Welcome to our new weekly personal finance newsletter On the Money, where we delve into personal finance issues and how they might affect your pocket. This newsletter, compiled by our personal finance writers, including Dominic Coyle and Conor Pope, is issued each Friday to subscribers.
Christmas can be a particularly stressful time for people on limited finances and rising prices, especially for energy, mean the issue could be particularly acute this year.
Parents feel under huge pressure to deliver the perfect Christmas for their children, both in terms of gifts and tasty treats over the Christmas and new year period. Older people, who are generally on more constrained incomes, can also feel obliged to spend more than they should on family.
A survey from insurer Allianz Ireland says that 87 per cent of people in Ireland feel that the rising cost of living will impact their plans for Christmas this year.
Almost one in five respondents to the Allianz survey said that impact will be “enormous”, with another quarter anticipating having to make substantial changes to their usual habits. Only 13 per cent – just over one in eight – are confident that their Christmas plans will not be affected by rising costs.
Data from the Central Statistics Office this week showed that people were paying 63.5 per cent more for electricity in November than a year previously, and an even more onerous 88.7 more for gas which many families use for heating their homes and cooking. Home heating oil was 57 per cent more costly.
And all those are on top of 2021 prices that were themselves 14 per cent up on the previous year.
And it’s not just energy. Food costs are rising by more than 11 per cent in the year to November, with milk costing a third more than a year earlier, bread up by 22 per cent, butter by 26 per cent and meat and fish also well into double digits.
Something has to give and that means finding to enjoy the festive season on a more modest budget.
The first target, inevitably, will be a dialling down on expenditure on presents. One of the few areas to have seen a meaningful fall in price over the past year is, ironically, toys, which are over 4 per cent cheaper according to the CSO. However, families under pressure will understandably feel that they can tighten the budget here while still having gifts for family.
Just over a third of those polled for Allianz (35 per cent) said they would be spending over €500 in total this year on gifts for friends and family.
When it comes to gifts, no one wants children to miss out, though they are unlikely to notice the impact of more conscious spending decisions. But when it comes to adults, it makes sense to agree a modest budget for a token gift this year – or even a Kris Kindle idea where everyone is responsible for buying only one relative a gift.
What other simple ways you can make this Christmas more affordable if you are feeling the pinch, without having anyone miss out on the fun of the holiday?
It may be too late to join a store savings plan or to put your own in place, but you can still spread the cost of Christmas food and drink across a number of weeks by purchasing non-perishables earlier. And maybe this is the year to question whether you really need multiple meats and vegetables, much of which will inevitably end up in the bin.
A judicious use of cash and card should also allow you, even at this stage, to spread the cost over the guts of two months, with no penalty as long as you have the discipline to pay off your credit card bill in full when it falls due.
Discipline and planning are keys to staying on top of your personal finances and reduce your personal stress levels. None of us are as disciplined as we’d like to be but a simple thing like writing down a shopping list and then sticking to it, refusing to get diverted by those tempting in-store offers that you really do not need, is one of the easiest ways to keep to a budget.
If you do find yourself struggling with utility bills – especially those surging energy bills as the weather turns cold and the days are dark – get in touch with your provider and find out what options they offer to try to spread the cost.
And if you are older, remember to put yourself and especially your comfort first. No child wants to see their grandparent suffering as they turn off the heat to fund a present they cannot afford.
Finally, don’t forget to be careful with any online purchases. First it can be only too easy to click now and realise later just what the cumulative bill is but, more importantly, be aware of where you’re shopping so that you do not get caught out by additional VAT and duty charges for gifts coming into Ireland from outside the EU.