The run-up to Christmas is likely to feel very different this year as the coronavirus pandemic has thrown uncertainly around the festive season.
Unemployment is already rising, and the current jobs furlough scheme in the UK [ended] on 31 October, meaning finances will be a worry for those faced with redundancy.
We also have regional restrictions on non-essential journeys and pub curfews in certain areas, as well as the new "rule of six”, which makes social gatherings of more than six people against the law. Will these still be in place in December?
Even the most dedicated Christmas planner is likely to feel daunted with financial and social pressures niggling away, but there are certain steps you can take to minimise Christmas stress and to keep your costs down.
From savvy shopping tips and ways to save, to why you should prioritise the important stuff this year, here are our top Christmas tips.
1. Make a list - and check it twice
It's easy to get carried away at Christmas, buying presents as you see them and then panicking at the last minute and buying more.
To prevent this, work out how much you can afford to spend this year and then break this down into the items you'll spend money on, such as presents, food and travel.
Assign a budget to each item you need to buy and stick to it to prevent financial stress around Christmas and beyond.
Do this well in advance to help you prioritise the things that are essential to you and your family.
2. Buy strategically
To tempt us to spend even more in the run-up to Christmas, many retailers run pre-Christmas sales, slashing the price of everything from toys to electronics.
A popular date for this is Black Friday, which is on 27 November in 2020, with Cyber Monday (a traditional sales day for tech equipment) following on 30 November. Big retailers also run their own promotions too, such as Amazon's Amazon Prime Day (this has yet to be announced, but is likely to be a Monday / Tuesday in October).
So, consult your list and think about whether you could buy some items in sales to make a saving - then look up potential sale dates and put them in your calendar so you don't forget.
However, don't get caught up in the excitement of grabbing a deal just to end up overspending. Remember to stick to the items on your list only and to do some research before the sales start on what a good price actually is.
If you're unsure whether the deal you've seen is a good one, run a quick search online to see what other retailers are selling the product for before buying it.
3. Start saving now
Putting a small amount of money away every week in the run-up to Christmas will help you to feel more in control of your finances and will leave you with a buffer for emergencies.
Think about what you can afford to put to one side then work out how much this will leave you with to spend on food or gifts nearer the time. It will soon add up - even putting £10 away a week in the run up to Christmas from now will give you an extra £140.
If you don't have much to spare every week, consider whether you could you cut a non-essential out in the run-up to Christmas. For example, if you're a fan of take-out coffees or sandwiches, could you make your own on certain days and squirrel the savings away?
4. Stock-up in advance
Another tactic to take away the financial sting of a pre-25 December 'big shop' is to stock up on non-perishable items in the run up to the big day.
Consider adding one or two items to your weekly shop in the weeks leading up to Christmas, rather than being faced with the bill for a bumper shop closer to the time. You could snap up items that are on offer, such as tins of chocolates, as and when you see them discounted - just make sure you check use-by dates so your effort isn't wasted.
5. Think differently this year
The coronavirus pandemic has shown people the huge importance of friends and family, and, in full lockdown, many people missed social interaction more than material possessions or habits such as going to the gym.
So, don't forget this and think about Christmas presents differently this year. Could you plan a winter walk or a day out with a friend, restrictions allowing, rather than exchanging gifts?
Or perhaps you were one of the many people who brushed up on their baking skills during lockdown? If so, could you whip up homemade tasty treats for friends and family for Christmas, rather than buying an impersonal present?
If you have children, get them involved with homemade gifts too. And don't forget how nice homemade cards and even wrapping paper are. Think of it as a family art session and lesson on budgeting in one.
6. Don't be afraid to talk money
If you really want to buy a gift for someone who always gives you one in return, have a frank conversation this year about what you can both afford.
There's nothing worse than feeling obliged to buy an expensive gift as you always receive one, so suggest sticking to a budget - it may make you both think more creatively.
Another option for family or friendship groups is to arrange a Secret Santa, which will allow you to all spend a bit more on one person. Again, agree a budget in advance, though, and stick to it.
7. Make some cash
If you like to declutter your house ahead of Christmas, take a look around for items that you haven't used since last year, clothes you've never worn or even unwanted gifts.
Consider selling any items in good condition on a resale site and use the money to put towards essentials for Christmas.
8. Buy bargain bubbles
The price of wine is increasing in the UK - according to figures from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and Wine Drinkers UK, the average price of a bottle of wine will break the £6 mark for the first time on record this year.
So, keep your eye out for offers on your favourite wine in the run-up to Christmas both at the supermarkets and specialist wine retailers. No matter how good the deal is, though, remember to consult your budget and not go over it.
Some supermarkets run occasional '25% off when you buy six bottles' - always worth keeping an eye open for as this can effectively net you half a dozen bottles for the price of four or five (providing you can stretch to the bulk purchase, of course).
When it comes to fizz, don't assume you have to splash out on champagne to impress. Other sparkling wines, such as prosecco and cava, are popular too. They are often better value and you may prefer them - so shop around.
When it comes to alcohol generally, retailers often put up prices around now so they can cut them in December and advertise chunky price cuts, especially with spirits, so keep a keen eye open for genuine bargains.
9. Sort your travel out early
The general advice when it comes to bagging the cheapest rail fares is to book 12 weeks before your travel date, as this is when tickets tend to be released. So, this year, start to look in early October if you know you'll be travelling over the festive season.
However, with so much uncertainty over what you may or may not be able to do, it's worth checking how flexible the tickets you're considering are. If you book plenty of time before your travel date, advance tickets are often the cheapest option, but they aren't flexible or refundable and you'll have to pay a fee of £10, plus any difference in fare, to change the time or date on them.
Depending on your circumstances, it might be worth checking how much more another type of ticket is to give you the option to claim a refund if your circumstances change (you may still have to pay an admin fee).You can find out more about changing and cancelling tickets on the National Rail site.
You'll also be able to see if you're entitled to a discount railcard - available to those aged 30 and under, those aged 60 and over, those whose disability makes traveling a challenge, and various other groups, If you make a last-minute decision to travel, it's still usually worth buying your ticket in advance - so take a look online before you travel to see which ticket types are left.
10. Don't pay interest on borrowing
While it's always best to only spend what you have, if you have no option other than to pay for some of Christmas on a credit card, make sure you have the right one.
Apply for a 0% purchase credit card well in advance to eliminate paying interest, but make sure you always pay the monthly minimum payments and know when the 0% period ends so you can clear everything off the card before a high interest rate kicks in.
11. Loyalty can pay
If you have loyalty cards for your favourite shops, start saving up your points to buy a Christmas present or two. For example, Tesco Clubcard points can be used for everything from shopping and days out to holidays, while Boots points can be exchanged for toiletries, toys, kids' clothes and more.
Other retailers have their own schemes, so check out what you're favourite store offers and sign up if you haven't already.
12 Ace your home entertainment
Depending on how the coming weeks unfold, we may find ourselves leaning even more heavily than usual on our home entertainment systems this festive season.
It's worth checking to see if you have the best deal on all the various channels and streaming services that are available, and working out whether you're getting the best value on your broadband and TV package.
This article was published on the Forbes Website on 18 September 2020.