Helen Nugent

How to have the most wonderful Christmas time: rein in your spending

How to have the most wonderful Christmas time: rein in your spending
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There's always one. One colleague, friend or family member who starts banging on about Christmas months in advance. One smug person who risks a punch in the face for boasting 'I've done all my Xmas shopping' before the clocks have gone back.

Thanks all the same but I don't want to know how many days it is until December 25. I have no interest in seeing the M&S festive range. And I have zero appetite for a sneak preview of the John Lewis Christmas ad.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and all that it entails. The bulging stocking (yes, my mum still does this), the tin of Quality Street, the massive over-eating. And it's particularly special now my niece is old enough to enjoy it.

But surely there should be some kind of law that prevents any mention of Christmas until, oh, Christmas Eve? If there was, it might prevent my inbox being flooded by festive press releases. I'm averaging at least two a day now. It's only Monday and already I've received a helpful missive entitled 'Essential November Jobs to Prepare Your Home for Christmas'. I'm screaming on the inside.

Despite all my moaning and groaning, I'll admit there is a serious side to Christmas: money. It's expensive and many of us end up paying for it well into the New Year.

According to the latest data from Halifax, people spent an average £506 on Christmas 2015, including lavishing cash on gifts, food, drink and socialising - an 8 per cent rise on 2014. Almost a third admitted to spending more than they did in the previous year, and of those who did increase their Christmas outlay, nearly one in five spent over £200 more.

One in three consumers surveyed by Halifax still had payments outstanding at the start of February, and of these, the Christmas financial hangover was expected to last until April. Of this number, just over a third were concerned they may need to make cut backs on non-essential spending to pay for the cost of the previous Christmas. Almost one in eight thought they might have to forego a holiday this year as a result.

While it may not reduce the total cost, there's a strong argument for staggering Christmas spending, not least because it will prevent you from panic-buying a load of rubbish at the last minute. While I'm usually sending out cards at the eleventh hour and wrapping presents on Christmas morning, I spread out my gift-buying. I've been known to snap up a pressie for my sister in June, although I don't brag about it on Facebook.

Research from VoucherCodes.co.uk and YouGov suggests that the cost of Christmas per household is equivalent to almost two months of the average adult's disposable income. And their figures show that the expected overall Christmas spend this year will be 2 per cent less than last year, totalling £780.28. In addition, VoucherCodes says that 23 per cent of people expect to have their festive shopping all wrapped up by December 1.

Each survey says something different but I think we can all agree on one fundamental point: Christmas can break the bank. It may seem too late to start saving now but, according to Moneyfacts, there's still time to open an easy access or monthly savings account that will let you rack up some interest by December – and at the very least putting this money in a dedicated pot will stop you spending it before you're ready. And perhaps add an extra resolution to your list for 2017: start a savings plan dedicated solely to Christmas.

So, there we are. I've broken a golden rule and written about Christmas in October. Just don't get me started on Thanksgiving press releases.

Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator