Budgeting for Christmas - A guide from helloGrads

We all love some festive fun, but those parties, prosecco's and presents all add up and it can be a jaw-droppingly expensive time.  Don’t let your very merry Christmas turn into an unhappy new year, where you’re fretting for months about how you’re going to pay for what you’ve spent. Read our top 10 tips for a cracking Christmas without breaking the bank.
Better to budget than borrow (and pay back later with added interest). So first work out what you can afford, then tailor your Christmas accordingly.  
Check your bank balance, calculate what bills and essentials you still have to pay this month, and then you can work out what cash you can splash at Christmas. If it’s looking tight, prioritise your spending – what’s most important and what can you live without? Limit the luxuries, cut back the gift list, say no to nights out (well, a few!), or try to earn some quick cash from babysitting/dog walking/tutoring etc. 
Keep track of your festive finances – it’s important to know how you’re going to pay for it and not be worrying about it later.
Making a list will help you plan your spending, avoid impulse purchases and stay within your budget. Note down who you're buying presents for, a gift idea and price limit per person. Don’t be tempted to go off-piste. Resist those seasonal deals - if it’s not on your list, you don’t need it. 
It’s a win-win with Secret Santa (where a group of you set a price limit and draw lots for who buys for whom). You just buy one present each, and everyone’s guaranteed a good one.
For other friends and family, agree to stop unnecessary gifts or set a spending limit to keep budgets under control. Or decide to have a fun night out, enjoy their presence and skip the presents.
You could make a pact to buy in the January sales instead. Give each other a mini gift at Christmas plus an IOU. You’ll certainly get more for your money that way.
And you might not even have to wait till after Christmas… the sales have come early this year (great news for all us lastminutedotcommers)! Some major stores have already started slashing prices to lure Christmas shoppers in.  Check out the current sales on the high street and online:
Be savvy with sales: deals, discounts and offers are not always bargains! It’s sometimes worthwhile doing a price comparison to see if you can find things cheaper elsewhere. If you’re buying online, check T&Cs so you know what you’re getting, how you can return unwanted goods etc. And note that payment via credit card gives some protection for purchases. 
Sort your Christmas shopping whilst also making a difference. Enjoy that feelgood factor when you know what you’ve bought will have a positive impact on a worthwhile venture. We’ve picked out some of our favourites here, made by companies who help support important causes around the globe, including some great ethical gifts for under £25. 
Thoughtful homemade gifts are really appreciated and can keep the costs down. Create a photobook, promise a picnic in Spring, or cook up a treat e.g. gin infusions, flavoured oils or chocolate truffles - you don’t need to be a Jamie or Nigella and they’re all fun to make (and taste).
One person's trash is another one’s treasure.  Have a pre-Christmas clear out, get rid of your clutter and make some cash. Flog unwanted clothes, jewellery, books, computer games and sports equipment at a local car boot sale or sell online.
It’s worth noting that you pay fees for selling on eBay, but it’s a reputable company with protection for buyers and sellers. 
Free listing sites like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or local Facebook groups don’t usually charge fees to post ads, but you’ll need to take care to protect yourself when handing over goods and getting payment:
For more info on getting cash for trash, see Money Saving Expert’s Flog It guide
If you’re travelling over Christmas, plan in advance to save on travel costs. Shop around early for deals, to avoid forking out for peak season price hikes or premiums for last-minute bookings.
Travel cheaper with a 16 – 25 Railcard, which gives you 1/3 off most rail journeys (from next Spring you’ll get the same discount up to 30). For travel promotions and days out, see National Rail – Special Offers.
Try Megatrain – a low cost inter city travel service, offering budget train and bus fares around the UK and Europe, from as little as £1 each way – based on the concept of filling up empty seats. Check here for availability and prices.
Explore comparison sites for good deals on your journey, accommodation and travel insurance e.g. Travel Supermarket, Money Saving Expert, Go Compare, lastminute.com.
If the sparkle’s gone out of Christmas and you’re struggling with your finances, tackle the problem straight away. Contact your site team, your university support services, talk to your bank or seek free, confidential advice from a debt advice service.
Once you’ve had enough turkey, dismantled the tree and taken down the Christmas stockings, start planning ahead for next year. Get budgeting! 
Budgeting isn’t just about making sacrifices, it’s a tool to help you organise your money and avoid building up debt. 
Use a Budget Planner to track your income and outgoings. Work out what you regularly spend on essentials like rent, food, transport etc.  And be sure to factor in those big one-off spends: Christmas, uni books or equipment, insurance, summer hols, family birthdays etc. Estimate what you’ll need to spend over the whole year.
Then work out how much money you’ll have coming in, and prioritise where you’ll need to spend that first. Try to set aside a little each month in a savings account, so you won’t take a big hit next Christmas, or whenever you need to spend a large lump sum.  Saving £25 a month can add up to just over £300 in a year’s time.  Use this savings calculator to work out how much and for how long you’ll need to save. If you can't afford to start saving, then adjust your spending, so you live within your means and without worries. 
Click here for HelloGrads simple guide to budgeting, or read their blog to see how talent agent Grace makes the most of her money in London.
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