Martin Lewis: How to cancel the shopping chaos and go Christmas cold turkey
If there was a big red CANCEL CHRISTMAS button, would you press it?
While the festive season is usually portrayed as unerringly joyous, not everyone feels that way. It can put stress on you and on your pockets.
So, forgive me, but to relieve that pressure, and possibly increase happiness, it is worth considering going cold turkey. You may think this is me being Scrooge (bah humbug) but it isn’t.
With 10,000 votes in, the poll on my MoneySavingExpert site this week had 59 per cent of people saying they would cancel Christmas if they could.
The only category that voted to keep it was parents of school age kids. So if you are ill-prepared for Christmas, panicking about how you’ll afford it or worried about a debt hangover in the new year, I want to give you some tips.
Some are just common sense but people avoid them, worrying they will seem weird by opting out.
I hope this guide will relieve some of the stigma of being sensible.
The season of goodwill has been perverted by advertisers and marketeers into becoming a retail festival. We feel forced into buying unnecessary gifts for friends and family because they bought presents for us.
This isn’t about gifts for kids or your spouse – they’re fine. It’s that wider group of people – friends, cousins, schoolteachers – that we end up buying for.
When we do tit-for-tat giving, most people end up with tat. It’s not good for our wallets or for the environment.
So let’s be honest, we’ve all bought something for someone we know they don’t really want or need, just to tick them off the list.
Don’t make a Christmas lust list
Many people start to think about how to have the perfect Christmas – yet for most, that leads to debt or disappointment. Instead, boringly, focus on the finances first. Work out how much you’ve got to spend and then ask yourself: “What is the best Christmas I can have on that cash?”
If you are really struggling and have nothing, then do truly go cold
turkey – see family, 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.
Give time, not money – with free personal gift vouchers
Presents don’t have to equate to big bucks. One easy idea is to give personal gift cheques – you can download them free from mse.me/xmascheque. Promise someone a babysitting session, to cook them a meal or even the “special massage” that your partner loves (nudge, nudge).
According to the vicars I’ve spoken to (I celebrate Hanukkah, not Christmas at this time of year, so it’s not for me to preach about) this is far closer to the original meaning of the season of goodwill – doing something nice for others, rather than just flashing the cash.
Younger children don’t value your gift based on price – it doesn’t matter to them if it costs £1 or £100.
And when they’re older they will want more expensive gifts so you’re better off saving the cash while you can.
In fact, there’s the old saying that kids prefer the wrapping to the present.
I tested this with a class of five-year-olds on my TV show a few years ago.
I first gave them giant wrapped boxes just filled with balloons (carefully supervised – balloons can be dangerous). They loved it and played for 20 minutes. Then I gave them giant wrapped empty boxes – I told them they were empty before they were opened, so as not to disappoint. They ended up spending even more time, 40 minutes, being creative and pretending they were houses or spaceships.
My point isn’t that you should give children empty boxes – though they may like it – it’s that you don’t need to shell out big bucks to give them a great day.
If you need debt help, don’t wait until January
Sadly, Christmas isn’t jolly for everyone. If you are worried, panicking or even ignoring your financial problems the best thing to do is to go and seek out non-profit free debt counselling help from the likes.of www.nationaldebtline.org, www.citizensadvice.org.uk, www.stepchange.org or www.capuk.org.
Do it now, as in January, after the Christmas period, it’s hugely busy and appointments are very difficult to get. They’re there to help, not judge. The most common feedback I get from people who’ve done that is ‘I finally slept last night’.
Raise cash to spend, rather than spend cash you’ve got
I know some people who make their children sell their old toys to buy new ones. It’s not a bad attitude.
There are many ways to try to raise cash. Start by doing a household stocktake – walk around your home, identify what you’ve not used in a year, and consider flogging it.
Plus, as there’s still a bit of time left, you could give up coffees, cigarettes or other small treats in order to build up some Christmas funds.
Or even look at switching bank account – there’s up to £125 of free cash available for doing that.
There’s still time to make a pre-NUPP, a pre-Christmas No Unnecessary Present Pact.
Make an agreement with friends that you won’t give gifts this year or at least that you’ll cap the price.
Back in September, I spoke about this on my Live ITV show. I do my Christmas special in September, not to celebrate early, but as there’s still time to plan. It seems that started a movement.
A three-minute video of it went viral, here and in other countries.
On Facebook alone it’s had more than 13million views. You can still watch it at bit.ly/2Q4Qe2D. It has been shared 251,000 times so far, often by people who tell me they did that as a way to tell friends they wanted a pre-Nupp. So feel free to do it and blame me.
Best of all, most people seem to find that rather than their friends being unhappy, most seem to be grateful kindred spirits.
Christina tweeted: “@MartinSLewis just watched… texted everyone including hubby to say let’s not bother gifting…heart in my mouth but everyone agreed! Feel like a weight is lifted! Thank you.”
Pauline emailed: “Just watched, Martin. Your speech about cutting down (or out) presents moved me to tears.
“As a pensioner on the state pension, Christmas
is hard enough for me to buy nice presents for my sons, their wives, my grandchildren and great grandchildren and my partner.
“Giving me permission to NOT have to do that has made me feel a whole lot better!
“Memories are more important than buying the latest iPad or gadget! Thank you.”
And for those thinking: “What about the gift of giving?” Well, you may give to someone who’s struggling financially thinking it’s generous but often it simply obliges them to buy back for you at a similar value.
Imagine you give them a £20 scarf, so they give you £20 socks. The net effect is they’ve spent £20 on the scarf you gave them – that misprioritises their finances –and they may have preferred to spend that money on feeding the kids.
Sometimes the best gift is releasing someone from the obligation of buying for you.
If that leaves you feeling short-changed, why not donate to charity in a friend’s name? Then you know the money really will do some good.
Don’t borrow! Don’t borrow! Don’t borrow! (But if you must, do it at 0%)
I hope my message is clear here – DON’T borrow for Christmas. It’s just one day – it’s not worth getting into debt. Go cold turkey.
However, if you won’t listen to that, and insist on borrowing anyway, at least do it as cheaply as possible.
Calculate the minimum you “need”, and how much you can afford as a repayment. Spread the cost over 12 months or less (so you repay the borrowing long before next Christmas or the cycle just repeats, perpetuating the misery).
The best (or least worst) way is to use a 0% credit card to buy what you need. Don’t withdraw cash on it.
The longest 0% credit card for spending on currently is 29 months, but what counts is what you’ll be accepted for.
To find that out, use an eligibility calculator like the one at moneysavingexpert.com/eligibility and always make sure it’s repaid before the rate hikes.
And if you try to get cheap borrowing but can’t, frankly you’d be better off cancelling Christmas.
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