Consumer: Debt mounts up over our festive food

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One in five Britons is taking on extra debt in order to pay for this year’s Christmas dinner, a charity has found.

The Money Advice Trust (MAT), which runs National Debtline, found that 21 per cent of people have already borrowed, or plan to borrow money to put food on the table, equating to 10.4 million people across Britain.

One in three (34 per cent) Britons is also borrowing money to cover the cost of Christmas presents, which would be 16.9 million if this proportion was projected across the country.

The findings also suggest that one in 20 people, equating to an estimated 2.3 million Britons, have already missed or expect to miss a household bill payment in order to fund their Christmas spending.

This includes people falling behind with “priority debts” such as rent, council tax and energy bills, the MAT found.

Of those going into debt to pay for Christmas dinner, more than three quarters (78 per cent) are borrowing on credit cards, with overdrafts and store cards also popular choices.

The MAT said that last Christmas, the number of calls to its National Debtline surged by 80 per cent between December and January, while the number of visitors seeking advice via its National Debtline website jumped by two-thirds.

The charity has launched a campaign called 12 Days of Debt Action to offer tips on steps that households can take to reduce the risk of taking on unmanageable debt as a result of Christmas costs.

It said people can take action by setting a budget for their festive spending, recording what they spend and paying their household bills as soon as they get them to reduce the risk of having no money left to cover them after Christmas

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the MAT, said: “Millions of Britons are putting Christmas on credit, and while many will be able to pay this extra borrowing off, we know that a large number will fall into debt problems in the New Year.

“The welcome economic recovery is creating more confidence - but it is crucial that households do not overreach, particularly as rises in interest rates are on the horizon.”

The research was supported by the findings of a recent YouGov poll which found two thirds of consumers overbuy at Christmas.

According to the study by Nationwide Building Society, Britain’s eyes are perhaps proving too big for their supermarket trolleys, with two thirds of Britons routinely buying too many trimmings in preparation for Christmas.

The results tally with Nationwide’s own customer data, which shows that the average shopper spends significantly more in December on food and drink than at any other time of year.

A staggering £433 million was spent by debit card customers in December last year, 25 per cent higher than the £346 million spent in February – traditionally the quietest month of the year.

That equates to an average of around £200 spent in supermarkets in December, compared to £167 in February this year.

Meanwhile, credit card customers spent an average of £170 in supermarkets last December - more than 30 per cent above the figure recorded across February (£128).

In total, £63.5 million was spent on credit cards in December 2013, compared to £39 million in February 2014.

But it could be worth checking the sell-by-date on jars before rushing out to buy new ones, as results from the survey show that more than a third (37 per cent) of people who overbuy have kept excess food and drink for more than six months after Christmas.

More than one in ten (13 per cent) have kept food for between one and two years.

Phil Smith, head of current accounts at Nationwide, said: “While customers should enjoy themselves this Christmas, it’s always worth considering how we can reduce our discretionary outgoings. Even spending a little less each week in the run up to the big day could add up.

“This is money that can be saved, or spent on presents for friends and family.

“Equally, it is worth arranging an overdraft to take into consideration any increase in spending.”