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Christmas in the time of COVID

Christmas money: Is there an alternative to payday loans

What are you doing for Christmas? It’s the question that everyone is typically asking at this time of year. The problem is, with 2020 having been such a difficult year, nobody really knows what is going to be happening at Christmas.

You don’t want to make too many plans in case you then have to change them all due to whatever restrictions are in force at the time. But, on the other hand, Christmas is edging nearer and you might feel as if you really should be doing “something” to prepare.

As well as all the uncertainty, you also need to think about the financial implications of Christmas. Whatever you end up doing, it will cost money. Many of us find Christmas difficult anyway for that very reason: there just never seems to be enough money to cover all the costs.

What’s the answer? Should you start planning for Christmas now, or is it too soon? Should you try and get money together to celebrate with family and friends, or is it too late?

Let’s take a look at five ways to prepare for Christmas in the time of Covid.

Hosting Christmas

You are unlikely to know until nearer the time how many people you will be able to have in your home for Christmas. So the best thing to do in the meantime is to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

This means you should start planning to host and feed all the people you hope will be with you over Christmas. But try to plan meals which won’t be wasted if you end up not being able to have those people after all. For example, when planning meals, make sure that:

  • Any ingredients can be kept and used for everyday meals if they end up not being used at Christmas. This could include tinned goods, packets, and frozen items;
  • Any dishes you make in advance - for example, desserts - can be divided into smaller portions and frozen so they don’t have to be used all at once;
  • If you order fresh food - for example, a turkey - you have a list of potential ways to use it up just for your own household over the Christmas period, so nothing is wasted. There are websites that can help you do this, such as Love Food Hate Waste.

Also don’t worry about asking others for help, for example if the situation changes rapidly and you are able to invite more people than you had anticipated. 2020 has definitely been a unique year, in which many people have had to work together in unexpected ways.

In light of this, it’s a good idea to discuss Christmas now with family and friends, and explore different scenarios of who does what. If circumstances allow you to host a larger get-together, then why not ask everyone to bring whatever food they have? This would mean there is plenty for everyone without you as the host having to shoulder all the responsibility or cost.

Christmas shopping: sorted

Even if there are people that you are not allowed to see face to face, you can still buy them a Christmas present if you want to. But you may need to be a little more creative about it this year.

If you live near someone that you are buying a gift for but are not allowed to visit, then you can play Santa and drop it off at their door. But if they are some distance away then your two main options are either to buy the person a gift and post it to them yourself, or to buy a gift online and get it delivered. Posting it yourself involves more effort, but does add more of a personal touch. Just make sure you are aware of the Royal Mail last posting dates so you don’t end up having to pay additional postage costs to ensure it gets there on time.

But do remember that it’s very easy to overspend at Christmas, especially on presents. Postage costs will also add to the amount you are spending. 2020 has also been a very difficult year financially for many of us. All of which means that this Christmas it’s more important than ever to set a budget for your Christmas shopping and do your very best to stick to it.

Make a list of everyone you need to buy for, any ideas of what to get for them, and roughly the amount you want to spend. Then add it all up. You may be surprised or even shocked at the total. You now have the chance to revise your list, and work on reducing the cost to what you can afford. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Spend a smaller amount of money on some of the presents you are going to buy;
  • Cross some people off your present list;
  • See if you could organise Secret Santas for some family presents, to save everyone having to buy a gift for everyone else.

Some of the above actions may mean talking things over with other family members. But don’t hesitate to do this. It is better to make sensible decisions and let people know in advance, rather than spending money you haven’t got, and sliding into debt. You will probably find that most people are in the same position, and will be relieved that you have brought up the subject.

Getting your home ready for Christmas

At this time of year, TV adverts, magazine articles and Christmas films all feature fabulous homes, shining, sparkling, and beautifully decorated for Christmas. It can make your own home feel shabby and cluttered, and not very Christmassy at all.

