/ Food & Drink, Money, Shopping

How are you paying for Christmas this year?

The Christmas season is known to come with its own special hefty price tag, so how do we cope with the cost of Christmas? *Warning – not a lot of Christmas cheer can be found here*.

In our recent survey we found that around two fifths those surveyed expect to spend more than they’d planned to this Christmas.

A third said they’ll use their savings to pay if they go over budget. But nearly a fifth of us expect our extravagant Christmas spending to result in debt.

Where does all the money go?

Well being a part of the fifth who dip into the red, I’ve picked up a few presents on my credit card – is that so wrong? I don’t think so, as long as I pay for them in the next couple of months. It takes the pressure off of my dwindling savings account.

But my spending is modest compared to new figures from the Money Advice Trust which suggest that the average family is expecting to spend more than £800 celebrating Christmas this year.

It surprised me to learn that the majority of that money is set be spent on food and drink, as well as cards and decorations – I’d always (incorrectly) assumed presents were the biggest financial outlay of the season.

Last month the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published findings on their investigation into the credit card industry. The FCA found that 60% of adults have at least one credit card.

So, in short, some of us are forking out for a Christmas we just can’t afford.

Things to look out for

And that’s not all; Trading Standards is warning that families whose budgets are stretched could be at risk from loan sharks if they’re refused credit elsewhere.

Loan sharks aren’t just the preserve of a Great British crime caper – they are a very real and dangerous threat, taking advantage of those on low incomes with little savings who struggle to obtain credit via other means.

If you know someone vulnerable to the advances of a loan shark there are a few signs to look out for. A loan shark might:

  • offer little or no paperwork, such as a licence, credit agreement or record of payments
  • refuse to give information, such as the interest rate or how much you still owe
  • take items as security, such as passports, bank cards or driving licences
  • increase the debt or add additional amounts to it without your permission
  • not allow you to settle your debt
  • get nasty – they may resort to intimidation, threats or violence.

And if you’re worried about a loan shark in your community – or have become a victim of a loan shark – you can call the National Trading Standards Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence on 0300 555 2222.

So have you got your Christmas spending under wraps? Or will you be balancing out the festive spend over the coming year?


I’d question that the majority of the £800 is spent on food and drink. We feed well at Christmas with a large gathering but spend nothing like that sort of money. With a large family presents were (are) the biggest item, including Christmas stockings (a lot of fun for us). But we spend within a budget. Each of us has to be responsible for our finances.

Holidays are a similar financial situation to Christmas. Some regard an annual break as an excuse to spend far too much on an exotic trip. But if the rest of the year is spent more frugally to compensate then where’s the harm?

As far as loan sharks go, Wonga is a legalised example. They advertise on tv in a way that suggests they are your financial friend. With interest base rate at 1/4 %, and proper loans available at 10%, even a 15% loan seems expensive. A 150% interest loan seems just an unbelievable thought. But friendly Wonga charges 100 times the expensive loan – 1500%. How can such a ludicrous situation be allowed to continue. What have Which? done to get the government to stop such extortion?

Happy Christmas.

I couldn’t locate the figures quoted on the Money Advice website but even so the only survey I saw used a depressingly small sample size. Given the inaccuracy seen in so many surveys, I think it’s important to quote actual figures, not percentages, since the latter can be highly misleading.

In terms of managing Xmas spending I’m with Malcolm on this, but using credit to manage planned expenditure is something Which? promoted heavily in the 1990s and, to be honest, seems a valid way of dealing with periods of significant expenditure.

I think it’s also important to make the point that we don’t know for sure what proportions were spent on food as opposed to drink, or what proportion was spent on food and drink that comprised presents.

Finally, I think it’s worth making the point that celebrating the winter solstice in the way that’s become traditional for us in the UK is an important aspect of our lives. What can be more relaxing than meeting up with long-lost relatives, preparing dinner for 16 or so friends and family, all meeting round the dinner table to joke about how the turkey’s been cooked, or to make ribald asides about the parsnips; and then that golden time afterwards, gently massaging the grease from the dishes, laughing about picking up the broken crystal where Uncle Hans dropped the Napoleon brandy bottle on the tray, restoring the tree to the upright position after the little scamps have pulled it over, checking the defibrillator is fully charged, guiding Uncle Alb to the toilet because we don’t want a mistake like we had last year, do we? These are memories we’ll take to our graves…

Merry Xmas…

The trouble at all times of the year not just Christmas is credit is to freely available to anyone it is so easy to get credit on anything anywhere. Credit cards can be useful but encourage you to spend when you do not know if you will have the money ever to repay your debt.

