Business and Finance

Get ahead with your Christmas shopping

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The countdown has begun. With just nine weeks to go until Christmas it won’t be long before every shop on the high street is filled with frenzied shoppers and unrelenting renditions of Rockin’ Robin. But just how merry are you feeling about 2012’s festive season? Are you gleefully anticipating it and already planning where to buy your turkey – or dreading the sheer expense that Christmas is sure to bring?

This question received a mixed bag of responses in a recent poll carried out by MoneySupermarket. While the number of people worried about funding the festivities is down by 7% from last year, over half of consumers (53%) are seriously concerned that things will be a lot tighter on the financial front.

The poll also showed that while 24% are lucky enough to not be concerned at all, 48% are worried that they will have to make some cut-backs.

If this sounds familiar and you’re already feeling anxious about affording the festive season, don’t panic. Time is still on your side and, if you plan now and get organised, you can be sure to have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Grab a bargain

Although it feels like we are barely into autumn, now is the perfect time to start your Christmas shopping. Buying a few gifts in October will save you panicking near the end of December and will mean you are able to spread your Christmas spend over a few months.

The UK’s high streets are eagerly awaiting the season and preparing to jostle for our custom. So keep your eyes peeled as Christmas offers start to flood the shops. For example, a number of Boots stores are already stocking their annual 3-for-2 gifts across a range of cosmetics, gifts and toys. They include brands such as Soap and Glory, No.7 and Ted Baker.

Not to be outdone, Marks & Spencer and Next are raring to go with 3-for-2 on Christmas cards and wrapping paper.

Don’t forget to scour the supermarkets as well. Sainsbury’s is showcasing half price gifts, food and drink, and Asda has a special offers page with great ideas for cut-price unusual gifts such as weekend Segway rallying for two, reduced from £65 to £52, and deluxe afternoon tea for two, down from £35 to £26.

The only downside to buying gifts early is that you may see the price of the same gift drop further in the days leading up to Christmas. If this is the case, you don’t have any legal rights to return an item if there is nothing wrong with it.

However, check the store’s return policy because if they have one, they must stick to it. If you bring the item back within the time limit then you should be able to buy it again at the discounted price.

Deals and vouchers

Choosing to do your Christmas shopping online has numerous benefits. Not only do you have the luxury of browsing at your leisure and missing the crowds, but there are numerous bargains that are available exclusively to online customers.

Take, for example, the deals and vouchers channel on MoneySupermarket. Here you will find a treasure trove of cut-price deals and money-saving vouchers on everything from beauty and fashion to motoring and gardening.

For example, at the moment you can get 10% off kids bikes at Halfords, 10% off orders at and 3-for-2 on selected toys at Toys r Us.

You’ll have to be quick though. These deals don’t have a very long shelf life so, if you see a bargain, be sure to snap it up while you can.

Alternatively, if you have a specific gift that you want to buy, you could use our shopping channel to find the cheapest online retailer to buy it from.

Simply type the product you want into the search bar and it will return a list of options to make your purchase from with the cheapest at the top. It couldn’t be simpler and you could make substantial savings.

Spread the cost of Christmas

Despite there being numerous bargains out there, it can still feel impossible to fund Christmas if you know your income is simply not going to cover your outgoings.

If this is the case, it may be worth applying for a credit card that will help you to spread the cost of Christmas, but without building up further debt that you end up trying to clear throughout the New Year.

For example, a purchase credit card with a long interest-free period will give you the flexibility to buy all you need for Christmas and pay it off over a number of months. The Tesco Clubcard Credit card is one option which offers you 16 months to pay off your debt without having to fork out a penny of interest.

It has a representative APR Of 16.9% (variable), so you would need to be strict with yourself and make sure you had paid it off by the end of the period. The card has the added benefit of doubling up as a Clubcard with which you can earn points on from both Tesco and non-Tesco shopping.

There are a number of interest-free purchase credit cards out there on the market. For more information take a look at our purchase credit card channel.

If, on the other hand, you are the type of person who will pay off their balance every month, then you could reap rewards over the festive period by using a cashback credit card.

These types of cards actually reward you for spending on your card. The Barclaycard Cashback Card, for example, comes with a very generous welcome bonus of 6% cashback for the first three months.

You will earn this on your five biggest monthly purchases and, when this period expires, you will continue to earn 2% cashback on your top five monthly buys. In addition, you’ll earn 0.5% on everything else you buy.

However, the card comes with a fee of £24 – and a huge representative APR of 24.6% – so this plastic is only a tool for savvy spenders who can pay off their balance and use the card to their advantage.

It’s worth bearing in mind that only those with spotless credit ratings are likely to be accepted for these types of cards. You can increase your chances of getting approved by using MoneySupermarket’s SmartSearch tool. This will advise you about the best cards to go for and won’t leave a footprint on your credit file.

Protect yourself

A further benefit of using a credit card over the Christmas period is the added security it offers, which can be particularly useful for online purchases. If you were to buy goods that were lost, stolen or faulty, under the Consumer Credit Act you’d be entitled to a full refund on items costing between £100 and £30,000.

This protection is extended up to £62,600 under the more recently-introduced Consumer Credit Directive. However, this only applies to products bought from UK websites.

Use those points!

Throughout the year, many of us collect points through loyalty schemes at stores we regularly shop in. Be sure to remember to cash these in at the end of the year – you could knock pounds off gifts or even save on the Christmas food shop. Check on the stores’ websites to find out exactly what you’re entitled to.

Look out for saver schemes too. Tesco, for example, has a Christmas saver scheme. Your Clubcard points are saved up through the year and converted into money-off vouchers which are sent to you in November, just in time for Christmas.

Be creative!

It may sound a cliché but often the most appreciated gifts are the ones that have had thought and time put into them, rather than those with a hefty price tag.

So, as there are a number of weeks left before Christmas, get to work and make use of your creative talents. Maybe you’re a budding chef and could make chutney, jam or biscuits for a relative and package them attractively? Or how about putting together a photo album or disc for a friend of all your favourite snaps together?

The web is awash with various sites full of ideas for making your own presents, for example the BBC Good Food’s Christmas gift recipes page.

There are numerous ideas and in these cash-strapped times home-made presents and budget shopping is a good option to protect your purse and make your money go further.

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