Money Insider: Spread your spending or cut costs for a happy Christmas spending?

 

With a little over six and a half weeks until Christmas, if you're thinking of taking out a new credit card to ease the festive financial burden, you 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 pain over two to three months.

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 to help you manage the Christmas expenses.

If this is something you think will work for you then you need to get your card application completed in the next few days as it will be between 10 to 14 days before your account is opened and the plastic is in your hands ready to use.

The question is which credit card to sign up for? There are dozens of cards offering interest-free purchases, some, in the case of Halifax, for as long as 17 months.

The last thing you want to be doing is still paying off your Christmas borrowing come summer 2014, but choosing a card that gives you something back for your short-term spending may be worth a look.

The Tesco Clubcard offers 16 months at 0 per cent on purchases and Sainsbury's Bank offers the same for 15 months, but both also offer reward points, so are well worth considering if you do your weekly food shop in one of these supermarkets.

Other cards offering interest-free purchases and rewards are M&S Bank (15 months), John Lewis Partnership Card (six months) and Santander 123 (three months) although the latter does come with a £24 annual fee.

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

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

Sort through your kitchen cupboards and your freezer and make use of some of what you already have; I'm sure you'll find more than a couple of meals already there. Many of us have food buried at the bottom of the freezer that we've long since forgotten about, so now is an ideal time to use it up.

Another way to reduce costs 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 only buy for the children.

Alternatively, rather than spending money on presents, you could design and send your own 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 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 enjoy yourself but don't get into long-term debt – it's really not worth it.

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

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