Avoiding a financial Christmas hangover!

Christmas is a time to give but in this tough year it is more important than ever to keep a close eye on your spending in the run up to the festive season. Cambridge Citizens Advice offers some top tips on avoiding a new year debt headache.

I don't want to skimp on present giving but how can I avoid overspending?

Budgeting is always the magic word. Start by asking yourself: 'What can I afford to spend overall?' Last year, the average British family spent more than £700 on Christmas. This year, that figure might need to be a good deal less. Set yourself a firm limit and keep monitoring your purchases as you go. Don't forget that everyday household bills will still have to be paid.

Keep a close eye on your bank account and credit card spending. Some banks will provide alerts to let you know when your current account drops below a set amount. Find out if your bank offers this service and, if so, sign up. Avoid running up an overdraft without talking to you bank first. And don't take out extended credit agreements unless you know you will be able to afford the future repayments. There will be lots of end-of-year sales to tempt us but items you really need or which are on your wish list may turn out to be cheaper still in the new year.

How can I get best value out of my supermarket spending?

You could add up to 5 per cent to your supermarket savings scheme pot by paying more money in just before the date when they calculate your annual bonus.

Moneysavingexpert.com has a good guide to help you with this at Supermarket Christmas Boost: get extra cash to spend on your shopping.

Do you have a Tesco Clubcard or Sainsbury's Nectar points waiting to be used? You could get double the value - or more on certain items - to make your money go further.

How can I cut down on my present-giving?

Why not make a pact with other adult family members to swap token gifts and agree a spending limit in advance? Or organise a Secret Santa where everyone receives a gift of the same value? Alternatively, you could suggest joint family gifts - a good size box of chocolates or a board game to share.

Quality not quantity. This could be the perfect year to thin out your present list to ensure you give only to those who are really important to you. Or you could go further and agree with your family and friends that you will not be exchanging gifts at all this year.

How do I protect myself when ordering online?

Choose your seller carefully. Do plenty of research into the site that not only offers the best price but gets the best customer reviews. Once you have made your choice, check your order before entering your card details in case you have changed your mind or have over-ordered. It's important to be aware of your rights as a consumer. In the majority of cases you have a 14-day cooling off period to cancel an order and a further 14 days to send back an item. There doesn't need to be anything wrong with the goods for you to be entitled to a full refund.

If you need advice on any consumer-related topics, you can call Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08082 231 133. Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm.

If I do find I am struggling with my finances in the new year, where can I get advice?

If, despite your best efforts to stay on-budget, you find yourself with money problems and need to know more about your options, Cambridge Citizens Advice is here to advise and support you. There is specific advice on dealing with debt on this website, or you can phone us on freephone 08082 787 808, Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm. You can also use the online form to contact us.

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This article appeared in Cambridge Independent Dec 2 - December 8 2020