2020 came as a bit of a shock for most people. Lockdowns, job losses, homeschooling, illness and bereavements seemed to impact everyone to some degree.
Other things I hadn’t seen coming was another house move this year and another period of being between homes. Even once I did move into a lovely little house for just me and my boys, I had an instant added expense of over £3,000 to install central heating in time for the cold weather this winter. This, coupled with numerous late paying contracts on the run-up to Christmas meant lots of financial juggling.
Being a single parent, you get used to juggling. Mostly it’s juggling logistics. There always feels like more than one place you’re meant to be at the same time and there’s no escaping the guilt of wanting to be there for your kids but also working to ensure there’s enough to pay the bills and have a good time actually living rather than just surviving.
What My Normal Christmas Savings Look Like
So, big confession time, I’m actually not that great at saving money as in putting it aside. I get my kicks out of stretching my money the furthest I can with a coupon, cashback, discount code or thrifting. So my “Christmas Savings” has always been spreading the cost of Christmas by shopping throughout the year.
Every week I visit the charity shops local to my office. I love a weekend wander around a carboot sale by the coast and pick through the antique shops in the seaside towns. Garage or yard sales are my favourite though. Everyone who has too much to clear out but not enough energy to traipse their wares to a carboot or can’t be bothered to list everything separately to sell online just sells things for pennies. Plus you get to nosey around some fancy gardens at the same time!
Why my normal plan didn’t work
2020 put a stop to my normal spread out Christmas shopping though. We were sent home from work at the beginning of the year, so no “just popping in” to the local charity shops near to my office. I missed this instantly. A lunchtime scour of secondhand shops gave me such a kick and often got me through the day.
Carboots were cancelled for fear of crowds spreading the virus and antique shops were closed along with all the other non-essential shops.
Even responsible admins of Facebook Marketplace selling groups shut down their threads to prevent people visiting one another unnecessarily.
I started saving properly
With no-where to go and nothing to buy I was spending much less than normal each month and actually putting a lot more cash into a savings account. But as with other previous experiences of trying to save up, something comes along to wipe all those efforts out. That’s when I needed to quickly move house and pull a deposit together for the leap.
I poured all my savings into the house move to get the nicest and safest place I could for me and the kids.
Then Christmas came around…
And by now, there were still few places to thrift a bargain for my Christmas present shopping, but I’d also lost out on time to spread the cost throughout more than one pay packet. Working multiple jobs had meant I’d even less time to try making some homemade gifts. The most I could muster for my parents was a print out of the boys’ school photo for a frame they already had. Thankfully I was able to get to a charity shop before lockdown 2.0 for some affordable bits for the kids but the rest was bought online and delivered.
The kids’ presents dug me deeper into my overdraft and I got caught up, as many of us did this year with treating them to more stuff to make up for the experiences I felt they’d missed out on. This was made worse as they needed to isolate on the run up to Christmas day after a classmate unfortunately contracted Covid-19.
But now its time to face the facts and get my head out of the sand.
Yes, I did the right thing at the time and spent what I had on getting my family a decent place to live but I need to future proof some savings so we’re not in that position again.
Here’s what I’m doing to fix things for next year.
I could blame the pandemic for ruining my normal method of spreading the cost of Christmas but it’s important for me to take responsibility. Even though I did start setting money aside during the first lockdown when I was spending less on shopping, the mistake I made was not keeping some separate, specifically for Christmas.
Any extra cash went into one savings pot. This meant when I needed a lump sum amount, it was all together and would have been impossible to justify not using it all and keep some aside to buy Christmas presents.
So I’ve decided to do a combination of savings in order to bulletproof Christmas 2021 and ensure that whatever is thrown at my next year, my savings are protected.
Here’s my Five Christmas Savings Methods
A didlum is savings scheme in which members of a particular group deposit a regular sum throughout the year with a nominated treasurer who shares out the money at Christmas. I’m nominating my dad (he doesn’t know it yet!) to look after a small amount of money I’m going to transfer monthly to him *JUST FOR MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING*. I trust him wholeheartedly and I know he’ll enjoy handing it over towards the end of the year. Just doing £10 a month so I don’t feel the hit and making sure the standing order is scheduled for the day after payday will make it even less noticeable. This will save up £120 if I leave it until December with him so ideal for my Christmas food shopping.
2. 1p Savings Jar:
Just grabbing an empty coffee jar for this one. On day one add 1p, day two add 2p, day 100, add a pound and the final day add £3.65. I’m not sure how likely I am to be able to stick to this every day but seeing how much in total this would save me is a great incentive to at least try! Wrapping a festive ribbon around it will keep me focussed on not dipping into my jar savings for anything other than Christmas gifts! Sticking to this method will save up £667.95.
3. Smarties tube
Normal sized smarties tubes hold £12 in 20ps. But if you got one of those larger tubes for Christmas (standard stocking gift in our house!) then they fit £2 coins in them perfectly. A full tube = £166! I like that I can just add a £2 coin whenever I get one and see how many I manage by the end of next year. So, max savings £166 in this one. Great for those additional purchases like new matching xmas pjs, contents for the christmas eve box and stocking fillers.
4. Sinking Fund Envelope
Cash envelopes work really well for me and that is definitely the key to any savings scheme working. I guess with this year feeling more cashless than ever, its been hard to stay in the rhythm of saving into them. However, having at least one in the house for Christmas shopping is really going to help me. This is the cash I will pop aside on pay day and if I see something suitable during the month to hide away for a Christmas present, then the money can come out of this envelope for it. I’ll aim for £5 a week for this too so another £120 over the year.
5. Park Christmas Savings Account
This is the first time I’ve set up a “proper” Christmas savings account but I wanted something which would be legally and financially protected.
I’ve signed up to Park Christmas Savings as a way of formalising it, a bit like a bill, so it genuinely feels like that money each month is paying towards next Christmas. It’s not even the new year yet and I’m kicking myself that I’ve still got to pay off Christmas 2020!
So starting in January, each month I will have a payment go out of my current account for £40 for ten months. This amount was my choice, basically, you get full control over how much you feel is affordable to save. you can even adjust this through the year if your circumstances change.
I’ve decided to do ten monthly payments, as this allows me a few months on the run-up to Christmas to shop around for gifts. I’ll get sent my money back in gift cards as I want to be able to choose to shop online, given what’s happened to the high street this year. These cards can be spent at over 90 stores.
Most importantly for me, the money saved here will be safe. An independent trust, designed to safeguard prepayments is created for me. The trust arrangements give me the added security for my savings. This will help me save £400.
Using a blend of these five ways to save up, my Christmas fund will total just short of £1500! Nothing on the credit card, no impact on the overdraft and most importantly, the security in knowing that, if one method fails, the others will be there as a backup. If I need to dip into one of the cash-based methods for whatever reason I can, safe in the knowledge that my Park Christmas Savings is my Christmas safety net.
Disclosure – this post was written in collaboration with Park Christmas Savings as an ambassador for this brand.