News, Culture & Society

MISS MONEYSAVER says ACT NOW to cut the cost of Christmas

From today there are just 85 sleeps till Christmas. That may seem a lot to those who wait until December 24 to rush around and grab whatever they can. 

But for ‘early preppers’ like myself, a longer run-up helps to spread out the cost and avoid a crippling bill that takes months to pay off.

I’m not the only one who thinks like this. According to research by American Express, 16.5 million Brits have already started their Christmas shopping, and surprisingly it’s the young leading the way with more than a third of Millennial and Gen Zers revealing their festive shopping is underway.

Granted, I’m the sort of person who starts buying presents in the January sales. But there are still plenty of bargains to be had now. 

My first port of call is always charity shops to hunt for unopened gift boxes of bathroom goodies and stationery that I can give to family and friends. 

These handy gift items tend to disappear by the end of October, so go and grab them while they are still in stock.

Charity shops are also a goldmine if you are creative-minded. A friend of mine looks out for pretty cups and saucers and makes candles in the cups — a gorgeous gift for her girl friends.

Second-hand vases and pots also make a great present when they are pepped up with fresh flowers or a houseplant.

You can also create some professional-looking hampers for just a few quid. We have instructions on my website, MoneyMagpie.com, on how to make these, but essentially all you need is some sort of box, tray or basket, some stuffing (like coloured straw, from £3.99 at Amazon), cellophane (from £7.99 a roll at Amazon), old ribbon and tags from last Christmas.

Then it’s up to you what you put in them. It could be homemade cakes and sweets (made closer to the time), or a selection of oils and pasta from Lidl’s Italian range (all priced below £2).

According to research by American Express, 16.5 million Brits have already started their Christmas shopping, and surprisingly it’s the young leading the way 

Better still, why not pick up potential gifts for free? My favourite website is Freecycle.org, where you can sometimes find toys and homeware in near-perfect condition. 

You need to check the site daily, though, as the good stuff gets bagged within minutes.

Gumtree also has all sorts of Christmas goodies listed, including a 5ft Christmas tree complete with fir cones for £20.

There’s also a new app aimed at parents called Young Planet, where you can pick up free second-hand children’s toys and clothes from other parents.

It’s a great place to look if your child wants a bike for Christmas. Start looking now to give yourself the best chance of picking up the right size for free.

You can buy all your other presents at a discount over the next few weeks if you look around as there are sales on across the High Street and online. 

Bargains I spotted include a bottle of Calvin Klein CK Obsession Night eau de parfum for women (100ml) for £27 (down from £49) at Lloydspharmacy.com.

For full-price purchases, it’s worth using cashback sites like Quidco or Topcashback to get money off. 

At Quidco, for example, you could get up to £100 back buying items at Curry’s or 10 per cent cashback on purchases at Boohoo.com.

If you’ve been collecting your Boots, Nectar, Tesco and other loyalty points during the year, keep collecting them and then deploy them closer to Christmas to get the maximum freebies. 

Spend your Nectar points at partner brands eBay and Argos; Tesco points can be used to buy ‘experience’ presents for friends such as a restaurant meal or indoor skydiving; and Boots points can be used in-store or online to buy all manner of gifts including a Fenty Eyeshadow set for £19.50 (was £39), or FCUK sports holdall Gift Set for £20.50 (was £42)

I never leave my food shopping to the last minute either. With the price of turkeys set to be between 13 per cent and 25 per cent higher this year, due to the rocketing price of feed, use the handy ‘turkey finder’ at Countrysideonline.co.uk to find local suppliers and book your bird early.

A crown is more economical than a whole bird. They can be slightly more expensive per kg, but you save energy on cooking time. 

The price of turkeys set to be between 13 per cent and 25 per cent higher this year, due to the rocketing price of feed

The price of turkeys set to be between 13 per cent and 25 per cent higher this year, due to the rocketing price of feed

An average turkey (4kg) takes around four hours while an average crown (2kg) takes 1 hour 50 minutes, which halves the electricity cost.

The cheapest option, though, is to get a frozen bird from the supermarket. Last year the cheapest frozen turkey available was from Aldi. 

A 4kg one (serving 6-8) cost £11.49, while a similar sized fresh turkey from Aldi was around £18.

Spread the cost of all the trimmings by picking up a few of the non-perishable foods each week during your normal supermarket shop. 

Asda has tubs of Quality Street, Heroes and Celebrations for £4 right now and 85g packets of stuffing for £1.05 in the Just Essentials range.

You can also get Christmas chutneys and condiments, cheese biscuits, chocolate biscuits and Christmas puddings from all the supermarkets, which will still be in date by December 25. Mince pies are best bought later.

Keep your eyes peeled for bargains at discount food website Approvedfood.co.uk, which has Christmas puds (140g) for £1.49, boxes of Christmas chocolates and biscuits for £5 (down from £25).

Make use of your freezer, too. Cheese freezes well, for example, and can be kept for up to six months so start building up a cheese ,board now. 

Potatoes can be roasted in advance then put in the freezer. There’s a great recipe at bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/freeze-ahead-roasties

Grab some bargain plonk at Sainsbury’s, where there is a 25 per cent off deal if you buy six bottles or more that finishes today. 

Tesco, Waitrose and Amazon’s 25 per cent off events are expected in November, but no dates have been confirmed yet.

It pays to be organised if you are travelling over the festive season. Book your train tickets now and you can save up to 50 per cent on your journey. 

