Stay on top of your budget this Christmas

Christmas can be an expensive time of year for many - and with December 25 only a few short days away, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the festive panic.

This week marks the traditional scramble for last-minute gifts, food to bring to parties, charity donations and many other spending opportunities that can leave your wallet feeling light.

But one New Zealand-based financial writer says it is easy to avoid the financial traps associated with Christmas - as long as you know what you are looking for.

The main trick, asserts Diana Clement, is to plan ahead, make a budget and stick to it.

"Most households spend hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of dollars unnecessarily at Christmas through a lack of forethought and social or family pressure," she wrote in the New Zealand Herald.

What's worse, she added, is that a lifetime of poorly-planned Christmases can represent lost money that would be much better spent elsewhere - for example, funding your retirement or contributing to a dream round-the-world holiday.

By following her simple, straightforward advice - avoiding buying generic gifts and shopping online for the best prices are just two of her many tips - households may be able to ease the financial hit of the holiday season.

Of course, shopping around isn't only for Christmas - and there is no reason why you can't apply these same principles when it comes to managing rising electricity prices.

It may be worth a call to a switching service to find out if there are better electricity tariffs in your neighbourhood than your current plan - and if so, how to go about switching to a different provider.

Further savings can be made year-round on energy bills by ensuring you use electricity as efficiently as possible.

This can be as easy as ensuring the lights are turned off when you leave a room or making sure your computer or television powers down completely rather than remaining on standby.

For even further savings, you might also want to consider investing in energy efficient home improvements - as despite the upfront cost, these may allow you to save a considerable amount of money on your bills in the long run.

These improvements could range from basics - such as draught-proofing windows and doors - to more substantial changes like rooftop solar panels.

Posted by Charlie Moore