The true cost of Christmas

Easy credit, children with ever-higher expectations - all this and the general desire to splurge over the festive season can mean financial misery. Paul Slade sounds a warning

With Christ- mas less than three weeks away, many UK families are already running up debts that will haunt them through most of 1999.

An understandable wish to have a "good time", the determination to give children a Christmas they will remember, combined with easy access to credit, leaves many families in deep financial trouble.

Sue Holman, of Wandsworth Money Advice Centre, says: "Often, people haven't budgeted before they start their Christmas spending and find that they get into debt for that reason. When they have overspent, they tend to pay off their credit debts and leave out the most important debts, which are mortgages and rent. With credit debts, the worst that can happen is that they get a County Court Judgement, but with mortgage or rent they could lose their home."

The situation is made even worse by the fact that the highest heating and fuel bills of the year also come in just after Christmas, pushing an already shaky situation into crisis.

Trevor Newham, of IFA Network, a group of over 600 independent financial advisors, believes part of the problem is the unsolicited offers of credit which seem to come with every post. Mr Newham says: "Credit cards are the real issue, because they are so easy to take advantage of. It is all too easy to take up some of the offers that exist at the moment for credit of pounds 2,000 here or pounds 3,000 there. That is a genuine problem."

Midland Bank says four out of 10 people use their credit cards to fuel their Christmas spending, often paying interest of well over 20 per cent as a result. Over one million Midland cardholders alone fail to clear their bills each month, and so must pay interest on the debt.

Mr Newham says: "The interest rates are clarified in the sales material, but I'm not sure what the impact might be. At this time of year, people do tend to sleepwalk into debt."

To see just how expensive the modern Christmas is, you have only to look at the host of festive surveys produced by UK banks, insurers and credit card companies. These make it clear that by far the most expensive item to have in your house at this time of year is a child.

A survey by Goldfish, the credit card company, this week found that children under 12 get presents worth an average of pounds 128 from their parents alone. The Prudential discovered that what seven to 16-year-olds most want for Christmas is a pounds 599 computer, closely followed by a Playstation games console priced at pounds 119.95.

In 1996, the most popular Christmas toy was a Buzz Lightyear doll (price pounds 24.99), in 1997 it was a talking Teletubby (price pounds 41.99), and this year it looks like being a Furby (price pounds 34.99, if you can find one).

Ms Holman agrees it is hard to economise when faced with avaricious children. But she says: "We would advise people to avoid being pressurised by their children. Sit down with them and explain the situation."

Some areas of the country are more profligate than others, and the Goldfish survey concludes that Britain's meanest people live in the Midlands. There, each person spends an average of pounds 244.10 on presents, against pounds 310 in the north east of England and pounds 294.40 on the south coast. Men, it seems, are more generous than women, spending an average of pounds 28 against women's pounds 20 on each present they buy.

But overspending is not the only danger the festive season presents. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that 80,000 people will spend part of their holiday in hospital, over 30,000 of these accidents come through falls, generally while navigating unfamiliar or toy-strewn stairs. Yorkshire Bank warns that the kitchen, too, is a death trap, as tipsy cooks fall victim to slippery floors or pans full of hot fat.

If insurers Guardian Direct are to be believed, you will most likely get back from the hospital to find your house has been burgled. Leave a big pile of presents under the tree in an empty house, they suggest, and you might as well jam the front door open. There are nearly three times as many burglaries in December as there are the following month.

Have a happy Christmas!

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Polish Speaking Buying Assistant

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Superb opportunity for a BUYING...

    Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

    £14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers personalise...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Account Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A really exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

    £22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project