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Get ahead of Christmas bills

Last updated 05:00 10/01/2014

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Your holidaying relatives might barely be out the door but it's nearly time to start planning for next Christmas if you want to avoid it becoming a financial burden.

Ideally you should start preparing for the next Christmas in January, Presbyterian Support money management and budgeting service manager Maureen Little says.

The panicked phone calls from people not sure how they'll make it through the festive season usually start rolling in around October.

"People come in and want a miracle which sometimes we haven't got," Ms Little says.

Presbyterian Support offers both budgeting advice and a money management service.

People can come in on a casual basis to get a better idea about planning their day-to-day finances or in more extreme cases they can have their income paid to the service which will then pay all of their expenses. "We've got people who live on the street and all they have is their basic $206 a week from a benefit and then there are people earning over $100,000 a year.

"There are people who are on very good incomes that you think should be able to manage well but it's all relevant - the more you earn the more you spend and the richer you think they are.

"But usually they go away well educated and do well afterwards."

The service has been operating for around 70 years and was originally for war veterans.

It sounds simple but the most obvious financial mishap people make around Christmas is spending money they haven't got on gifts.

"If you set a price for gifts you have to spend the same on everyone and I've seen people with lists of about 25. You're talking $2000 or $3000, but they cannot take one single person off the list because they think people will be upset.

"I say to some people ‘why don't you give time'? Why don't you give a card saying ‘I'll give you five hours babysitting'?"

Supermarket Christmas clubs are another good tool. With most you can put away as little as $10 a week and earn bonuses which are like interest on the money you've invested.

Layby systems like those offered by Chrisco and Hampsta are not recommended.

"You're actually paying for them to do the work. If you got one of their parcels and then costed it out you're probably paying about a third for them to put it all together and bring it to your door."

But they're better than nothing.

"I've got one client who bought his son an electric scooter which sort of broke my heart because I think it was over $200 and they're about $99 at The Warehouse. Never mind though, he was happy to give his son a really good Christmas and it was painless to pay $20 a week."

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If you're reading this and thinking it's great advice for next year but it isn't going to help me out of the red this year, just keep reading.

February is when the credit card bills start arriving and it's when most people start to get the full depressing picture of just how much damage control they're going to need to do.

Ms Little's most important piece of advice is to get on top of it early.

"Even if the first statement hasn't arrived yet, come and do a budget and see what you can afford to pay off. Just don't leave it too long because it's very difficult to negotiate down the track.

"People think they'll get on top of it next month, but they never do."

Presbyterian Support's budgeting service is available by appointment at its Manurewa office, 10 Mahia Rd. Help is generally free but there is a small charge each month for intensive budgeting support. Go to, email, or call 269 1009 for more information.

- Manukau Courier

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