How to cut the cost of Christmas shopping

1. Plan ahead

We typically splurge £506 on Christmas and continue to pay off last year's festivities until April, says the Halifax. But planning ahead and setting cash aside weekly in a separate Christmas savings account allows you to budget, without the panic of trying to pay for everything with one month’s salary or pension. It’s never too early to start saving, with 10 per cent of us sensibly squirreling away money for next Christmas in January, says

2. Present budget

Worryingly, one in three of us feels under pressure to spend more than we can afford. Agreeing a present budget with family in advance will help avoid awkwardness on Christmas Day. Consider homemade gifts or hampers, or having a Secret Santa challenging one another to a £5 limit. We've come up with cheap and easy gifts you can make at home. Check out bargain stocking fillers at Home Bargains, Poundland, B&M and online from AliExpress. Use our 15 online shopping tricks to save you money.

3. Giving gift cards vs cash 

Gift cards are an easy Christmas present, but will cause disappointment if they expire before use. "Anyone buying a gift card would be wise to find out exactly when they might expire and make it clear to the recipient. As an example, Ticketmaster gift cards expire in one year, M&S gift cards are valid for two years and Amazon gift cards are valid for ten years after the date of issue," says Rachel Springall at Moneyfacts. Not only this, but if a retailer were to collapse, it's unlikely their branded gift card would be accepted anywhere else, turning it into wasted cash. "Therefore, it might be simpler to give the gift of cash instead,” adds Rachel.

4. Take a male pal shopping

If you know a loved one wants a specific gift, look out for promotions or order from overseas to save. If you're looking for something unique, visit local independent retailers. If you're struggling to stick to a budget, take a friend shopping, tell them your limit and let them control your purse for the day. Men typically spend £100 less at Christmas, so take a male pal! Writing a list can help you focus on the task in hand. Snap up next year’s gifts just after Christmas.

5. Food savers

Or why not ditch presents altogether and take a Christmas dish. Christmas dinner now comes with a £138 price tag, so you’d be helping your host. If you’re hosting, bulk buy ahead of time, make your own mince pies and trimmings and fill your freezer. Forget being a brand snob; discounters like Aldi and Lidl offer great-value festive food. Also check if your local butcher, food shop or supermarket offers a savings scheme to help you spread the cost through the year eg Asda’s Christmas savings card scheme pays a £6 bonus on maximum £144 per card and you can have multiple cards. Use our 15 tips to save on your Christmas dinner.

6. Never pay full price!

There are bound to be offers on items if you search for discounts, deals or voucher codes online. Social media can be handy too; log into Twitter and scan popular hashtags such as #deal or #offer and you’ll find people sharing links to discounts. M&S and Amazon are good examples of brands that reward loyal customers with discount codes and early entry to sales.

7. Paying with plastic

Christmas is also a great time to use up loyalty points including Tesco Clubcard and Nectar. Use cashback websites and reward and cashback credit cards – for instance The Amex Platinum Everday card pays 5 per cent cashback on your first 3 months' spending - so you can earn some well-deserved rewards once Christmas is over. Some paid-for bank accounts including Lloyds Club offer cashback when you shop at retailers including L'Occitane and

8. Know your rights on returns 

There may well have been some impulse buys over Black Friday; anyone who changes their mind will have around 30 days to return the item for a refund or store credit for most goods. It's important to check the returns policy of the store at the point of purchase to make sure you don’t miss the deadline.
Rachel Springall says: "Over half of consumers that approach a retailer for a refund, replacement or repair of a faulty electrical item get turned down. However, consumers are within their rights to complain to the seller, so they shouldn’t be left undetermined. Consumers can return their goods within the first six months of purchase, as stated in the Consumer Rights Act 2015."
Credit card customers have added protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act which states that a service or items that cost over £100 can be refunded, as the card provider takes the same responsibility as a retailer would if things go wrong with the purchase. If you don't use a credit card, you could still get a refund on your goods by approaching your bank under the chargeback scheme.

9. Free greetings

Traditional Christmas cards can be an expensive way of sending people your festive wishes, particularly if friends are overseas. Instead, send an E-card using free sites, and  

10. Watch out for scammers 

With one in four of us falling victim to scams, it's important to be vigilant when Christmas shopping. Contactless payments are more popular than ever before, with an estimated 98.9m contactless cards in the UK. Consumers concerned about card skimming could invest in a card blocker sleeve so they can have peace of mind that the card is protected from rogue devices.
"Above all else, consumers must be wary of giving away their details and use their instincts to protect themselves against scammers," says Rachel Springall.