Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Are you planning to splurge or are you aiming for a frugal Christmas? The festive season should be fun but can cause stress as hard pressed families struggle to afford it. Presents, food, parties, outfits, decorations: you can spend a small fortune. But is it worth the Christmas hangover and the damage to your bank balance?
Buy now, pay later
In the past I have made the classic mistake of sticking all my Christmas purchases on my credit card to worry about later. And worry I did as I struggled to pay my debt off the following year. The dark days of winter look even bleaker when you are skint. According to YouGov, British families will spend around £821 for Christmas this year, with £604 going on gifts. This is fantastic if you can afford to spend that amount. I am not suggesting you don’t spend money you have, but it is worth considering ways to save money if you need a frugal Christmas this time.
Setting a budget and making a list
You need to be realistic about this. If you have saved throughout the year, your budget might be quite generous, or you might have very little to spare. Either way, work out what you can afford. Make a list of people you want to buy gifts for and other expenses. If you cannot afford to purchase everything you want, this it the time to think about what you can cross off the list. This might mean having a few open and honest conversations with friends and family. When I did this a few years ago I talked to my extended family. I am one of four children and we all now have spouses and kids of our own, so Christmas was becoming a huge strain.
We now do a Secret Santa for the adults and any ‘kids’ who hit 18 and are in employment also join in. This cut costs hugely and was a big relief all round.
Cut out unnecessary stuff
Sometimes we need to rethink our spending habits at Christmas. We buy so much food, but how much of it gets wasted? There is only so much you can eat, even if you do like to indulge during the festive period. How many decorations do you really need and do they have to be £5 a bauble from the garden centre or department store? Places like Home Bargains, Aldi, Lidl and B&M come into their own at this time of the year, with some great bargain festive decorations. If you have kids this is the time to get creative and let them go to town making pretty sparkly things to make your home look fabulous. There are so many great ideas on Pinterest.
Although I think a real tree looks pretty, I have had my artificial one for about 8 years. It cost me about £40 from Argos, and has been worth every penny. I have decorations that have lasted me years too. I look out for these in the January sales.
Four gift rule
If you have children and are on a small budget, stick to the four gift rule. Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. I didn’t consciously do this when my daughters were young, but looking back this was more or less how it went. I used to buy them lots of little stocking fillers too. They tell me now that they never noticed I wasn’t a big spender and didn’t feel in the least bit deprived by a frugal Christmas. They also really appreciated their presents.
Buying little and often to spread the cost
If you want a really frugal Christmas, buying as you go throughout the year (or in my case, as soon as Autumn arrives) it is far less of a shock to your finances. I sometimes even buy in the post Christmas sales and have a big stock of cards, wrapping paper and gift sets that were purchased this way. As Christmas approaches I love the 3 for 2 gift offers from some retailers and generally hit Boots for these. I also pick up extras in Aldi or Lidl as they do fantastic Christmas gifts and food. It is quite satisfying to be cosy indoors with everything bought and wrapped when other people are running around like headless chickens trying to catch up with themselves.
If you are buying online, make sure you use a cash back site. I use Top Cashback a lot. I have earned a couple of hundred pounds over the past 6 months this way, which I will spend on presents.
If you want to be radical, then give your loved ones an IOU and wait for the sales. I wouldn’t do this with children though – most wouldn’t get this!
Buy second hand
I often buy second hand gifts and always have done. From the Nintendo 64 that my daughter still has 15 years later (and which is now a collector’s item!) to books from the charity shop, and bargain clothes from eBay – I don’t mind giving or receiving pre-owned items as long as they in good condition. This works well for small children. They neither know nor care if a favourite toy has been played with by a child before them!
If you are playing host to family and friends over Christmas, ask them to contribute by bringing food and drink. Most people will be only too happy to get involved.
There are loads of fun, free activities to do with the family at Christmas. You don’t have to spend lots of money if you stick to traditional pastimes like carol concerts, school and community Christmas sales and bazaars, for example. Churches often run Christmas crafts workshops too. My children loved going to the Christmas Eve carol service at our local church, singing all evening and then having a Christmas ‘sleepy’ biscuit from the vicar on the way out. They also loved a tour of the local ‘Christmas houses’ – you know, the ones that are lit up so they can be see from space!
If you are worried about debt now, at Christmas or any time, there are lots of ways to get help and advice. Check out the Money Advice Service or Debt Camel or make an appointment at the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Have you saved up, bought gifts as you went along or will you put Christmas on a credit card or overdraft? Are you dreaming of a frugal Christmas?