Best start saving for Chanucah - 2011
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Chanucah may still seem like a fair bit of time away but it is vital you prepare for it. Far too many cry poverty in January and blame spending during Chanucah (or Eid, or Christmas). Yet with some decent pre-planning, you can keep the costs right down.
Here are my top tips for future festivities.
● There is still time to spread the cost
The best time to start saving for Chanucah is a year before. During Christmas for instance, the average family spends £600; spread over the year that's just £50 a month.
Too many try to pay for Chanucah out of November or December's income, often a hard stretch, leaving people making up the gap with debt. However, there's still time to start now. Work out your likely Chanucah spend and split it by three - saving now, so it is not so tough.
● £90+ of free high street vouchers
If you have combined family income of over £30,000 and a decent credit score, sign up to an American Express Rewards credit card and for each month in the first three you spend over £500, you get a bonus 6,000 reward points - enough for a £30 M&S, Amazon, iTunes voucher and more.
Better still, unlike most reward cards you can redeem the points as soon as you have earned them (in £25 tranches).
Yet only do this if you pay off in full every month - preferably by direct debit - so there is no interest. Full instructions and other freebies such as free flights can be found at www.moneysavingexpert.com/ccfreebies
● Let your finances rule
Too many just work through an 'I want' list: latkes, donuts, gifts galore, plasma televisions, and more - and only afterwards will they ask "how on earth will we pay for it?"
Yet the best possible thing to do is work out how much you have got to spend and see what the best Chanucah you can have within that budget is. After all, it is not worth a debt-soaked new year for.
● Shopping is about technique
Ensure you use a 'shopbot' (shopping comparison site) to benchmark prices for everything you need, even if you don't want to buy them online (though you do get extra consumer protection).
Use sites such as Kelkoo.co.uk, Pricerunner.co.uk, Foundem.com or my own megashopbot.com, which combines the results of a range of shopbots.
If you do buy online visit stores via cashback websites like topcashback.co.uk or quidco.com to get a kickback which basically means that when you click through to a retailer via a cashback website, the cashback site pays you. The kickback is the cash they pay. However, only ever see this as a bonus, as it is never 100 per cent guaranteed.
If you don't know what you want to buy, keep an eye out for discounts and bargains. You may find a cracking 'three-for-two' offer that gets you presents for three people at a good price. You can also try www.moneysavingexpert.com/amazontool, which finds seriously reduced price deals on the giant website - though always compare elsewhere to see if they are genuine bargains.
● Don't use Tesco vouchers for food
You can often do better with them by trading them in via Tesco's Clubcard Reward scheme, where you can get up to four times their value on things like days out, magazine subscriptions, gifts.
So £20 of vouchers becomes £80 of Clubcard rewards. However, that of course is based on the list price. Do check the real price of those goods before using vouchers to ensure you get maximum value.
● Fancy perfume on the cheap
If you think you might buy somebody a perfume as a Chanucah present do it early and save some cash via cheap online sites such as fragrancedirect.co.uk, directcostmetics.co.uk and halfpriceperfumes.co.uk.
● Make a No Unnecessary Present Pact
Before you start yelling `Scrooge' at me, it is important to understand the impact of buying Chanucah presents.
Even if you love the joy of giving, remember that it creates an obligation on recipients to give in return whether or not they can afford it.
Worse still, it can mis-prioritise our finances. If Janet gives skint John £20 socks, and he feels obliged to return a scarf costing £20, in effect John has spent £20 on the socks. Is that really what he would have chosen to spend the cash on? So while gift giving for children or in the immediate family is great, if you are going to spread it wider, draw up a list of who you are giving to and consider its effect. Make sure you are buying things that they will need or want, and consider a pact to either not give or limit the cost.