Planning is the key to avoiding Christmas debt

From Jan Channing, Caerphilly & Blaenau Gwent Citizens Advice Bureau

Christmas is one of the most exciting times of the year, but can also be one of the most expensive. It’s all too easy to overspend and with tempting offers and pressures to buy, you can easily give yourself a headache in January with bills and debts you can’t afford.

Planning, budgeting and organisation are key to avoiding financial shocks over the festive period.

Plan early for Christmas – after all it does happen at the same time every year! Be realistic and budget accordingly. Work out how much you can afford to spend, and stick to it. We’d all love to spoil our friends and family at Christmas, but sadly it’s not always affordable or realistic to do so.

If you want to keep an eye on your money at Christmas, check out the Money Advice Service Christmas Money Planner at www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk .

It’s important that you don’t forget the everyday bills, just because it’s Christmas rent, mortgage, council tax, utility and food bills still have to be paid – and the consequences can potentially be severe if they’re not.

If you think you are going to need more money, don’t just run up an overdraft without speaking to your bank first. An unauthorised overdraft will work out much more expensive – as will taking out credit to pay for goods and you could be paying for Christmas right through the New Year.

If you are going to use a credit card, shop around. Some cards will charge high interest rates but provide interest free periods. If you do use a credit card, make sure that all potential costs are budgeted for.

Be organised, there’s a lot to remember at Christmas, and lots to be done. If you’ve borrowed money don’t forget that it won’t be long before you have to start paying it back.

And finally, once Christmas is over – start planning for the next one.  You may even be able to pick up some Christmas gifts at bargain prices in the January sales.

If, however, you do find yourself struggling with paying bills and debts after the Christmas period, the worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand. Prioritise payments for rent, mortgage, council tax and utility bills; whilst there are implications of not paying credit cards or loans, they are not as severe.

Above all, don’t suffer in silence. Seeking help with the issues early on may not only save you undue stress, but could also save you money in late fees and additional charges.

Your local Citizens Advice can help you prepare a budget and prioritise payments, support you in dealing with your creditors or, in some cases, negotiate affordable repayments on your behalf. They will also look at ways of maximising your income by checking that you’re getting your full benefit entitlement or by reducing your outgoings, by helping you to look at reducing energy costs. Details of your nearest local bureau can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk

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