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Before you say 'it's only September', we want to help you spread the cost of Christmas over the next three months. We'll tell you why you should be preparing for Christmas now instead of in December and how a little bit of careful Christmas planning can save you money.

There is a superstition that you should only put up decorations for a few weeks of the year, but there's nothing to stop us from being prepared for the big day weeks, or even months, in advance!

And if you don't celebrate Christmas, but would like to prepare for a celebration that is important to you, like Hanukkah, Eid or Diwali, you may find our Christmas guide helpful too - as you can spread the cost of any important holiday over the course of three months.

Birthdays, holidays and Christmas are all expensive, so it's good to have room in your monthly budget in advance for the fun things. Besides, if you leave yourself short of money for January - how will you enjoy the January sales or pay for that new gym membership?

Spreading the cost of Christmas

If you begin to think about Christmas now, you can prepare yourself financially over the next three months, so that the entire financial burden doesn't fall on December's pay packet.

Set aside part of your budget for the next three months. To do that, you'll need to look honestly at what you'll spend over Christmas and factor in the cost over the next three months' budgets. It's likely you'll spend significantly more during Christmas than at other times of the year. Some of the additional costs to consider are:

  • Extra petrol to travel to friends and family (or even air tickets!)
  • Your car might break down in the icy months.
  • Spontaneous parties at your neighbours'.
  • Your freezer finally giving up because mum went to Iceland for Christmas.
  • Don't forget how tempting the January sales can be!

Then there are the presents of course! If you begin thinking about presents now, you'll have plenty of time over the next three months to find out what your loved ones would like. If you're creative and thinking about making your own presents, you have three months to get everything you need ready.

Christmas saving club

If you save up enough for Christmas, you'll avoid having to borrow money when December comes around and potentially save yourself £s in interest charges.

The sooner you begin saving, the less money you will have to put away every month to cover the cost of Christmas.

A Christmas saving club can be as simple as you and your friends simply putting money into a kitty for Christmas drinks, or more organised, like saving with professional companies like Park, which allow you to put money aside throughout the year for Christmas vouchers, food and presents.

You may be saving in a separate bank account or a 'safe place' already, or you could ask a trusted friend or relative to look after your savings for you.

Spreading the cost of Christmas could be a year-long activity. If you begin to put a little bit away every month - loose change, birthday cheques from relatives, bonuses or overtime payments at work - you could have a healthy pile of cash by December.

If you work somewhere where you get tips or overtime, put a little bit of that into your Christmas savings every month and see how quickly it adds up!

Cutting the cost of Christmas

Here are some money-saving ideas for cutting the cost of Christmas.

If you are good at making things, you could create a really special present out of things you already own. If you have some old drinking glasses, you could paint them. If sewing or fashion is your thing you could personalise a picture or T shirt. If you're into photography, you could frame a striking photograph - all of these gifts have the added appeal of being hand-made.

Just about everybody loves to eat and drink more than usual at Christmas. If you're a bit of a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, you could gift home-brewed cider, or a mouth-watering dish for the Christmas spread. Christmas dinner is quite expensive, so you could spread the cost between you and your family and friends. Get your sister to do the turkey, dad to source the drinks and mum to organise the crackers and Christmas pudding. That way, all the cost and the stress isn't placed on one person!

Give parents time to relax this Christmas by offering your baby-sitting services. If you are happy to take care of your nephews and nieces for a few hours, their parents can go out for a well-earned rest. They'll appreciate that more than a soap-on-a-rope.

In the run-up to Christmas, supermarkets and retailers will have many promotions to try to tempt us to spend. Buy One Get One Free offers are good value, but consider whether you would have bought an item if it wasn't BOGOF. If not, you probably don't need two and your money may be better spent on stamps for Christmas cards, or something you can't avoid paying for.

If you're going on holiday for Christmas, you might find some presents abroad, which depending on the exchange rate, could save you money! Your uncle might be very grateful for a present from 'duty free'. Just be careful that you don't go over your luggage allowance, or you may be charged.

Christmas is only for a few weeks of the year - so you don't really need to spend too much on decorations. Consider that many decorations are thrown away in January. Either buy decorations in the January sales or visit discount stores which have really good offers.

Do you feel like you have to spend a fortune on presents? You don't have to! A 'secret Santa' is a great way to make sure everyone receives a gift without having to spend a fortune. Secret Santa works well for groups of friends, families and work colleagues.

Perhaps you could agree to a spending limit with your family this year? If you let them know that you're on a budget and don't expect extravagant gifts and won't be overspending on them - they may really welcome that, because Christmas is expensive for everyone.

Planning for next Christmas

Remember: the earlier you begin preparing for Christmas, the less of a shock to your bank account it will be come January! Pick up a Christmas pudding in the January sales - it'll stay fresh all year round (if it's still in the packaging). There are dozens of other festive things you can buy cheaply in the January sales - all the seasonal goods that people only really want from 1st December until 6th January (tinsel, singing snowmen, advent calendars). Your home could be like Santa's grotto by next Christmas!

If you buy your Christmas cards in the January sales and set aside one stamp every time you buy stamps throughout the year, you'll be better prepared for sending "season's greetings" to all your aunties and cousins come December.

You can prepare yourself financially for next year's Christmas by looking at how much you spent on the previous Christmas. If you spent £400, put away £30 every month in your budget for the year.

If you've done your budget and you know you're running short - boost your budget!  Read our "one man's trash is another man's treasure" article for simple ways to boost your income.

Christmas doesn't have to 'break the bank'

For many, Christmas is really about spending time with friends, family and loved ones. We live in a commercial society and it is likely that you will feel pressure from the media and retailers in the run-up to Christmas to buy many things that you normally wouldn't. Some people feel guilty if they haven't spent as much as they would like - but there's no need. It's your money, so make it work for you and your budget.

With a little forward planning and with our money-saving tips, you can still have a really special Christmas that doesn't break the bank.

Let the countdown begin!

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