Some seasonal consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness
We need to talk about Christmas.
It’s early I know, and I am sorry, I am one of the first to give out when selection boxes or tinsel are spotted on the shelves before Halloween is over.
However, most people who are paid monthly have just two pay days between now and December 25 — this day 11 weeks it will be all over for another year.
If you want to spend St Stephen’s Day happily tucking into leftovers, knowing you don’t have a major headache coming with your credit card bill, now is the time to get organised.
The best place to start, as always, is by making a budget. Think about how much you will need to spend on the various elements — food and entertaining at home, gifts and cards, decorations, trips to the grotto and socialising.
Try and factor in all the extra spending, include work nights out, trips to panto and Christmas Eve/ Day outfits.
The more items you have included in the budget, the less likely you are to be floored by an unexpected expense.
Tot up everything and try not to have a panic attack. Next, work out how much you have available to spend and see if it covers everything.
If it doesn’t go back over your expenditure list and see what you can trim. Ideally, you want to get to a point where all costs can be cleared before the end of the December or from January’s wages.
If that means you can’t afford everything on your first list, now is the time to think about what is really important.
In addition to spreading costs, planning now gives you the chance to make changes that would be harder to implement in the last-minute rush.
This is the time to suggest Secret Santa or no-gift policies with extended family and friends, before the big spender in the group says they have already started shopping and dooms everyone to another expensive year.
Get in early on the Whatsapp group and suggest this be the year you cut things back.
Similarly, if you always spend a fortune on cards and stamps, why not check out ecards?
There may be a few people to whom you would still prefer to send a physical card to, but most would get a giggle from the many options available at someecards.com.
For something a little more personal, paperlesspost.com allows you to customise ecards with family photos for free.
Having a budget can also help make realistic decisions about presents for children.
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) advices: “It is easy to get caught up in the moment, which is why it’s so important that you take control of your finances when you can.”
Having a budget in black and white at this stage means you know exactly what the family can truly afford to spend.
Christmas food offers in the supermarket will not start in earnest until November so consider buying gifts now and putting them away.
The massive marketing around Black Friday and Cyber Monday tempts people to wait for a bargain.
However, actual bargains are thin on the ground, with some of the most-hyped offers either available in tiny numbers or older stock.
This is particularly so if there is a danger of an item selling out, much better to shop around now (try pricespy.ie to compare prices) and get some of your big purchases out of the way early.
A suggestion that will help you prepare the kitchen for Christmas and may also free up some extra cash is to eat your way through the contents of your freezer and store cupboard.
Make it a mission to clear as much accumulated food as you can between now and mid- November.
In a perfect world, these tips would be enough to manage a debt-free Christmas but for many families that is not the case. If you know you are going to be struggling in December, try to address it now.
Better to arrange a small loan with your local credit union or bank, than buy on a high-interest credit card or be forced into a payday loan.
If you feel overwhelmed just thinking about Christmas finances, go to MABS now for expert help and support. You can find contact details at mabs.ie.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Health insurance is a major expense in family budgets and we are coming into peak renewal season.
After a seemingly endless cycle of rises in recent years, Vhi has announced a number of product changes, to include price reductions.
Vhi has reduced the young adult rate for 18-20 year olds in most plans by an average of 7% and has also aligned child rates on a number of plans.
The average reduction in the child rates is 12%.
While health analyst Dermot Goode says the savings are not huge, he points out: “Given that most consumers would be bracing themselves for increases, this is a positive development on a number of their plans, the excesses for out-patient benefits will be reducing to approx €100 per adult from the present level of €300 - €200 per adult.
"They will also be increasing some of the allowances for eligible outpatient expenses increasing the probability of a refund for members.”
The announcement highlights the importance of shopping around, for help with this, check out the comparison tool at hia.ie
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