First up, draw up a budget and stick to it, even though it may be tempting to spend more.
Buy your shopping in stages
It sounds obvious but spreading your Christmas purchasing over a few months means you're less likely to need to resort to borrowing. It all means you'll avoid the last-minute temptation to overspend.
Set up a savings account
It's not too late to put some money aside. You could opt for a bank or building society savings account. Or the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, and the Post Office all run Christmas savings schemes. Be aware that with the supermarkets you'll have to spend the money on the card in store.
Asda's Christmas Savings Card is worth a look if you shop there, as it pays a bonus if you save above a certain level.
Take out a 0% purchases credit card
You can currently pay back your spending interest free for up to 19 months with a 0% purchases credit card.
But, before you start applying, here’s a word of warning: don’t forget to pay the minimum repayment every month or you’ll risk losing the 0% promotional rate. And try your best to pay off the card balance in full before the introductory period disappears or the far higher typical APR will kick in. If you don't think you'll manage that, make a note in the diary that you'll need to transfer the remaining balance to a 0% balance transfer card at that point.
Some shops, typically big furniture retailers, offer interest-free credit, where you pay no interest providing you pay off your purchase over a set amount of time.
However, miss a payment and you’ll find you’re hit by high interest charges, typically higher than on a credit card. And shops may also try to sell you expensive insurances, such as payment protection insurance, that are usually full of exclusions. Don’t be reeled in by a sales pitch if it’s something you really don’t need.
Read more in In-store credit: pros and cons.
Many nationwide second-hand shops, such as Cash Convertors and Cash Generator, offer instalment plans. You pay a deposit on an item (usually 20%) and then pay the rest off in equal weekly instalments. Be aware that these shops can charge more for products than you would pay for them elsewhere. And don’t be seduced by additional offers of credit such as payday loans or cash advances as these can lead you into debt very quickly.
We’re not fans of store cards here at Lovemoney, as they charge much higher interest rates than credit cards and usually don’t offer interest-free periods.
There are some exceptions, such as the Argos card, which offers an interest-free period if you pay off a big purchase within a set period of time.
But generally store cards aren’t a way to spread the cost; they are actually a quick way to get into debt if you can’t pay off your shopping at the end of the month.
Borrow from family and friends
If you're able to, you could borrow some money from a family member or friend and pay it back in instalments. But while this may sound the most appealing of all the options listed here, remember that you will need to pay them back. Owing someone money can very quickly sour the closest of relationships.
For some tips on how to avoid that situation, read Borrowing money from family and friends: how to do it right.
While most people like to spend a bit at Christmas, it isn’t worth getting into serious debt. Payday loans, unauthorised overdrafts and doorstep lending come at a very high price. Borrowing money for the short term and then not being able to repay it is a recipe for disaster and a very unhappy New Year.
Things to remember
if you are borrowing, you need to think about whether you can afford to repay your debt. If you take out credit and end up missing a payment or going over an interest-free period, you’re going to start racking up interest charges.
Plan ahead for next year now
If you've found it hard to spread the cost of Christmas this year, try to plan ahead for next year now. If you can, put some money away in an instant access savings account or regular savings account. If you can leave the money alone until next Christmas you should find it's earned a little bit of interest on top.
More on Christmas