The best deals are for tickets booked for specific dates and times.

For those flying abroad, the best bargains to be had are usually for Christmas Day itself. If you are willing to travel then, you are likely to make a considerable saving.

With just 85 days to go, I would also suggest prudent budgeting to free up cash in December for any last-minute purchases. 

Cut out one High Street coffee five days a week and you could save £170 over ten weeks, as the average cost these days is £3.40.

Forgo that Friday night takeaway twice a month, and over ten weeks you could save £150 (based on the average takeaway for two people costing £30).

 Best apps to stay on top of your electricity bills

There are several free apps and websites to help you calculate which of your appliances cost the most to run

Today the new energy price cap comes into force. The Energy Price Guarantee limits how much you can be charged per unit of gas or electricity with the aim to ensure a typical UK household will pay no more than £2,500 for energy.

Your exact bill will be for how much energy you use. The less you use, the less you will pay overall and so there are several free apps and websites to help you calculate which of your appliances cost the most to run.

For a start, Nous.com is a website that helps you work out what your household bills are going to be, including gas and electricity, by checking out your current providers and monitoring your usage. 

Founder Greg Marsh says: ‘Nous looks at consumption and other factors about your household and even looks at your mortgage, council tax, water and all your household bills.’

If you have a smart meter you could download an app called Loop which analyses your smart meter data and shows you easy ways to use less electricity. 

Those behind it claim, on average, Loop households cut their electricity usage by 10 per cent. 

It also has a solar simulator which uses your data to show you what difference solar panels would make.

The Hugo app covers both gas and electricity and lets you view yearly, monthly, weekly and daily stats for both. 

You can also set a household budget and get alerts you when you near your set limit. It’s free but users input bank or credit card details to verify the account linked with the smart meter.

Shave four years off your mortgage  

This week I’ve been talking a lot on TV and radio about mortgage rates going up really quickly and how people need to fix their mortgage, or remortgage as soon as possible before the rates all go up again.

If you are already settled into your mortgage, it’s more important than ever to try to pay it off as fast as possible to save money on interest and become debt-free early.

So I’m pleased to see a new, free app called Sprive (sprive.com) which aims to help you chip away at your mortgage each week by working out how much spare cash you have after your normal expenditure and setting aside that amount so that you can make overpayments direct to your lender with one tap. 

The handy thing about this is that it could be really small amounts that you put away but every bit helps. Also, as it’s done automatically, you don’t have to think about it and the savings build up on their own.

If you are already settled into your mortgage, it’s more important than ever to try to pay it off as fast as possible to save money on interest and become debt-free early

If you are already settled into your mortgage, it’s more important than ever to try to pay it off as fast as possible to save money on interest and become debt-free early

The company says that the average Sprive customer is currently on track to save £10,000 in interest and shed four years off their mortgage. 

Anyone who remembers the mortgage rates of the 80s and 90s will know the cost of borrowing to buy a home could not just double, but could be four or even five times what it is now. So the quicker we pay off these loans, the cheaper it’ll be for us in the long run.

With interest rates rising so fast and the cost of living going up weekly, being on the right mortgage is crucial, now more than ever.

Sprive also scans the mortgage market every day to find the best deals for customers so that when a current deal ends, you can switch to a new, hopefully better, one.

 Transform leftovers into an indoor allotment 

The price of food is going up so it’s time to get serious about growing our own food. Even if you don’t have a garden or a balcony, you can grow fruit and veg indoors.

Amazon has a seed-growing kit for £12.99 which includes pots, soil and vegetable seeds for you to set up your own indoor allotment.

Or you can grow new plants from your veggie leftovers for free. Next time you make a salad, for example, keep the white stem of your Little Gem or Romaine lettuce and put it in a container with some water by the window. 

After about two weeks roots should sprout and you can put it into a pot of soil to grow. 

Amazon has a seed-growing kit for £12.99 which includes pots, soil and vegetable seeds for you to set up your own indoor allotment

You can also re-grow spring onions by keeping the white roots intact, putting them half submerged in a jar of water and letting it sprout on the windowsill in the light.

 Cut off the bottom of celery where the stalks hold together and put this in a container of water for three days. 

When small leaves start to sprout in the middle, plant in a pot of soil with leaves sticking out. Then just keep it in sunlight and water regularly.

Herbs are also easy to grow indoors — best in the kitchen for easy access while cooking — and most can be grown from a stem cutting. 

Just take cuttings from below where the leaves sprout then put them in water in indirect sunlight. 

Keep changing the water; roots should grow within two weeks so you can plant them.

  • Make money spotting property

If, like me, you notice empty properties as you walk along the street, imagining how you’d develop them if they were yours, you could get some quick cash for your spot.

Just take a photo of the building, note the address and upload that information to Youspotproperty.com with a description. 

If it’s not already on their database, you’ll get a £20 voucher for your trouble and could even get 1 per cent of the selling price (up to £10,000) if the building’s bought by the Youspotproperty team.

  • Get a week’s recipe kit for £1 AND a free gift from SimplyCook

For just £1 postage you can try a SimplyCook recipe kit box FREE as well as receiving a gift of a selection of herbs and spices. 

They’ll send you a letterbox-sized box (normally £9.99) containing four recipe kits and step-by-step instruction cards. Find out more at simplycook.com

  • Got a question for Jasmine? Email her at: AskJasmine@MoneyMagpie.com
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