Take heed of savvy retailers to beat Blue Monday - Jim Duffy

Christmas creeps up on us. There is a slow build up and boom  it goes full on, says Duffy. Picture: Contributed
Christmas creeps up on us. There is a slow build up and boom it goes full on, says Duffy. Picture: Contributed
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It’s about this time of year that the big retailers either jump for joy or lick their wounds. Reporting on the pre-Christmas retail sales allows them to set out their stalls for this year.

Some will be delighted with strong results. Next, the clothing retailer, reported full-price sales growth of 5.2 per cent for the last two months of 2019. Others will be scratching their heads – John Lewis Partnership being one retailer that is already looking at restructuring its business. As the retailers share their results and put plans in place for 2020, it got me thinking about you.

This week saw the dawn of Blue ­Monday. The third Monday of January, where we count the cost of poor weather, long dark nights and, of course, the lingering aftermath of overspending during the festive period. Throw failed and stalling New Year resolutions into the mix with the long wait till payday and Blue Monday is a great descriptor of the wrong ducks in the right row. Depending on what shade of blue you are, from deep royal to light ­turquoise, now might be the time to put in a fix for next year. It may make you feel better now.

It is estimated that we as consumers spend an average of £567 each at Christmas. That’s just an average, mind, with the top picks being chocolate, books, cosmetics and food and drink. We rattle our credit cards, we pull cash out of the hole in the wall. we dip into savings. The emotion of the time of year, coupled with massive advertising and marketing precipitates this spending.

Now may be the best time to plan

Supermarket shelves are full to the brim with new and colourful attempts to spur us on to greater heights. Online platforms such as Amazon feed the Black Friday frenzy that goes on and on. Despite trying each year to set a budget, many of us fail. Hence it all adds up to the feeling of this week.

But what if we started to plan now for Christmas 2020? What if we set out our stall and actually tried to learn from past errors and emotionally charged purchases, perhaps taking a leaf out of the big retailers’ budgeting bibles? This may be the best time to plan. But, here comes the prophet of doom.

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Britain’s household debt mountain reached a new peak this time last year, with UK homes owing an average of £15,385 to credit card companies, banks and other lenders. The worrying headline statistic then was the increase in unsecured debt. This is the debt that is “easy money” as credit card firms and quick and easy lenders offer great initial rates and low barriers to entry.

In 2019, the level of unsecured debt as a share of household income stood at 30.4 per cent. Many forecast that this will rise further. Latest figures from Hargreaves Lansdown suggest we are holding “£87 billion in loans, credit cards, hire purchase agreements and overdrafts”. Christmas spending does not help.

Christmas creeps up on us, that is the problem. There is a slow build up from Guy Fawkes and boom – it goes full on. It’s a bit like the roulette wheel in a casino. Where the poker table or the blackjack table look a bit dull, the roulette table is a real draw. The ball is spinning and there are so many possibilities on where to spend cash. Pick a number, split rows or go for even money. The exciting part is also the problematic part, the choice and razzamatazz. It’s easy to be pulled in.

So, perhaps rather than get sucked in next year, we write a list for Santa now and jolly well stick to it. But the list we write is a ‘John Lewis’ list and not a ‘Next’ list. In short, we scale it back and hopefully learn from our lessons.

Was this year worth it? Did all that spending on pressies and grub and alcohol really bring a smile to everyone’s faces? If you had set a limit to cut down, would it really have made any difference? I’m not so sure. So, that being the premise, perhaps a 30 to 50 per cent cut in next year’s festive spending could be a winner for you and your wallet. And make a better hue for Blue Monday next year…

- Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.