But don’t be fooled. You are being sold a dream lifestyle that is unattainable for most people. So enjoy the productions for what they are: fantasy. By all means get some ideas for things you would like to try in your own home, but always keep things in perspective.

There are three main things you can do to ensure your home is ready for Christmas:

1. Declutter. Nothing is more annoying than piles of clutter around the home. If you start decluttering now, you should be able to see a big difference before Christmas. Children can be persuaded to join in too, with the expectation of needing space for some new Christmas presents.

  • First of all, get rid of any large items you don’t want, for example old furniture or children’s play equipment. It is more difficult to do this with Covid restrictions in place, but it is worth trying your local council or private companies for rubbish removal, and websites such as Freecycle if there are things that others may be able to make use of.

2. Deep clean. Let’s be honest: many of us only clean properly when visitors are coming. But even if that turns out not to be the case this year, it’s great to have a nice clean home to relax in over Christmas. This doesn’t have to take a huge amount of effort.

  • Start by making a list of everything that needs cleaning throughout the home. Then try to do just one or two jobs on that list every day. Everything will soon start to look a bit better. If you get to the end of your list with time to spare, then go back to the beginning again and see how much quicker and easier it is the second time round. If you can get into this regular habit, then there should be no more panic cleaning the next time you are allowed visitors in your home.

3. Decorate. Most people love Christmas decorations, and it is so much easier to put them up in a clean, decluttered home. This year, why not also try to do something a little bit different? Perhaps don’t use all your current decorations, but work on the basis of “less is more”. Then if there are one or two gaps that need to be filled, either make or buy a small number of new decorations just to ring the changes.

Fun for all the family

Having fun is the most important part of Christmas. Whether you are with your immediate household or bubble, part of a larger group, or on your own, make sure you build in some fun to the festive season.

Covid restrictions mean that many Christmas events may not be running this year, but there are still many things you can do to enjoy Christmas, however many or few people you are with. Also be aware that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have fun at Christmas, there are many things you can do either for free or for very little cost.

Here are five ideas for fun this Christmas:

  • Christmas carols. If you are unable to get to a carol service then there will be various options on TV, so check the listings. There are also likely to be outdoor carol singing events in many local areas and also at historical sites such as the National Trust and English Heritage.
  • Pantomimes. Oh yes there are! Even though many pantomimes have been cancelled, there are still some that are planning to run, for example Julian Clary’s Pantoland at The Palladium. So do check locally to see what may be happening on a smaller scale in your area, and remember there will also be TV options available.
  • Christmas events. Even though many Christmas markets and outdoor entertainments - such as Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland - are cancelled this year, there is still a lot going on. If nothing is happening near you, then check online too: many local areas are organising virtual Christmas markets where you can get your Christmas shopping done as well as supporting small businesses in your local community.
  • Fresh air. Getting out in the fresh air is therapeutic for everyone. So even if there is nothing specific to go to, set off for a brisk walk either round your local area or a little further afield. If possible, try exploring somewhere you have not been to before. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. If you have time to prepare, you could make it more fun for the children by building in a quiz or treasure hunt.
  • Cosy nights in. Whoever you are with, a cosy night in is always lovely. Whether you prefer board games, Christmas movies, or your favourite music, take plenty of opportunities to relax in comfort this Christmas, and recharge your batteries ready for 2021.

How to pay for it all

Throughout this article, we’ve tried to emphasise the importance of careful planning. Firstly so that you can enjoy Christmas whatever is happening at the time; and secondly so you don’t overspend.

If you risk overspending the best thing to do is to look again at what you are planning to spend and why, then see if there are ways you can cut this down. It is much better to have a simpler, cheaper Christmas than to run up debts that you could struggle to repay.

If you do need additional finances then look around carefully at different options for this. Don’t get drawn into taking out an expensive loan that you can’t afford. Always remember that there are alternatives to payday loans, for example personal loans that offer you a fair deal.

We hope the tips above help you plan for Christmas - even during these times of uncertainty - and save money in the process.

Check back here soon for more lifestyle and financial tips from Fair Finance.

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