The real cost of Christmas
In 2016, one in three Britons took out credit to pay for Christmas expenses, but what are people spending that cash on? Last year, an estimated 11 million of us were borrowing to pay for festive food and this year, parents will have to watch out for the sky-high cost of top toys, too.
The Telegraph predicts that 2017’s most popular gadgets for kids will be iPad-controlled LEGO robots and artificially-intelligent, lifelike dolls. If the thought of these alone isn’t enough to scare you senseless, the price tag certainly will. They’re expected to be sold for over £100 each! If you use a catalogue to spread the cost of such expensive presents, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it can be a costly way to borrow. By mid summer 2016, the average problem catalogue debt had hit £2406. So it’s worth looking at cheaper ways to borrow, and finding out how to get ahead of the Christmas spending before we get into the festive season.
How do we compare to other countries?
It may be a relief to hear that Christmas doesn’t have to be this expensive. The Centre for Retail Research found that we’re the top spending EU nation* on food and drink, gifts and travel. In fact, over a third of us regret the amount we spent on Christmas by the following year. It’s possible that some of our increased costs are thanks to the higher price of goods and services in the UK. But perhaps we could think about cutting back on products and focusing more on the value of spending time with family and friends. After all - it’s Christmas!
*7 countries were included in the survey
Comparing the cost of Christmas with our European neighbours
So how much do people on the continent spend at Christmas time and how does the UK compare? As a country, we spend on average £29.16 each year on decorations, while Spaniards shell out just £12.20 per family. It may not sound like much of a difference, but reusing last year’s decorations is free!
NB: Data estimated for 2016 by RetailMeNot and Centre for Retail Research, reported by realbusiness.co.uk.
The hidden costs of Christmas
Travel is one of those costs that are often a second thought at this time of year. But you can save hundreds of pounds and avoid Christmas borrowing by booking in advance and going for budget transport. Travelling by train from Birmingham to Aberdeen for Christmas 2017 already cost over £300 by the start of September. By going with budget coach provider, Megabus, you could get a return on the same dates for £80. Yes, you might be squashed up against someone who’s had too many sprouts, and the service returns in the middle of the night, but the money you’d save could pay for all the family presents.
Christmas spending on travel can be very expensive, especially when you take into account surge charging from companies like Uber. Make sure to double check the cost of a ride with the driver or app when getting a lift into town over the festive period. Consider nominating a designated sober driver instead - the others can pay for their (soft) drinks and parking. Or check the bus and train timetable - in London, the tube now runs a 24 hour service on Friday and Saturday.
The average price of xmas dinner
One Christmas expense might be on its way out, with just half of Britons now wanting turkey for Christmas dinner. And with premium turkey costing around £30 even at Aldi and Lidl, you might want to look at alternatives. If you ask guests to share the cost of a big family meal by each bringing along a dish, you could make a creative Christmas dinner on the cheap. With the average British household spending over £200 on Christmas food and drink, and £470 on presents, we looked into good ways to mend your Christmas overspending.
Family traditions and the media set our expectations for a ‘normal’ Christmas, but could 2017 be a good year to create new traditions? Speak to your family and see if you can get rid of smaller stocking-filler presents. You could switch to one or two medium or large presents each, instead. Starting up a Secret Santa system cuts the present bill by over 80% in a large family. You | have the option to ask for a particular gift, or leave it up to the other person to choose something suitable. It means you’re less likely to get 10 pairs of Christmas socks and more likely to end up with that gadget you really wanted!
- My Supermarket lets you compare the cost of food at UK shops, so you can find great Christmas deals before you leave home.
- Need to buy some clothes or furniture for your kids? Give them a choice between some fun, cheap options, and you’ve got a ‘Christmas present’ for them that you were going to buy anyway!
- Lists are an underrated way of avoiding unnecessary gifts - get them ready in November or earlier - you could use a service like Amazon wishlists for free
- Work out what to buy in advance, then set up price alerts on CamelCamelCamel - this will let you know when the cost drops or if it’s going up quickly
- Arrange with a group of close friends to postpone your Christmas celebration to January - beat the New Year blues and get cheap presents in the sales!
- Taking out a credit card or loan ? Compare your options easily using our comparison tables, to avoid getting hit by big fees or a high APR.
In some shops and online stores, you might get hit by this marketing gimmick every single time you make a purchase. You know the type of offer - get a card today and ‘get £500 Instant Spend to shop at Amazon.co.uk’. Be warned - if you take up this type of offer, you’re putting yourself at risk of getting ripped off! In this example, the card offers a Rep APR of 21.9% and just 3 months at the 0% introductory rate. You could get better terms than this even on a student credit card.
If you want to get a credit card to help spread the cost of Christmas, there are plenty of deals out there. First, work out what your credit score is, so that you can apply for the right type of cards. Unsuccessful applications for credit will show up on your file and impact your credit score. Next, consider comparing your options using our credit card comparison tables, where you can see personalised offers. You could end up with a 0% introductory rate that lasts nearly ten times longer this way, at a lower APR (though this will depend on your credit score).
If you’ve got an interest-free overdraft, then December is a great time to use it, to spread out the cost of Christmas borrowing. However, many of us don’t have access to interest-free credit and dipping into a regular overdraft can be seriously expensive. The average fee for using an unarranged overdraft in 2017 was over £50 per month. It might be better to avoid overdrafts and look at alternatives like 0% credit cards or borrowing from friends and family. Loans for Christmas are an option, but they can be expensive, so make sure to compare your options before applying.
The best way to pay for Christmas is not on finance, but with savings. If you’re really struggling to manage bills then saving might not be an option for you. For everyone else, putting aside a small amount each month can make the difference between being broke in January and having a very merry Christmas. There’s never a bad time to start saving!
Lloyds and TSB both have a ‘Save the Change’ service which lets you top up your savings automatically, every time you make a purchase. If you’re with another bank, you can use apps like Chip or Squirrel which can automatically suggest how much you can afford to save and even put the money aside for you! If you get a pay rise at work, or a bonus, consider putting a big percentage of the new money straight into savings each month. You’ll still have extra spending money and you won’t miss the new cash you send to your savings account.
When does the average person pay off Christmas?
Nobody really wants to get loans for Christmas, but sometimes Christmas borrowing is a fact of life. Nearly a third of Brits borrow money to pay for Christmas, and one in seven are still paying it off up to three months later. If the thought of paying for presents, travel and festive food makes your blood run cold, you might be wondering how you’ll ever pay off the debt. If this feeling is familiar, then the best time of year to act is before the mistletoe comes out. You can start cutting back now to avoid being in the 2% of people who are still paying off Christmas loans a whole year later. Check out our helpful guide to budgeting for more information.
If you have Christmas debt from last year, it’s likely that you’re being charged a high rate of interest. Have a bit of cash sitting around? It’s worth paying off as much of the debt as you can comfortably afford, as soon as possible. Many lenders allow you to ‘overpay’ or pay off a debt early, although some will charge an early repayment fee. Contact your lender to find out whether you’ll be charged for paying back your Christmas loans before we hit the festive season again!