As we enter the month of December, it seems that wherever we go there are Christmas trees, decorations and fairy lights, and an almost endless supply of adverts on televisions and in newspapers telling us what we should be spending our money on over the Christmas period. Such adverts tell us that the only way to happiness is getting the ‘right’ Christmas present for that ‘someone special,’ with others seeking to woo us with exactly what food we should be buying for the big day itself, and advising us to – ‘spend it well!’

However, this huge amount of advertising only serves to put people under pressure to find the perfect gift, cook the perfect feast, or to have that ‘perfect’ day. Further to this is the study carried out by the Family and Parenting Institute (FPI,) which shows nine out of ten parents worrying that Christmas makes their children more materialistic, and more than half worrying that their offspring will be disappointed with the presents they have bought. 

Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the FPI, said that television ads in particular are putting families under pressure to buy more than they can afford, at a time when many parents are already feeling ‘huge financial strain.’

Last month, financial expert Martin Lewis mounted a campaign to ban certain Christmas presents (website: Moneysavingexpert.com.) His target was not against children — but the ever-growing range of people we feel obligated to buy for such as teachers, colleagues, neighbours, extended families and more.

Martin says, ‘I get the joy of giving; but we need to think about the impact on recipients, too. Generosity could hurt, not help. By giving to someone (or their children) you create an obligation that they do the same, whether they can afford it or not. In these financial climes, sometimes the best gift is to release someone from this obligation.’

What’s more, he argues, most of the time we are spending our money buying things people don’t even want, which is wasteful in every way. ‘From naff socks from Aunty Joan to talking novelty presents from workmates, unwanted and unused gifts are sent all the time. Many people sit panicking with a to-buy-for list muttering “must get something, must get anything” – yet why spend for the sake of it? It’s not helpful for our finances or landfills?’

CHRISTMAS TIME ADVICE

1. The best advice for those who are on a limited income, is to try and not be tempted to overspend. It is only one day and it is not worth the heartache of ending up in debt. Work out a budget and stick to it.

Leave credit cards at home when Christmas shopping and take cash instead, to prevent any temptation to go over budget.

2. One means of lessening the pressure at Christmas time could be to have an agreement between family and friends to not either buy each other presents, or, to agree a maximum spend, say £5, or £10. Spending less may actually help people to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas, such as simply enjoying being in the company of a loved one, a family member or a friend.

3. Also, instead of buying a pile of presents for someone, why not just buy one, but also have a ‘December of experiences?’ Go together to see the lights, go to free Christmas carol concerts, or, bake together. Indeed, do anything that will bring people together without feeling a pressure to spend a lot. No matter what the adverts now say, Christmas was never meant to be about material things, but all about the Christmas spirit, spending time with loved ones, and making happy memories.

Community Christmas

Find out what is happening near you at Christmas: https://communitychristmas.org.uk/map/

0800 0639285

Clic Sergeant

Support young cancer patients and their families.

Clic Sargent carol concerts are taking place across Scotland and help. You can view the arrangements here:  http://www.clicsargent.org.uk/events)

4. A way of finding additional money to cover the costs at Christmas time would be to gather all of the items in your home that are no longer used, and to sell them either at a car boot sale, or online.

Free on-line sites to place ads include

Gumtree (https://www.gumtree.com/all/scotland) and,

Preloved (http://www.preloved.co.uk/classifieds/all/scotland/preloved.)

It is usually pretty straightforward to place an ad on either of these sites.

5. Another idea for ‘gaining’ money for Christmas would be to not spend any money on groceries for one particular month, say November, and instead use up all of the food in your cupboards and freezer. There would then be ‘extra’ money for buying lots of Christmas treats!

A point of note however, is that not everyone has family, friends or ‘someone special’ at Christmas time. Some people may be estranged from their family, or have moved home and have few friends to spend time with. Others may have lost their jobs and be on a low income that simply doesn’t allow for any additional Christmas spending. Christmas trees and twinkling fairy lights do not remove the loneliness of the people who are really not able to do Christmas, be it for isolation, poverty or perhaps illness.

Luckily, throughout Scotland there are organisations that reach out to these very people, and who offer some comfort at this time of excess.

CHRISTMAS TIME SUPPORT

Contact the Elderly

To find out about tea parties with friends:

http://www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk/about-us/locations

0800 716543

Social Bite

Free Christmas dinner for homeless persons 12 -4pm

http://social-bite.co.uk/whats-a-social-business/

Edinburgh 0131 220 8206 info@social-bite.co.uk

Glasgow 0141 220 8206 info@social-bite.co.uk

Crisis

Find out how to volunteer with Crisis at Christmas:

https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/crisis-at-christmas/

Salvation Army

To find out about volunteering opportunities:

https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/volunteer-for-us

DEBT

Please don’t be tempted to approach money lenders. Even legitimate ones have huge interest payments and you will be paying back much more than you ever spent. (Illegal money lending is a crime, with often huge rates of interest, and there can be problems if you can’t keep up with the payments.)

If you are already in debt please seek advice. Appointments for debt matters may be made with your local citizen’s advice Bureau.

To find your local office please click on this link: www.cas.org.uk or phone 0808 800 9060,

If you have been given a benefit sanction this should not affect your entitlement to housing benefit (unless you have been disqualified). Contact your Local housing benefit office and let your housing officer know to make sure your Housing Benefit continues.

FOODBANKS

For information on Foodbanks, see http://www.disabilityscot.org.uk/foodbanks-over-christmas/