Author: 
Rose McGrath and Fiona Hawthorne, QCOSS

With the end of the year fast approaching it can be hard to escape all the enticements to spend big over the festive season, but for many Queenslanders this time of year can bring extra financial stress.

We’ve put together some tips to help those who may be struggling with budget pressures in the lead up to Christmas and the holiday season.

Christmas spending

  • Have a pre-Christmas clean up. Spend a few hours clearing out anything you no longer need around the house, like clothes, books, jewellery, furniture, music, or sporting equipment. You could sell these items online, hold a garage sale, or find a local buy-swap-sell. 
  • Make a list and check it twice. Make lists of the things you need to buy and the food you need to prepare for the festive season. Having lists will help you plan your spending and keep you on track.
  • Track your spending. Keeping track of your festive spending is the best way to avoid going over your budget. Use ASIC's MoneySmart TrackMySPEND app to nominate a spending limit for different types of Christmas expenses and track your progress while you shop. 
  • Have a “green” Christmas where you buy second hand gifts for everyone from op shops, garage sales or online marketplaces so you don’t get in the “red”.
  • For parents find all the free events in your area to occupy kids such as libraries, shopping centres, outdoor theatres and anywhere airconditioned. Your local council will often have a list of events on their website or Facebook page.
  • Start your Christmas shopping early to spread your spending across the year and shop when the sales are on.

For more tips, ASIC’s MoneySmart website lists 12 money tips for Christmas to help you financially navigate the holiday season.

The Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) has a handy tool box of budget planners, calculators and templates.

Saving energy to reduce your bills

In Queensland electricity bills are often higher over summer as many households use air conditioning in the hotter weather, have family and friends staying over, and kids are home from school over the holidays.

QCOSS’ energy saving tips factsheet offers some simple tips to help reduce the size of your electricity bill.

Some seasonal tips include:

  • Only turn that second fridge on when you need it and switch it off when the holidays are over.  
  • Put aside money for your next bill. Check your last bill to work out when the next one is due and estimate how much it will be based on your summer bill from last year.
  • When buying new appliances and electronic presents for your home and others, check the energy star rating or ask the salesperson about the running costs of different models.
  • If you are going away, turn off appliances at the wall to save on standby power.  
  • Turn those outdoor Christmas lights off before you go to bed – your bank account and neighbours will thank you!

To find out more about which appliances can really drive up your bills and tips on how to reduce usage, visit the Ergon Energy website.

Fight food waste and save money

According to OzHarvest your family could be losing $195 per month by wasting food, and at Christmas time the temptations can be higher to buy extra tasty treats.

Fight food waste at home by getting into good food saving habits when you look, buy, store and cook.

  • Before you go shopping, look at what food you have and what needs using up and plan your meals.
  • Shopping with a list helps you buy only what you need and avoid buying food you won’t eat or being tempted by special offers.
  • Store food correctly to make it last longer, and getting food organised in your fridge or freezer can help you stay on top of what you have and reduce waste.
  • Cook with what you have and apply the ‘use it up’ approach to save food from ending up in the bin.

Visit the OzHarvest website to download a combined meal planner and shopping list to make sure you only buy what you need and use the fridge guide to help stack your fridge to make food last longer.

Be careful about credit

It can be tempting to use your credit card, or use a buy now, pay later service (such as Afterpay, Certegy and zipPay). Although these seem like convenient ways to get the things you need now that convenience can cost you dearly if you find yourself still saddled with Christmas debt well into 2019.

Before you sign up to a buy now, pay later service, make sure you understand what the terms and conditions are, how much your repayments will be, and when they are due. Don’t sign up for more than you can afford as if you have trouble making repayments on time the costs can quickly add up.

You might think a payday or quick cash loan is your only option, however there are other ways you can get money without having to pay back much more than the amount you borrow.

The No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) provides people on low incomes access to safe, fair and affordable credit for essential goods and services. There are no interest charges or fees. To find out more about NILS visit the Good Shepherd Microfinance website or call 13 64 57.

For information about other low-cost credit options visit the MoneySmart website.

If you’re receiving Centrelink payments, you may be able to use Centrepay to arrange regular deductions for ongoing expenses. You may also be able to get an advance payment or financial assistance.

Help with high bills

If you are struggling to pay an electricity, gas, water or phone bill there are a few options to assist in making ends meet. 

As a first point of call, contact your utility provider. Most organisations have a hardship team who can help you work out a payment plan to pay the bill in instalments.

Electricity bills are often higher over the Christmas holidays. The QCOSS factsheet Can’t pay an energy bill outlines ten tips to help you cope with your electricity bill when it arrives in the new year. The Queensland Government’s website also has a video with information on how to get help if you’re having trouble paying a bill.

Electricity cannot be disconnected over the holiday period – between 20 December and 31 December – but it is important to keep up with payment plans over this period. If you do miss a payment, call your retailer as soon as possible.

If you have a valid concession card you may be eligible for an electricity rebate of $340 per year. Make sure you're not missing out. Phone your electricity retailer to see if you are eligible.

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