I was shocked by the reported average spend level. It just shows how hard the austerity regime is biting. My rule is never to use extended payment facilities for consumables and wearables, only for things that will outlast the debt and that in moderation.

I like the sound of Ian’s Christmas. Our families are a bit like that. Sometimes they get on and sometimes they don’t, but there’s always an embarrassing moment to remember for future occasions. The secret of success is to make sure that everyone has at least one musical instrument and that the batteries have been removed from the TV remotes. We used to think five toilets were more than enough.


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I wish I could top your glass up, Duncan: it always seems to be half-empty. Have a great time.

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duncan lucas says:
I keep fighting for it even at this time of the year.
I think that YOUR glass is not, and never will be, ‘Half’ anything.
This contribution tells me that your Pint Pot is FULL to overflowing with the Best Brew of Human Kindness and Care.
Not just for this one day of the year – but every second of every day of every year.
LONG may it be so!

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Definitely a conspiracy. Brave choice of festive family fun, though.

Oh Duncan, What a choice of movie. If I’d been around when the power went off I’d have thrown something into the room to make a loud interruption.
I have/had, still do I suppose cousin who liked all horror kinda stuff
When he was young he delighted in telling horror stories at night to scare the s***t out of everyone. He done it so well one night we followed him on his way and he took fear and took to running faster than his feet could carry him more or less. He ended up being the scared cat by his own stories
Na horror would not be my choice but everyone to their own. I’m not with you on this one.

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Duncan. If you are as far north as makes it near dark or dark by afternoon then you are a little further up than I am. Given that you worked to British Telecom may you have traveled to the Islands during your duties and if so might you have been in the Polachar maybe 5 or little more years back.

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No I dont live there but spent time there working and whilst there I met a couple of gents who were BT workers but they were near retiring age. Barren place especially South Uist. No if I were moving I’d move the the North. Near anywhere up the East coast above the Black Isle or the far north

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Well it seems Arkwright switched the corner shop lights off and on again at the end of Open All Hours last night 🙂

” The Which? survey of 2,056 UK adults also found that two fifths of people are expecting to spend more than they’d planned to this Christmas.”

Well that is as useful as a chocolate teapot. Honestly it is just plain insulting to the intelligence of the reader.

If I spend £101 rather than £100 I have overspent. Do you mean you honestly never asked the amount of overspend in this vox pop survey? Surely you provided some graded £1-50, 51-100, 101-250 …….

And then perhaps the budget they were overspending on.

Honestly. Sheesh!

A lot of Christmas food and drink spending probably carries the family through much of January or even the whole year in terms of liquor. Certainly we stock up before Christmas and hardly do any grocery shopping for the next two or three weeks other than for fresh produce.

In previous years we have left some drinks and foodstuffs in crates in the garage or outside the back door relying on the general low temperature to keep it cool or chilled, but with overnight temperatures at seven or eight degrees or more and daytime temperatures in the mid teens this Winter, this doesn’t work so there is more demand on the fridge and freezer.

I wonder how many people have any kind of an accurate spending plan in general, let alone at Christmas. It would be interesting to know how many people prepare an annual budget, or even attempt to, and then monitor their spending against it.

I think postage is the unconsidered cost of Christmas. People struggle to get the value of the contents up to the cost of postage whether it is cards or presents, more so if they are going overseas.

As well as Christmas cards and little gifts we send a few calendars to friends and family suffering under the scorching skies of the antipodes but because the purchase price and the postage are paid before the main Christmas spending season gets into its stride they don’t seem to figure in the total. I realise that December keeps the Royal Mail afloat throughout the whole year but a small concession on Christmas stamp prices [plus a relaxation of the ‘large letter’ premium] wouldn’t come amiss. I have noticed that some friends have found ways of running their envelopes through the office franking machine, presumably to take advantage of bulk commercial charges! Or perhaps to avoid them altogether?!

Adam mentions loan sharks and reports the warning from Trading Standards that families whose budgets are stretched could be at risk from loan sharks if they’re refused credit elsewhere. This is a very significant worry as people are lured into excessive spending by the pressures of consumerism and the marketing efforts of the retailers. Another trap that seems increasingly attractive is on-line betting and gambling. Lotteries, including “instant reward” types, have proliferated on the high street and are now active on-line, but I have been quite amazed when watching more late-night television recently to see how many adverts there are during films and certain entertainment programmes for various forms of gaming ranging from casino games like roulette and poker through to simpler bingo and fruit machine-type games, all marketed with an opening offer of a tempting ‘free’ spending bonus on top of the initial stake. I am sure most of these incitements to gamble are based on the expectation that many people see them as a way out of their financial difficulties. They are presented as though the participant is part of a vast ‘community’ of players with whom they are interacting socially. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, as these promotions are expressly for the solo punter; no effort is involved, no social interaction, not even any need to speak to anybody: it can all be done, in a flash, on a tablet, from the comfort and privacy of one’s own home. At least down the bingo hall or in the betting shop there is a modicum of social enjoyment and possibly a restraining influence if people appear to be gambling irresponsibly.

