Money Insider: Time to get your Christmas (credit) cards

 

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The Independent Online

With less than four weeks until Christmas, if you're thinking of taking out a new credit card to help ease the financial burden, you'll need to get your skates on.

I'm not advocating that you should go on a shopping binge and then worry about paying for it later, but if funds are tight this year, it makes sense to find a cost-effective way to spread the cost over two to three months.

Balancing the budget doesn't get any easier, with energy and food costs soaring and pay increases barely keep pace with inflation.

If your credit rating is in good shape then you may want to think about using a new credit card offering interest-free credit on purchases.

If this is something you think will work, then you need to get your card application completed in the next few days. It will take between seven and 10 days before your account is opened and the plastic is in your hands.

The question is: which credit card to sign up for? There are dozens of cards offering interest-free purchases on the market. Halifax has one for as long as 20 months.

In reality, the last thing you want to be doing is still paying off your Christmas borrowing come next summer, but choosing a card that gives you something back for your short-term spending may be worth a look.

The Tesco Clubcard offers 19 months interest-free on purchases and Sainsbury's Bank the same for 18 months, but both also offer reward points, so well worth considering if you do your weekly food shop at either of these supermarkets.

Other cards offering a combination of interest-free purchases and rewards are M&S Bank (19 months), John Lewis Partnership Card (six months) and Santander 123 (18 months), although the latter does come with an annual fee of £24.

If the thought of spreading the cost of Christmas doesn't appeal to you, then it may be worth looking at a few ideas to try to keep your costs down.

One tried-and-tested money saving tip is to cut back on your food shopping during the first couple of weeks in December, by using up what you already have in your kitchen cupboards and your freezer, and only buying the absolute essentials.

I'm pretty sure that you'll find more than a couple of meals buried at the bottom of the freezer.

Another way to keep the cost down is to agree with friends and relatives that you're going to cut down on presents this year – either by imposing a limit on the amount you'll spend or perhaps agreeing to buy only for the children.

Alternatively, rather than spending money on presents, you could design and send your own practical vouchers where you offer to give up your time to baby sit, provide a taxi service, clean the car or even walk the dog. It will cost you nothing but your time and a little creativeness.

If you can't afford it, don't buy presents on the basis that you don't want to lose face or are trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Christmas is not about expensive presents; it's a rare opportunity to relax and spend some quality time with your friends and family. So have a good time but don't get into long-term debt over it – it's really not worth it.

Andrew Hagger is an independent personal finance analyst from moneycomms.co.uk

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