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99 days till our first COVID-19 Christmas: how to start preparing

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Christmas is just 99 days away. Let that sink in.

As we grapple with the onslaught of a global pandemic and a faltering economy, the idea of sitting around a table for Christmas lunch seems about as distant as an international holiday.

But despite the tumultuous year we've had, and the lingering uncertainty that lies ahead, the holiday tradition endures.

coronavirus christmas

This Christmas, we'll likely see a shift away from the mass materialism of years gone by. Instead, we'll enjoy a renewed appreciation for the things that truly matter, like friends, family and spending time together.

But perhaps the biggest impact that COVID-19 will have on Christmas 2020 is the amount of money people are willing to fork out.

Data from Finder's Consumer Sentiment Tracker shows that 74% of Australians are stressed about their financial situation. Over half (51%) could rely on their current savings for just 2 months or less if they lost their job, while 1 in 3 (30%) are concerned about their ability to afford day-to-day expenses once government assistance ends.

This is hardly conducive to spending, and the proof is in the data.

A recent Finder survey revealed that 37% of those aged 18 and above - equivalent to 7 million people - are planning to spend less money this Christmas compared to last year. The research found that those planning to reduce their spending will do so by almost a third (32%). With the average festive spend in 2019 priced at $969, this amount will decrease to $659 in 2020 ($310 less than last year).

Who is spending the least?

With unemployment levels disproportionately affecting younger Australians, it's unsurprising that they're the most reluctant to fork out this Christmas. Around 41% of both Gen Y and Gen Z are planning to spend less than last year - more so than any other generation.

Victorians too will be lowering their festive spend, with the state still in stage 3-4 restrictions and unemployment set to reach 11% by December. Around 40% of Victorian residents are planning to spend less this Christmas, followed by 38% of Queenslanders.

How to spend less at Christmas

The secret is to plan ahead and get in early. Although there are just 99 days to go, this is still enough time to plan a feasible budget and work out a savings strategy.

One way to do this is by setting aside $100 each pay between now and December (or any amount that you're comfortable with). This may not cover the entire cost of Christmas, but it can certainly provide a much-needed buffer come December.

You can also purchase gifts over a number of months, rather than waiting until December. Aim to buy for a couple of people per month to spread the expenses out. You might also want to suggest that each family member buys for a single person, rather than the whole extended circle. This way you can spend a little extra on a single individual, rather than handing out a sack of half-hearted gifts.

Finally, know your way around the pre-Christmas sales calendar. This is a smart way to get your Christmas shopping done at a discount. There are 5 sales events between now and Christmas, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Click Frenzy. During this time, retailers slash their prices across a huge range of products, making it a good opportunity to stock up on gifts at a fraction of the regular retail price.

Be wary of late deliveries

Another reason to get in early with your Christmas shopping is the possibility of delayed deliveries. There's been an unprecedented number of people shopping online this year, and it's expected that a new round of records will be broken at Christmas - especially in Victoria.

Leaving online purchases to the last minute will be risky, and you don't want to have to pay extra for express post. Instead, try and get your online purchases sorted before the December onslaught begins.

While almost a third of us are planning to spend less this year, this certainly doesn't make the holiday period any less meaningful. If anything, I think most of us have come to terms with what really matters this year - and it certainly isn't Christmas presents.

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Bessie Hassan is a money expert at Finder.
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