Ca’ canny now and Christmas spending won’t get out of hand

Online alerts may be just as good for bagging a bargain as waiting for Cyber Monday. Photograph: iStock/PA
Online alerts may be just as good for bagging a bargain as waiting for Cyber Monday. Photograph: iStock/PA
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It may be way too early for many people to want to think about Christmas (unless you’re one of those hyper-organised festive types who starts preparing almost a year in advance!).

But right now could be a golden opportunity to do some planning, which will help you stick to a budget when the festivities come around. Leaving preparations until the last minute can mean paying top dollar, as you’ve no other choice.

So, whether or not you’re starting to feel a bit festive, here are some tips for ways you could save money now, to help make your budget stretch further when it’s time to celebrate.

Try to grab a cheap
train ticket

The savings can be huge by booking in advance. According to booking service Trainline, last year the UK saved a collective £21 million by booking their train tickets in advance, saving as much as £185 on popular routes such as Manchester to London. Those travelling from London to Edinburgh last year saved as much as £133 by booking in advance.

Trainline’s advance train travel booking window is now open, with train operators releasing their tickets for travel home this Christmas.

So if you’re planning to travel one of the more popular routes, such as those to London, it could well pay to make sure you book well in advance,as many other people will be searching for these journeys too. Advance ticket release dates vary by operator.

To make sure you’re ahead in the queue and have a chance of reserving a seat, Trainline has a free “ticket alert” service (thetrainline.com/ticketalert), enabling passengers to input their desired journey and be notified by email as soon as it becomes available. Rail operators also offer a similar online service and claim to have more budget tickets.

Make your shopping
lists now

Once all the shops have Christmas music blaring out, it’s easy to get carried away and pile up your trolley with more stuff than you really need. To avoid having to throw mouldy mince pies being thrown into the bin in January, plan the food you really need to buy for the festive season as well as gifts so you’ll avoid over-spending because you’re panic buying.

Also, before the pressure of Christmas shopping really hits, look out for food bargains on the supermarket shelves which could be put in the freezer.

Research the prices of the gifts you want to buy

Don’t just wait for Black Friday to look for price discounts – do your research now and shop around to see what prices are generally being charged now for the items you want. This will give you time to monitor prices over the coming weeks – and swoop in when they drop to a good deal.

With retailers’ prices often going up and down like a yo-yo, some of the “bargains” available during high-profile shopping bonanzas such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday may not be as great a deal as they first seem anyway. Websites such as alertr.co.uk allow you to track products and receive alerts when the prices plunge.

Make some extra cash ahead of Christmas

You could boost your budget by having a pre-Christmas clear-out and putting items up for sale on websites or taking them to car boot sales. Also, remember to make the most of retailers’ reward cards and cashback websites when you shop.

Switching your current account provider could be another way to make some easy cash. For example, Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have been offering £150 to switch. HSBC has also been offering sums of £75 and £175 to switch to its account range.

When choosing a current account though, it’s important to make sure you’ll be better off with the deal in the longer term, rather than just focusing on any up-front perks. With switching offers, there will be certain time periods you’ll need to wait before you get your reward – but if it’s not in time for Christmas it could come in handy in the New Year when budgets are really stretched.