Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance

Frugal ChristmasHave 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.

Free activities

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?

17 thoughts on “Frugal Christmas: Budget now to save your bank balance

  1. One of the expenses we can’t avoid is 2nd class postage on Christmas cards, Jane, so I try and buy a few stamps each week between now and Christmas. I did buy some Christmas cards today (charity ones, of course) so I have made a small start towards being prepared for Christmas. It’s not being prepared, not planning, that sends us (well, me!) into a panic close to Christmas. Christmas can be enjoyed without overspending. I have not bought a Christmas decoration in years, the old ones are like old friend now, they come out each year … our oldest decoration is now 53 years old, bought for our first Christmas after our marriage in 1964. It was expensive, mind, five shillings, which was a lot of money in those days for a decoration (and for those people who don’t remember pre-decimal money, that’s 25p, but my weekly wage was around only £6 in those days). I tend to decorate with flowers, pink and red spray carnations and bulk them out with greenery from the garden. Fruit and nuts that you can eat also look as good as decorations, I think, those and cards and a tree (real or artificial) what else do you need to make your home look festive?
    Margaret P

      • I vary the flowers each Christmas, Jane. Sometimes I have white cyclamen on the mantelpiece with greenery from the garden, sometimes red spray carnations (sometimes mixed with pink, sometimes on their own). And fruit and nuts can be eaten, plus bowls of sugared almonds (which can be eaten – they are so pretty in their sugared almond colours!) I even take the crackers out of their box and use them as a decoration before Christmas Day, having them on a side table. I also put out a small collection of Christmas books which look festive. With the cards hanging from the square arch way which divides the sitting from the dining areas of our living room, and fairy lights and a tree, what else does anyone need? As we have a number of what I call ‘gold’ and silver items in the room – gilt picture frames, silver photo frames, china with gold leaf, and with several table lamps (and fairy lights) providing a nice glow, the room really comes into its own at Christmas.
        (We do like a real tree, just 2 miles away, but these can be expensive – a 5ft tree about £45, a 6ft tree about £50) We buy ours from a local Christmas tree farm but we consider it putting money into the local economy, too.)

  2. A timely post! I kicked off this season with the purchase of a Christmas plate and a Halloween candle yesterday!

    I put aside money each month for Christmas (it’s not as if it’s an unexpected financial burden after all!) and start keeping my eyes open as soon as Christmas appears in the shops, although this early it tends mostly to be decorations which I generally forgo as we already have plenty .
    Stamps/postage comes out of the saved money and I use Nectar points/Iceland bonus savings for food. Everyone comes to me for Christmas as we’re the only one with a big enough table! 😀 Besides, I’m already cooking for 7 so another 3-4 really doesn’t make much difference! 😀

    I have a special notebook that I list who I need to buy for, what I got them and how much I spent, otherwise, with my memory, certain individuals would find they got the same present every year! It dates back to 1987 now and is absolutely fascinating to look back on!
    I include all the little stocking presents from Father Christmas for each child on it, though they have only ever got 1-2 main presents from us to open as a family.

      • PS I forgot to add, Jane (and Julia) that I have four Royal Doulton Christmas plates from the 1970s, which I sometimes put out at Christmas. They are really pretty if put on plate stand on the hall table with a bowl of flowers – cost, about £1.50 as I don’t need a whole bunch for the small table. I also decorate the kitchen windowsill with greenery from the garden – if you can’t put your hands on holly (I don’t mean literally – it has prickles!) I use skimmia, which is dark green and has berries and looks just as good.
        Margaret P

  3. Frugal Christmas is the way forward! I’ve also been using all my points and the TK Maxx clearance section is always great for stocking-filler gems.

    I got an Xmas craft kit from the works a few weeks ago, 20 cards, plus stickers & some glitter and my 2YO is making all the cards: personalized and only cost me £3. Last year I think I ended up spending around £15 alone on cards, which seems ridiculous now.

  4. I,m well head. Present s bought in the sale. Turkey in the freezer. I will now buy one extra grocer item per week and it will go into my wicket basket until Christmas. I am aiming for £20 on nectar,my partner already has £60 so that’s the drinks sorted. I won,t overspend. As a single parent I did have an enormous gas and electric bill just before Christmas once which made me skint. Never again. I plan well.

      • I also give vintage books to my partner and son. I got a fantastic hard back 1930,s copy of Ben Hur last year and a 1960,s James Bond Casino Royal in paper back. All for under £6 from the local hospice shop. I enjoy the hunt for a good book. They are great stocking fillers.

  5. I save throughout the year, I know my Christmas budget and I will be sticking to it – I managed to cut out all unnecessary present giving years ago. I buy wrapping paper, cards, etc in the January sales. Save my morrisons voucher for Christmas food treats and each year I keep a list in my phone of the food that was left over so that I don’t buy too much the following year. My tree and decorations are years old and no one has ever commented that they are always the same – I joined the 101 days to Christmas from organised Christmas years ago – the daily tips are so ingrained now that I tend to be ahead of what they suggest – I never overspend and everything is paid for before Christmas. The challenge for me is to not get caught up in all the over indulgence my work colleagues go for – Christmas Eve boxes, table gifts containing expensive gifts, advent calendars where the recipient gets a gift every day, multiple outings to see Father Christmas – it’s hard to not want to do it but I don’t want to start expensive traditions that I will feel compelled to continue year in, year out.

  6. I agree within Jo. When did all this rubbish about table gifts, tree gifts, breakfast gifts, every day gifts through advent creep in? To me it’s nuts and devalues Christmas. I know everyone has there own traditions and so be it. But, at a price of expense and worry! For me it’s bonkers.

  7. Beware of giving people what you want!.
    One aunt gave a donation to oxfam for my Christmas 3 years runing .so last year I sent her Tesco reciept for the foodbank!. She was not impressed that I never sent her a parcel!.
    Old Aunt spends all year making a hamper of home made,chrystalised fruits, jellies, jams ,chutneys,wine. Not stuff we eat. Also a hand knitted horrendous jumper
    So ends up in the bin. Yes we are grateful and thank her. Just such a waste of her time,money and effort. We have tried telling her but she won,t listen!.

  8. For several years now I have had a monthly savings plan for Christmas which covers everything. We have to keep to a strict budget for gifts as we have six children between us (plus six partners) and eleven grandchildren. We could cut down by not buying for adults but I can’t bring myself to not buy presents for my children. This is important to me. Very few other gifts are bought as I agreed long ago with almost everyone outside of immediate family not to buy.
    In recent years I have cut down massively on food extras and anything which has not been eaten within a few days is used to cook/bake for the freezer. It’s not unknown for us to eat mince pies well into February! I waste nothing. The amount bought depends on who is coming and for what meal. I can have as many as 12 for Christmas dinner.
    My oldest bauble was on our Christmas tree when I was a small child and there are others which date from when my children were young. I rarely buy new ones but did treat myself last year to a white pre-lit twig tree with some ‘crystal’ decorations. Total cost £45 and it came out of the Christmas savings budget. I used the green artificial tree on my porch. When I lived in an old house With high celings we always had a real tree but I can’t be bothered with the mess any more.

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