Do your sums before you splash out on Christmas presents - then start saving for the summer holiday

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WITH BARELY four weeks left until Christmas, many of us will be feeling a greater sense of urgency than normal as we go about our weekend shopping. The temptation to spend more than we can afford can be overwhelming - particularly as panic sets in when we find ourselves a day or two away from Christmas with so many presents to buy.

Next week, we will be publishing a number of features on Christmas spending and how to minimise the financial hangover many of us are likely to experience after all the bills come in. In the meantime, it makes sense to bear in mind a few tips on how to manage your money over the next few weeks.

First, rather than buying presents haphazardly, set yourself realistic goals in terms of how much you can afford - not per present, but overall. Include any sum you think necessary for food and drink over the festivities themselves.

Then decide how much of that sum should be allotted between different people you are buying presents for - and work out a basic food and drink budget too.

Finally, calculate how you are going to pay for those presents. Credit cards, particularly some of the cheaper ones, or those with low introductory interest rates, can be good value. But make sure that you pay off any outstanding balances as quickly as possible.

Remember: after you've finished paying off the Christmas bills, then comes the task of finding the money for your summer holidays. Just for once, take it easy.

CALL ME a cynic, but I smell something fishy in the protests by many insurers that the introduction of new NHS charges to be paid in the event of accidents to motorists will mean an increase in premiums.

I should state at the outset that I agree with the industry that the Government's proposed Road Traffic Accidents (NHS) Charges Bill is a shameful back-door attempt to levy more money for the Health Service.

The Department of Health is clearly calculating that no-one will notice if insurers are forced to stump up an extra pounds 160m when motorists receive hospital care. Ultimately, however, the UK's 22 million car owners will have to foot the bill, which averages out at an additional "tax" worth about pounds 8 for every driver.

This is plainly unfair. After all, I see no plans by the Government to charge a "cirrhosis tax" on every pint of beer sold, or a "lung cancer tax" on every packet of fags.

Before anyone points out that cigarette and alcohol duties are already sky-high, so are petrol and vehicle excise duties - this is the only "health tax" specifically related to the exercise of a lawful activity.

At the same time, I'm a little wary of insurers' complaints. They have been looking to raise motor insurance premiums for several years now, largely unsuccessfully to date. I note that the likely increase they are suggesting for an average motorist ranges between pounds 10 and 10 per cent a year - an interesting gap, given that typical fully comprehensive premiums cost pounds 400 or so.

The lesson to be learned, if there is one, is that while the Government is doing us no favours, it may - without realising it, hopefully - be doing the insurance industry a big favour at the same time. Ordinary punters, as always, are the ones who get hurt.