Over the last few years we've noticed that the cost of toys across many retail websites, and in shops, see a marked increase as Christmas approaches, and worse than that, stock availability is often poor during the festive season. Sometimes the price of individual items rises, in other instances, special offers that were available in earlier parts of the year disappear in the run-up to Christmas.
Our advice is to do your Christmas shopping early. Start looking for genuine bargains over the next few weeks and months. If you know some of the toys or other products that you want to buy then start monitoring their prices now and see if they come into a sale during the autumn.
Shopping early does mean that you could miss the number one Christmas toy, but if that's the only toy that you buy in the run up to Christmas, you can save yourself, quite literally, hundreds of pounds.
The New Year sales offer a great opportunity to stock up on birthday presents for the coming year. The only downside is that you need space to store everything until birthdays arrive, but if you have a cupboard out of the way, you can make dramatic savings.
VAT rises from 17.5% to 20% in just a few days, on January 4th - so if you have any expensive purchases planned, it may be best to order them before that date.
Many items for children and babies are exempt from VAT, including clothes, shoes, books, most foods, nappies and nursery fees. However, many other essentials are not exempt, such as cots, beds, toys, prams, car seats, playpens, stair gates etc.
The rise from 17.5% to 20% will add around £2.13 for every £100 spent. That doesn't seem like a huge amount, but over a year this will add up. Various organisations have estimated the extra cost this will add to families' annual spend and those estimates range between £150 and £500 per year, with the majority around the £400 price mark. Worse than that, there has been much speculation in the press that retailers will increase prices beyond the simple VAT rise and that we'll see a noticeable price rise over the period.
If you are planning any expensive purchases over the coming months then there are still a few days to beat the VAT rise. If you don't have time to get to the shops, then you can buy products online. VAT officially rises on 4th January so purchases made up until the 3rd January should be at the lower rate, and before any additional price rises are applied. However, some websites do not charge for goods until the point of dispatch rather than at the point the order is taken, so beware that even though you may be buying in time to beat the rise, you may yet find that you are eventually charged the higher rate. Check terms at individual websites and read confirmation emails carefully to make sure!
A new report published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has stated that children of married couples progressed further but that this was a reflection of the social and economic breakdown of those people who choose to marry rather than live together.
It says that married parents tend to be higher earning and more stable in their relationships but when these elements were removed, the marital status itself had little bearing on the emotional or sociological development of children. Married parents were twice as likely to have gone to university and more likely to own their own home.
The research was carried out on 10,000 children. The findings are not necessarily surprising. Some of the statistics it quotes are of interest however as a reflection of our changing society.
Over the last 25 years the number of children born to unmarried parents has increased significantly to 30%. Of the married mothers questioned 75% of them said their pregnancy was planned. This was the case for only half of the un-married mothers.
The study concluded that while children of married parents do better socially and emotionally, that this benefit is not directly related to having married parents. Once the ethnic status, educational differences and economic status has been removed there are no longer any statistical differences in the children's standards. This raises the question of whether being married does influence children or whether co-habiting is just as good.
Of course, without getting political, this research could just be a timely response to the suggestion that a marriage tax break would be introduced by parties fighting to win their way into government!