The countdown is well and truly on with glittering lights aglow and tinsel twinkling in shop windows. Christmas is here and overspending and under-budgeting is an all too familiar scenario for many. So, it was quite a surprise to see the headlines this week splashed with “warnings” and the “shocking” fact that one third of Britons expect to buy Christmas on credit this year.
It’s hardly that “shocking” that people borrow to pay for presents, food and entertainment when six in 10 households struggle to make ends meet, or to give “warnings” when consumer credit is booming at the fastest pace in 11 years and 11 per cent more than only a year ago. Let’s face facts, a Christmas debt hangover in January is nothing new; this year alone more than six million Britons fell behind on their finances in January to pay off festive debts.
As a nation, we’re guilty of overspending, with families expected to fork out nearly £600 over Christmas. So, will the lure of the festive spirit tip your finances over the edge this year or do you plan to scale back your seasonal spend? Are you one of the 16.9 million people that have already borrowed, or plan to borrow, money to cover the cost of Christmas presents or one of the 12.7 million people borrowing on credit cards, 2.7 million from bank overdrafts 2.4 million on catalogue credit and 1.9 million on store cards, according to the National Debtline?
Maybe what is the more “worrying” and “shocking” fact isn’t the blatantly obvious – that people borrow year on year to fund Christmas – but that 2.3 million people have already missed, or expect to miss, a payment on their household bills and have fallen behind with ‘priority debts’ including rent, council tax and energy bills, all in the name of Christmas.
It’s no wonder that up to five million Britons are "regularly" stressed about finances over the holiday season when just one in four set a budget for Christmas money and fewer than one in five keep track of their spending, with 22 percent taking no steps whatsoever to manage their Christmas finances.
Instead of “warnings” and “shock” statistics, action not words will be a bigger help to those struggling to pay for Christmas. Rather than spending money on research that tells us the same every year, money charities and businesses should get inspired by The Wood Street Mission in Manchester, whose Christmas community shop is giving free presents and festive treats to struggling families, helping alleviate the financial burden and bringing some festive cheer to children whose parents can’t afford to buy them treats.
It can be easy to get carried away, but you don’t need to be a Santa Scrooge. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of paying for Christmas, it's worth making a budget of who you need to buy presents for and stick to it. First think what you can afford, then shop around for deals to get the best price for each item. If you do decide to take out credit and become worried about money or debt, seek advice.
Remember, Christmas is just one day, it comes and goes and the true meaning isn’t about how much money you spend on presents, so you don't need to fork out a fortune.