Money, money, money, it’s not funny, in a New Year’s world

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It says something about the massive expense of Christmas when a poll reveals that over 10,000 people would cancel the whole thing if they could.

Members of the popular MoneySavingExpert.com community said that, if they had the choice, they would push a big red button that would delete Christmas from the calendar.

But experts behind the popular money advice site do not believe that these people are lacking in festive spirit, rather that they would prefer to avoid the cost behind the copious number of presents, lavish dinners and celebratory drinks around December 25.

Sally Francis, senior writer with Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert website, said: “We polled 20,000 members and 51 per cent said they would push that button and make Christmas disappear. I think the cost of Christmas does put people off.

“It’s not just presents; it’s travelling to see family, buying food, drinks and all the other little things that all add up.

“So while it’s great to see family, there’s also a lot of pressure to buy big, expensive presents to try to keep up with the Joneses.

“Christmas is a great time of year but it is only one day, and people end up suffering for the rest of the year to pay for it.

“So now is the time to think, if you do want to spend a lot at Christmas and have that big celebration, put a little money aside each month.

“December comes round every year, so you don’t need to pay for it all with one pay packet.”

Christmas has become a time for party nights, delicious food and piles of presents for loved ones – making the extra cost seem worth it.

But when the tinsel comes down and life gets back to normal, January can be a bit grimmer as the bills start pouring in.

But there are things you can do to make the darker days a bit financially brighter.

Sally said: “If you have overspent this Christmas, and you have spent on a credit card, consider a balance transfer to a zero per cent card that will allow you to repay over 35 or 36 months.

“You will pay a fee of about two or three per cent, but that will be a lot cheaper than paying 20 per cent interest each month.

“If you are into your overdraft, think about a money transfer from a credit card on zero per cent.

“The fee may be slightly more, perhaps four per cent, but again it’s so much cheaper.”

The Money Saving Expert team also recommend giving your finances a spring clean this January, to make sure that you’re not wasting a penny of your hard-earned cash.

Sally said: “Take a day and go through all your outgoings.

“You may have a gym membership you don’t use, or think about the last time you changed your energy supplier. By doing an energy comparison, you could slash your bills, and maybe save about £200 to £300 pounds a year, and it’s a pretty easy saving.

“Or if you’re not happy with your bank account, switch it.

“Some banks will pay you £100 or £150 to switch to them and it’s all done in seven days.”

Other ideas include checking with your TV and broadband provider to see if you can haggle yourself a lower price or shopping around for a better deal elsewhere.

And if you are embarking on a more money-savvy approach this year, you are not alone.

In November, Money Saving Expert.com had almost four million visitors, all looking for ways to cut their costs and get themselves out of debt.

Wherever you go for advice and help about money and finances, most will agree that debt should never, ever be ignored.

Citizens Advice Scotland is encouraging everyone to take debt very seriously before it becomes a much bigger problem.

Keith Dryburgh, policy manager for Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “Debt is one of the most common problems people bring to the CAB.

“And many people first get into debt in January, as those Christmas bills come back to haunt them and the big utility bills arrive.

“The thing about debt is that it breeds. You find yourself taking out loan after loan until soon you are in a spiral you can’t control.

“We see it at the CAB all the time.

“Experience shows that people who get into debt at this time of year tend to get deeper and deeper in the red as the year goes on.

“So do yourself and your family a big favour this year by giving debt a miss in 2016.”

Ten tips for debt-free year

Citizens Advice Scotland has given its ten top tips for a debt-free New Year.

1 Before you hit the sales, be realistic about what you can afford.

The bargains look tempting but you may well have over-spent at Christmas. Draw up a budget based on what you can afford and stick to the plan.

2 If you can afford to pay in cash – without credit – do that!

Don’t take out credit unless it really does work out cheaper.

3 If you are using credit, shop around for the best deal

Be wary about ‘Buy now, pay later’ offers. Are you sure you’ll have the money later? And avoid payday loans. Remember – penalties for late payment can be huge.

4Read the small print of any credit agreement closely.

If anything is unclear, ask before you sign. Then get advice from someone independent.

5Beware of store cards.

They’re often a more expensive form of credit than credit cards, many charging interest rates of around 30 per cent.

6If you think you’re going into the red, talk to your bank/credit card company first.

They may come to an agreement with you but they definitely won’t if you just go over your limit without giving any notice.

7Remember the New Year utility bills!

Gas and electricity bills often arrive in January/February, just when you’re feeling the pinch after Christmas. And they’ll probably be higher than usual at this time of year. Allow for these in your budgeting.

8Prioritise your bills

Payments such as mortgage/rent, gas/electricity and council tax should come first.

9Maximise your income.

If you’re a lone parent, on a low income, unemployed, or a pensioner, there may be benefits you are not claiming. Your local CAB can help you check.

10If you do think you’ve over-spent, get help immediately!

Don’t ignore it or hope it will go away. It won’t! Your local CAB will give you free, confidential and independent advice on how to manage your debt. 
But you have to ask for it asap. Sticking your head in the sand won’t make your debt go away – it will only get worse.

To find your local branch or for more information, visit www.cas.org.uk