Christmas is a special time for many families, when happy memories are forged and everyone comes together. Parents love to see their children's excitement on Christmas morning as they open presents under the tree. But living up to this vision can put parents under huge financial pressure as they struggle to find money to spend on gifts and a celebration.
You might scoff and say "no one is making parents buy Christmas presents", but while this is correct it doesn't capture the whole truth. Most people see Christmas presents as a normal, indeed necessary, part of childhood. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's minimum income standard, based on interviews with the public about what they think is needed to achieve a socially acceptable living standard, includes a modest budget for birthday and Christmas presents.
Many parents value gifts for their children so highly that if needed they will cut back on spending on themselves. Polling by Action for Children has found that 59 per cent of parents have had to do that.
Even without the pressures of Christmas, many parents are already struggling with money. Our polling shows that more than a third (37%) regularly struggle to make their money last to the end of the month. This is the inescapable backdrop to any discussion of families' budgets. While there has been some good news on wages recently, for many people their real income has still not recovered to its pre-recession level.
This leaves a money gap at Christmas which many fill with debt, in the form of credit cards, retailers' credit or high interest loans. Not everyone can pay this off quickly in January, meaning growing interest which casts a shadow for months or even years to come. Last Christmas the Money Advice Trust estimated one in ten Britons were still paying off debt from Christmas 2013. This financial hangover can make it harder for families to cope with even basic expenditure needs.
There are things you can do. Budgeting makes a big difference. Setting a manageable spending limit, and then breaking it down for each person's gifts and food means you are less likely to overspend, or buy more food and drink than will actually be consumed. There's also money management that's important to do at any time of year, such as opening all your bills and prioritising your most important debts - like mortgage or rent, utility bills and council tax arrears.
Action for Children will be helping families this winter with food parcels and clothes swaps. But we also take a longer term view and are providing access to advice on managing money to equip vulnerable young people with the knowledge they need to find jobs and look after their finances.
If you are a parent who is worrying about money then seek help now. Professional advisers can support you to find a way through debt, negotiate with creditors and ensure you're not missing out on income. Your local children's centre will be happy to point you in the right direction, or you can go to organisations like the Money Advice Service. No matter how big your problems now, the sooner you ask for help the sooner you can start to overcome them.