Celebrating Christmas and New Year can come with a hefty price tag - from sending cards and buying presents, to stocking up on festive food, hosting family and friends, or travelling to see them. This can leave you feeling stressed, particularly if your finances have been affected by a brain tumour diagnosis.
Denise, our benefits adviser from Citizens Advice, and our community, have come up with some money-saving tips to help you keep within your budget at this expensive time of year.
A time for giving
There are lots of ways to give presents to your loved ones without breaking the bank. Remember that your friends and family wouldn’t want you to spend more than you can spare to buy presents for them.
If there are activities or hobbies that you or your loved one enjoys, like sewing, baking, or arts and crafts, then a gift that’s handmade will always be appreciated - and won’t cost a lot. You could make some lovely homemade biscuits, or try your hand at Christmas cards.
“I like to make cards and gifts. It usually means more to people that you’ve put the time in. Even when I was really poorly my mum helped me to make chocolate fudge and put it in pretty bags with nice labels.”
Agree with family and friends to buy just one present each. This way, everybody gets a gift, but nobody has to spend a lot of time and money on Christmas shopping.
“Our family does a Secret Santa, which is really helpful when money and time are tight as you only have to worry about buying for one person.”
Deck the halls…
There’s no guarantee that spending lots and lots of money will make things look nicer. Homemade decorations look really lovely. And making decorations can be very rewarding and a lot of fun - for both children and adults alike. You can give them as presents, and decorate your own house and tree. Using greenery to decorate, or what’s available in your own garden, come at little or no extra cost.
Food for thought
A big expense at Christmas can be the food. Think carefully about the amount of food you need. It’s not uncommon for people to buy far too much. So if you don’t particularly like Brussels sprouts – there’s no point buying a huge bag if just one person in the family eats them. They’ll only get thrown away afterwards.
Check the sell-by and use-by labels on the food you’re buying, too. And freeze where you can to avoid waste.
If you usually buy branded food, swap down to the supermarket own brand or economy range - you may find you like the taste just as much and it will save you money.
Try to work on a menu planner so that you know exactly what food you need – for how many people and how many meals.
Travelling at Christmas
If you know the dates you’re travelling, booking train tickets in advance can often save you money.
Your diagnosis may also mean you're entitled to support while using public transport, for example special concessions while travelling by bus to help save you money.
You may also be able to get a Disabled Persons Railcard, which gives you a third off travel on the National Rail network in Great Britain. And if you’re travelling with another adult, they can get a third off their rail fare, too.
If you have a car, MoneySavingExpert.com has details of an app that will give you the cheapest petrol station in your area when you put in your postcode. This does change from week to week, so you’ll need to check each time you’re planning to fill up the car.
Skyping may also be an option, if family or friends live too far away to make it manageable to visit them.
Your benefits may arrive earlier, rather than later, because of the bank holidays at Christmas. If that’s the case, you then may find that you’ll have a longer period than you’d normally expect in January before you get your next payment.
So if you do get paid early, make sure you don’t spend it all and leave yourself short for a week or so at the beginning of the new year.
BRIAN's benefits checker can to help you to identify the benefits and other support you may be able to get. It’s also a good way for you to keep track of any benefits and assistance you’re currently receiving.
Getting ahead for next year
Christmas can easily creep up, making it difficult to budget. If you can, save over the year so that you’ve actually got some money behind you to cover those extra Christmas expenses. Although this can be difficult to do, if you’re living on a very limited income.
However, planning ahead can help you to save money. For instance, if you start your shopping early enough, you can often bag bargains in the sales – not just for presents, but for other items you might be after, like a new outfit for the festive season.
And you can also take advantage of the sales just after Christmas to buy decorations – and even cards, wrapping paper and gift tags – for the following year.
Saving at Christmas starts with the sales from the year before. If I see the sales are on, I remember to get things that would make a nice birthday or Christmas present. I put them in the cupboard ready for when I run out of ideas.
Benefits and money clinic
If you need help with your finances, we’ve partnered with Citizens Advice Rushmoor to offer our specialist benefits and money clinic for people affected by brain tumours.