are turning to credit and options like Buy Now Pay Later to fund their Christmas celebrations, planning ahead can also help ensure you make an informed choice about whether to use alternative finance products and whether such options are right for your situation. There are some concerns around BNPL products – we’ve discussed some of them here, including regulation – so it’s always worth reading up on the terms and conditions beforehand as well. If you’re really struggling with anxiety around money as well, do remember that Step Change is also there to support, focusing on helping people manage and reduce their debt.
Regardless of whether you want to shop til you drop this year or cut back and save money, having everything laid out in terms of plans for what you want to buy across the holiday, along with the expected costs will help. Writing out exactly what you want (or even a rough guideline on ideas for gifts) is highly useful for staying in budget and in control of your spending.
If you want tips and tricks on budgeting and planning, you may like to check out our articles on financial self-care and mindful spending. You may also find it helpful to read our piece on impulse spending. All of these aim to help you take a step back, arm you with ways to manage your spending, and help you keep on track no matter what challenges come your way.
It’s also the season of giving – with many charities in need of support.
Charities have been hit hard by the pandemic with key fundraisers and events being cancelled due to lockdown restrictions and many seeing a rise in people needing their support thanks to the impact of the pandemic on their financial, mental, and physical wellbeing.
Perhaps if you want to cut back but still do something meaningful, you may prefer to make a series of donations to support the homeless, hungry, lonely, or unwell. You can often do so in the name of friends and family in lieu of a gift as well.
But with so many great charities in need, how can you choose who to help? The first thing is often to think about causes you care about deeply – maybe there’s a grassroots charity that you’ve been supporting through lockdown and you can do something a little extra over the holiday? Maybe you’d like to donate your time to local homelessness and crisis charities, or to your local food bank? We’ve created a little list below of places to start.
Feed the foodbanks
As we all know, thanks to the pandemic and rising unemployment rates, the demand for food banks has soared – with some seeing increases upwards of 325%. The number of children in need of support from food banks has risen exponentially as well. For many of these households, the next few weeks will not be easy, but there are fortunately plenty of ways to support them.
Across the UK, The Trussell Trust supports a nationwide network of foodbanks, providing emergency food and support to people living with poverty – This winter, their research has revealed that food banks are forecast to give out six emergency food parcels a minute this winter, which amounts to a 61% increase on last year. You can donate by either keeping an eye out at your local supermarket, where you’re likely to see collection points with requests for certain types of food donations, as well as clothes, household supplies, children’s toys and toiletries. You can donate online as well to support their work.
You can also support charities like Crisis at Christmas, which works to give someone homeless access to essential food and festive treats, as well as a place to stay over the holiday. They also provide support, education and training throughout the year.
Write cards to those spending the holiday on their own
There are many charities and initiatives to help those who may be alone for the holidays – but some of the simplest are those that send cards to people who are lonely, isolated or unable to see their families. From the One More Card campaign to the Rainbow Cards Project, there are great projects that you can support by simply writing and sending cards to people who may not otherwise receive one. You may also prefer to simply write some for your community and post them yourself along the street – it’s the little acts of kindness that can make a dark season feel just a little more bright.
Gift boxes and presents for children
Multiple appeals are running this year to make sure no-one is forgotten about and everyone has something to open to show that someone cares on Christmas Day. Many of them are run locally, so it’s always worth checking your local newspapers and perhaps the council website for information. The Salvation Army also operates across the UK and has a number of local action appeals that you can find out about on their website. Similarly, Action for Children runs a Secret Santa for vulnerable children. Another that I’m particularly fond of is The Book Trust, whose Christmas appeal raises money to send book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care – this year they hope to send parcels to 14,250 children, with some also being given out through food banks.
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