Experts have warned that householders in Ireland are facing even more severe financial problems early next year than they were following the festive season last year.
Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), the state's debt advisory service, has already noted a surge in the numbers of struggling households turning to the group for help compared to this time last year.
And advisers with the service have expressed concern that levels of post-Christmas debt could be particularly severe across cash-strapped households from late January next year if people spend more than they can afford to over the coming weeks.
Michael Laffey, spokesman for MABS said, "In financial terms, things are certainly tougher for people than they were a year ago. Last year at this time many people's financial circumstances were better, for example not having any childcare, school runs or commuting costs.
"Since then all these things have returned, and while the cost of diesel and fuel has risen, along with utility bills, people's wages haven't gone up. Also, there aren't the level of government supports that were around before. For instance, (pandemic) payment is now at a reduced, tiered level and much more difficult to get for new applicants.
"Also, the moratoriums that had been in place for utility disconnections came to an end in mid-year, which left a lot of householders struggling with arrears. They're back in place this month up to January next year, as they are every Christmas, but once they go many people will find themselves in more financial difficulties once again.
"We also saw courts resuming possession orders in the second half of this year. So all these factors have been at play, and although 2021 has generally been quieter at MABS than we might have expected, the second half of the year has been a lot busier than the first half."
Laffey noted that since the start of the pandemic more and more middle-class householders have turned to MABS for support, alongside the traditional client base of low-income clients and those on social welfare.
He also predicted that demand for services will surge in the post-Christmas period as householders struggle to pay their utility bills, mortgage, or rent due to overspending during the festive season.
He added, "Our advice to people who are struggling with finances is to keep a limit on costs this Christmas and only spend what they can afford. It's important to make out a budget and to stick to it."
Meanwhile, demand for relationship therapists in Ireland has soared to record levels as couples struggle to cope with the “lethal cocktail” of pandemic fatigue and Christmas.
Many marriage counsellors are already booked out, leaving frustrated couples unable to secure an appointment over the festive season.
Bernadette Ryan, a therapist with Mind & Body Works in Dublin said, "I'm fully booked at the moment, and every other counsellor I know has clients on waiting lists, which we wouldn't have had before.
"Since the start of the pandemic things have got busier anyway. I've probably had a 25 percent increase in the number of couples I've seen in this period. But I would expect demand to increase even more in January and February next year, because that post-Christmas period is always the busiest time of the year.”
*This column first appeared in the December 15 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.