I suppose when the ‘easy money’ opportunities have dried up that is when the loan sharks really go in for the kill. So tragic – I wish we could find a way of putting a stop to the lowest forms of financial exploitation in the coming year and curb the worst excesses of the TV advertisements [confining them to late night slots is not enough; projecting them as minor Hollywood musicals or super game shows sends the wrong message and should be subject to firmer regulation or control].

I would like to see gambling adverts banned. The only winners are the gambling companies. You are quite right about the lure of easy money – but who actually gets that easy money? Do you know anyone? The problem is, how do you protect people from themselves? How much should we be responsible for our own actions – financial and otherwise – and if we are not to take responsibility then who should?

Education about the losses that gambling will incur, the actual amount of money you will repay when taking out a legalised shark company’s loan, could and should be made clear, but will many people take, or want to take, any notice?

Difficult questions, Malcolm. To the extent that people who ruin themselves and their loved ones due to gambling addiction usually end up as a cost to the overall community there is a case for more state-funded support and guidance. I have read so many articles in the local newspapers about people who allowed a gambling habit to overtake them and ended up stealing from their employer, or from their parish council for whom they were the clerk, or from a charity for whom they were the treasurer. They all got found out in the end but in most instances these cases were not about a consequence of or a reaction to poverty and being unable to put a meal on the table, they were about avarice. But the resort to gambling and punitive borrowing to fund day-to-day expenditure is in a different league and certainly needs psychological and supportive intervention as well as professional guidance on budget management. Loan sharking, as distinct from the legitimate but still dubious pay-day loans industry, is an evil form of exploitation with blackmail, menace, extortion and cruelty at its core. It preys on those who are totally bereft and leads them into crime and vice. It is underground and secretive with no records except the shark’s pocket book. Apparently there are possibly a quarter of a million people indebted to this form of loan shark in the UK. Incredibly given its appalling reputation, the term ‘loan shark’ has also attached itself to the licensed and high-visibility form of high-interest short term lending known usually as pay-day loans. This tends to discredit those operations [if that is possible] and to part-respectabilise the criminal form. While education is one approach, as you say – will many people take, or want to take, any notice? Even if you explained that somebody who routinely bets five pounds a week could do just as well – or at least no worse – if they saved up and bought 250 Premium Bonds since they would still have their stake available, they would say they wouldn’t enjoy it so much, they would have a much lower chance of the big jackpot, they would lose the impulsive thrill of the scratch-card or the race. Of course, they don’t actually need the big jackpot, just a few hundreds to get them out of a scrape perhaps, but the important part of the education process is about living within their means and this is where society does fail people through its commercial behaviour. I don’t have an answer for that and all further thoughts seem patronising.

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A lot of what is happening now is due to the swing of the pendulum. It was not so long ago that a form of dependency culture was allowed or encouraged to develop [according to one’s viewpoint] and there was little expectation in official circles that people would be self-motivated and find ways within their family and community of supporting themselves so the state would provide. Now we have an opposite attitude in certain sections of society that everybody regardless of circumstances should be able to stand on their own feet, and that they only have themselves to blame if they can’t, and therefore should not be a burden on the state. Getting the balance right is the tricky bit and, I am afraid to say, some rather base political, electorally-motivated, calculations on where best to allocate public welfare have come to the fore. I think the situation is not helped by the gross and conspicuous extravagance of the better-off which only sharpens the divide and intensifies the feelings of hardship and disadvantage. I have to say, however, taxing out that propensity to spend from the wealthier section of the community is not the way forward; I feel the answer lies in better moral and spiritual values as Duncan says. We seem to have thousands of charities, most with laudable aims but many duplicating or conflicting with each other, but very few seem to be doing the really hard work of tackling poverty and human misery and they don’t get the support they deserve. Our history and traditions mean that it will never be acceptable for the government to provide full relief so the role of the voluntary sector is vital. “Benevolence” and “mutuality” are not the right language for today but there must be some elements of those concepts that can be applied in a society that considers itself one of the world’s more caring examples.

A lot of the ‘pendulum’ effect is shamelessly fostered by the DFM and its ilk. I suspect press regulation might be a better course. Perhaps nominations for who should be publicly flogged – starting with tabloid editors…