Friday 14 November 2014

Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and it’s time for everyone to go slightly mad.

Almost all of us do it, even those who set a budget and who plan very carefully. There’s always that extra present, that temptation in the store, that once-in-a-lifetime deal we can’t refuse.

The result is that we overspend as well as over-eat and over-drink and we end up paying the price in the New Year, often for most of the following year. However, unlike the inevitable weight gain, the financial burdens can’t easily be removed by cutting back a little for a few months.

So, in anticipation of the spending frenzy so many of us will engage in, here’s a few tips for avoiding a horrible Christmas aftermath.

The first lesson is the boring one. Set a budget and stick to it. Make a rational decision about how much you can afford to spend, add up the prices of the essentials you need to buy and don’t go over that amount. Yes, I know it’s simple to say and harder to do, but we really have to be mature about spending at this time of year.

Perhaps the smartest thing you can do when shopping is to shop around. Don’t just accept the price offered in the first store you visit, check out several stores and you’ll be surprised by how much prices can vary. Then, if you’re still feeling loyal to your favorite store even though they have what you want at a higher price, ask them if they’ll price-match the cheaper store. Some stores even have a policy of price-matching their competition. All it takes is for you to politely mention to a supervisor that the other store has the item for less and you might be surprised how willingly they’ll knock the price down. I know someone who saved over P500 this way, just by asking. That’s enough to get another really nice present, several bottles of wine and could easily pay for one of the many family Christmas meals you have to endure (sorry, I meant enjoy).

You should also be practical when you things. Ask questions about the store’s returns policy in case the thing you buy is the wrong size or even just isn’t wanted. It can do no harm to ask and it might save you money and disappointment if the present you choose doesn’t go down as well as you hoped.

You really must ask about warranties and guarantees. For instance if you buy your spoiled offspring a fancy new phone (and as an Apple fan it pains me to say this) you should think about those manufacturers like Samsung that now offer a 2-year warranty rather then the normal 1-year promise. They also offer a free screen replacement if it gets damaged. Factors like those should be a major part of your decision. However all of this depends on you buying a legitimate Samsung phone, not a suspicious grey import.

While on the subject of technology here’s another tip. Surf the web before you spend any serious money on tech. Read online reviews and reports from other people who bought the item you’re considering. I wish I’d done that before splashing out on a new laptop for our office a few months ago. It’s from a perfectly respectable manufacturer and was in the middle price range so I expected things to be fine but it quickly became clear that the screen is really very poor. It’s a real eye-strain maker. However if I’d just spent a few minutes web-surfing before handing over the money I would have found that many other people around the world have made exactly the same comment. It hurts their eyes as well. Do yourself a favor and trust other people’s experiences.

Above all trust the experts. Look for leading online reviewers and see what they have to say. It’s their business, they’re paid to do expert reviews and they can be trusted. Before buying my latest phone I found one site that had written a 12-page review to the device, looking at every possible thing it does and making detailed, practical observations that helped me confirm that it’s what I wanted. I’m confident that I’m not going to be disappointed.

Above all, here’s the Number One tip for buying at Christmas. This one, if you can follow it, will save you a fortune.

Don’t buy on credit.

It’s really that simple. Buying on credit or its even more evil cousin, hire purchase, is a disaster waiting to happen. It really is a staggeringly expensive way to buy things. If you buy something over 2 years you’ll probably pay about twice the cash price and that’s before you face the risk of repossession and ruining your credit history if something goes wrong.

It’s probably too late now that we’re in November but the very best way to have an affordable Christmas is to save for it throughout the year, maybe putting a little bit aside every month in a savings account and even earning a little interest on it. Do the maths.

Instead of making hire purchase payment for two years put the same monthly amount away for just one year and you’ll be able to buy the same item for cash and you’ll actually own it. Nobody can then come round and seize it if you’re strapped for cash one month.

One last lesson. A very simple one. If you haven’t got it already get some home insurance. How are you going to feel if everything you bought is stolen or destroyed in an accident? Insurance might seem expensive but it’s not nearly as expensive as not having it.

The best present Father Christmas can bring anyone is financial common sense. Put that on your Christmas wish list.

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