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How to make your Christmas shopping easy and affordable

POSTED: 19th November 2014
IN: Personal Guides
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Many consumers dread the prospect of preparing and shopping for Christmas.

Planning ahead can ease the stress of Christmas shopping.

Trying to find gifts your loved ones will appreciate, making sure no-one is forgotten and getting everything done on time, all without spending beyond your means, can be hugely stressful.

Furthermore, many people will have to deal with hosting and feeding large numbers of family and friends at home, which can add to the financial pressure.

The good news is that it is perfectly possible to enjoy Christmas without sending your finances into the red or making yourself delirious with stress. All that is required is a bit of forward planning and consumer savvy.

Here are a few tips to help you get your shopping done on time and on budget this year.

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Start early and spread it out

Some people (normally men, if the popular stereotype is to be believed) seem happy to leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute, with some even resorting to the dreaded Christmas Eve buying frenzy.

If you want to keep your spending as efficient as possible, and keep your stress levels down, this is never a good idea.

Firstly, starting early and spreading out your purchases is the best thing for your bank account. A sudden and dramatic spike in expenditure just before Christmas could leave you with an unpleasant financial hangover come January.

Also, having to rush around at the last minute drains all of the joy and meaning out of Christmas gift buying. Rather than taking time to think about presents your friends and family will appreciate, you will be forced in to buying whatever you can find just to get it done on time.

The benefits of starting early are particularly pronounced when it comes to food shopping. Having to brave extraordinarily busy supermarkets on one of the final weekends before Christmas is no-one's idea of fun, and there is always the risk of products selling out.

Remove stress by going online

Modern consumers have a considerable luxury when it comes to efficient and affordable Christmas shopping: the internet.

It is now perfectly possible to buy every single item you are likely to need for the festive season, including food, without stepping out of your front door.

If you will be conducting most of your purchases online this year, it becomes extra important to leave yourself plenty of time. The one slight drawback of internet shopping is that you are reliant on deliveries, so make sure you place your orders well in advance to avoid any last-minute 'where's my stuff!' panics.

The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that online sales of non-food products increased by 8.2 per cent in September. Internet purchases represented 17.5 per cent of all non-food sales in the UK, which is the highest penetration rate since February this year.

BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: "For the first time, the growth of total UK non-food sales over the last three months has owed more to the online purchases than in-store buying.

"This promises another record Christmas to come for online sales."

Take advantage of limited offers and promotions

The Christmas period is so important for retailers that many offer substantial price cuts and special offers to steal a march on their competitors and grab as big a slice of the market as possible.

Deals and discounts are generally available for a limited time, so it is a good idea to conduct regular checks of your favourite shopping sites and keep an eye on in-store promotions so you are ready to take advantage.

One date to be aware of is Black Friday, which falls on November 28th this year. The day after Thanksgiving in the US, it has come to be recognised as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

Major retailers have recently been promoting the concept of Black Friday in the UK. The likes of Amazon and Asda offered huge discounts on the day last year and are likely to do so again in 2014.

Black Friday is followed three days later by Cyber Monday, which in recent years has become Britain's busiest online shopping day.

Set a budget

Setting a budget could be one of the most important things you do to achieve a financially efficient Christmas this year.

As soon as you can, sit down with a calculator, a pen and paper (or a spreadsheet if you are particularly well-organised) and make a detailed list of your projected outgoings over the festive period, from obvious costs like gifts and food to more obscure expenses such as travelling to see friends and family.

Then, take into account your incoming money and come up with a realistic amount that you are able to spend over Christmas. If your estimated costs exceed your available funds, it's time to make some cutbacks in the 'outgoings' column.

Everyone wants to have an enjoyable Christmas, and no-one wants to worry about money during what should be a fun and festive time, but excessive spending could leave you starting 2015 in a financial mess.

Allow yourself some seasonal luxuries if you can afford it, but be realistic about your finances and, if necessary, exercise some discipline for the sake of your bank balance.

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