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Four Live >> Value for Money 

Christmas Savings Clubs

Tina Leonard - Consumer Champion

Christmas Savings Clubs

It may seem far away but it's actually just over nine weeks to Christmas so unless you have the cash reserves to pay for everything you need to buy for Christmas you'll have to start saving quickly.

You can either manage your own savings or join a Christmas savings club.

In the UK (and in Northern Ireland) Christmas savings clubs are commonplace and popular.

They are not so common here but more are starting up so it may be something you want to consider.

Big Christmas Savings Schemes

Smart Planner with One4All:
One4All are Ireland's leading suppliers of gift vouchers and gift cards and they run an employee Christmas savings club called Smart Planner.

You save a specific amount each month, which comes directly from your salary so is organised via your payroll section. (You give the application form to the person responsible and they set it up with One4All).

You can view your account online at any time via a username and password and at an agreed time you receive your balance in vouchers or gift cards that can be used in 1000s of shops nationwide.

An added bonus is that for every €25 saved you get a free prize bond valid for one year. Your prize bond(s) will be entered into each draw, which means you are in to win the top monthly prize of €1million and lower value prizes too. Plus as a Smart Planner you automatically become a member of the One4All Privilege Club, which gives you access to retailer discounts.

Plus: Given so many stores except One4All vouchers you have plenty of choice as to where to spend. Plus as the money is coming out of your wages before you get them, you won't notice it so much.

Minus: This is only available for employees.

Tesco Clubcard Christmas Saver Scheme:

If you have any supermarket club card you could save up all your points to use for Christmas. Tesco has a specific Christmas Saver Scheme attached to their Clubcard.

Rather than send you your Clubcard money-off vouchers throughout the year they save them for you and then you get them all in one go in November. Under the scheme you can also top-up at the till as you go along, so if you've put extra money into your Clubcard you'll receive this back in top-up vouchers in November. If you save between €50 and €99.50 you'll get an additional €3 voucher and if over €100 you'll get a €6 voucher.

Plus: You've put money by or saved money-off vouchers so you'll have more means for buying when Christmas comes.

Minus: Vouchers have to be spent in Tesco stores or online, so you'll still need to have other savings to spend elsewhere.

Park Christmas Savings:

You may have seen ads for this on television as this UK Christmas saving scheme has entered the Irish market.

You register and set up and account with them, buy products or vouchers through the company and then pay in instalments. Essentially you're not putting money away to save but rather are paying for products or vouchers you buy in instalments to off-set bill shock at Christmas.

You can add friends and family members to your account so they can make purchases too. If you all (on the one account) spend more than €600 you earn 'commission' of 10c on every €1.

Plus: You are paying in dribs and drabs rather than paying in one go, so that's less pressure on your wallet.

Minus: They sell a limited number of products, which you might find cheaper elsewhere and the vouchers you can buy are for specific stores. If you don't pay everything you owe by 1st November your orders may all be cancelled and you'll have to pay cancellation fees of between 5% and 10% depending on when you've ordered.

Other schemes:

You may find other Christmas savings schemes in your local supermarket or butchers shop for example.

Caution!

Be aware that if you are handing over your money to a business other than a financial one, they are not regulated. That means if they go under so does your money.

Who can forget the closure of the business Home Payments Ltd in August this year. People gave their money to this business who then paid all bills on their behalf. When the business closed the National Consumer Agency had to step in and liaise with gas, electricity and phone operators to make sure no-one was cut off and that unpaid bills were managed, but customers still lost money.

Do it Yourself

If you don't fancy joining a scheme, remember that all these are doing is ensuring you are putting money buy so that you are not faced with lots of Christmas bills and no money to pay them. Basically that is money management and you can always do it yourself!

Tips:

- Put money aside each month for up to a year beforehand

- Start buying presents and even food early to spread the cost

- Look out for deals and special offers now and use them

- Prepare a budget and stick to it

The National Consumer Agency has devised a Christmas Budget Planner and you'll find it on www.itsyourmoney.ie.

In the same way as you should prepare a budget for all your monthly expenses, this one is prepared especially with Christmas spending in mind.

The categories are: gifts and cards; food; decorations; entertainment; other. Under each category there are detailed items and you add a cost beside it. This way you see exactly how much you could be spending, where you can cut costs and how much you need to save.