Happy Shoestring Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve 2018. Where has the year gone? I still have a few jobs to do today, but I am generally calm, organised and in control. It has been a Shoestring Christmas. We have spent the money we wanted to spend on food and presents but haven’t gone crazy.

No over indulgence so far…

Shoestring Christmas

Usually I buy far too many Christmas treats and we are looking at them in disgust as the New Year (and our resolutions to be fitter and healthier) approach. I have so far bought very few. We are out and about a lot over Christmas so we don’t need them anyway. I don’t want any food waste.

We do seem to have gone generally overboard on cheeses, however! I think I will be searching out some good recipes to use those up. At least they last a long time in the fridge and some can even be grated and frozen.

The last of presents have been wrapped in brown paper and raffia. This year I wanted to reduce waste and make sure all of our wrappings were recyclable, compostable or reusable. We had a lot of gift bags given to us last year, so I have reused as many as possible. This approach has proved extremely cheap: just the thing for our Shoestring Christmas.

Germ central

Shoestring Christmas

Mr S is full of cold, so I made some stock yesterday from a chicken carcass and loads of vegetable trimmings. I keep a pot in the freezer and add to it as I go along.  This made the base for a lovely vegetable soup. We will have the leftovers for lunch today. I really do not want his cold on top of my neck problem, but woke up with a sore throat today…

Tonight’s tea will be Nigel Slater’s casserole of chestnuts, parsnips and mushrooms. I make versions of this quite often, but this time I have all the ingredients so will follow it properly and have some creamy mash to go alongside, and sausages for the carnivores. We also have a chocolate cake, made by no 2 daughter, for dessert.

I haven’t bothered with a traditional Christmas cake, but might get one once they are reduced!

Last minute cooking

Although the rest of the family are eating meat at Christmas dinner, I am going for Sarah Brown’s cashew nut and mushroom roast.  It’s an old family favourite. My friend Jan found a lovely recipe for vegetarian gravy on the BBC Good Food website, so I think I will make some of that too.

I also have a quiche to put together for Christmas tea. Red pepper and sweetcorn makes a good combination I think, so I am making that.

Finding reductions

Every year I intend to hit the shops before they close for Christmas to find bargains. In reality, I am usually too busy to do so, but today I am going to have a quick whizz round Sainsbury’s and the Coop at around 5 pm to see if there is anything worth buying. I have checked the websites and they close at 6pm.

If it isn’t at a knock down price, I shan’t bother. I’m not going to be spending for the sake of it. If I can get some cheap food for the freezer it will help towards my no spend January and low spend grocery plan.

Sloe gin for a slow brain

We went to friends for a walk and drinks yesterday. Their home made slow gin was delicious and it turns out it has great pain relieving qualities. My neck didn’t bother me much at all!

However, Mr S did somewhat over indulge. He was dopey as hell last night! I will have to see if our home made grape liqueur has a similar anaesthetising effect later!

A night at the pantomime

We had a brilliant night at the panto at the Mercury Theatre in the week (oh no you didn’t, I hear you cry…). Our friends’ daughter Jade was in the chorus for the second year in a row so we wanted to go and support her. It was such good fun. We were off to the side, making our tickets cheaper, but had a good view of pretty much everything. My friend said she got tickets right at the back for one performance but still had a good view. Hers cost just £12, so I think we will explore that option next year.

If you live in Essex, I believe there are some January tickets left – I highly recommend it – so much fun!

Shoestring Christmas

Mr Shoestring’s favourite dame

Mr S would prefer to be as far away from the dame as possible as he literally ALWAYS gets picked on. This year was no exception and he ended up with the dame on his lap and his head under her voluminous skirts! He reckons he needs counselling to get over it. I absolutely love a good panto!

Whatever you are doing this festive period,  whether you are having a Shoestring Christmas or even if you have decided not to bother and to hide under the duvet until it’s all over, we wish you warmth and happiness and all the best for a happy new year. See you when it’s all over!

Five frugal things in the run up to Christmas

frugal things

I have been rushing around doing some last minute Christmas shopping. This year my efforts have been severely hampered by a lot of pain caused by a trapped nerve in my neck (I have mentioned it a lot I know, but it’s hard to forget!). I am normally done and wrapped up at this point. I felt a bit better and took an afternoon off to go bargain hunting, so here are this week’s five frugal things including some of the offers I found.

A bargain shoulder support

A friend at work lent me a neoprene shoulder strap and it has been a Godsend. I have no idea why, but it has really eased the pain and enabled me to actually get on, concentrate and do some work. So the first of my five frugal things is this. These supports can be quite expensive – up to £30 – but I managed to find one quite similar on eBay for just £8. It seems to work just the same. Perhaps it won’t last as long, but I am hoping this problem isn’t going to be long term. Four months is quite long enough!

40% off at the Body Shop

I had to buy a present for someone’s birthday at work as I was in charge of the collection. She loves smellies and nice body butters, so I popped into the Body Shop to look at their gifts. They currently have 40% off individual items and 25% off gift sets. To get the best value I chose individual items and the lovely lady at the till put them in a gift box for me. I got £32 worth of stuff for just over £18! This leaves some money in the collection for some nice flowers.

I took full advantage of the offer and bought some stocking fillers for my daughters and another present for a friend. Bargains!

Free parking

As I was driving into the car park, a very nice woman gave me her parking ticket. She had paid for the whole day but was leaving early, so I parked for free. I know! Naughty, but handy as every saving helps at this time of the year.

Half price aftershave

My dad wanted some aftershave, but didn’t give me any idea what brand he fancied.  I popped into Boots and found this very nice smelling Lacoste one at half price. I don’t mind spending £33 on a posh aftershave, but I wouldn’t have spent over £67!

They had the usual buy two get one free offer on gifts in Boots. I didn’t need any, but I think they are worthwhile if you have a lot of presents to buy.

Bringing out the old tree

frugal things

I know that real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly than artificial ones. However, we have had our old one for years – maybe 12 now – so we may as well keep using it now. Mr S brought it down from the attic and we pulled out decorations that we have collected over the years to decorate it. This is one of my frugal things this week – I think we have got value for money for our tree. I can’t remember how much it cost but it wasn’t much!

There are so many things to spend our money on at Christmas. We have planned for this throughout the year, so we have no stress! Well, we do, but not financial :).

How is your Christmas shopping going? Did you manage your five frugal things?

If you want some ideas for presents that save money or eco-friendly gifts, have a look at my gift guides here and here.

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

This post contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission.

Five things to prepare for a frugal Christmas #fivefrugalthings

frugal christmas

December is upon us! I don’t mind admitting that, due to a long term pain in the neck (not Mr S or Brexit, but a trapped nerve) I am a little behind on my Christmas plans. It is hard to concentrate! However, I need to prepare for a frugal Christmas and stick to the budget.

We don’t all have wads of cash to throw around at this time of year. However , it is perfectly possible to have a fabulous frugal Christmas with a little forethought and planning.

This week’s Five Frugal things consists of five random thoughts towards achieving a frugal Christmas.

Visit the discount stores

Check out the Christmas aisles at Aldi and Lidl. They always have a great selection of Christmas food and gifts. Home Bargains, Poundland and B&M can also be good.

Shop around for your Christmas meat

I don’t eat meat so will be settling down to a vegetarian Christmas dinner. However, the rest of the family do. I am absolutely positive that the price of a roast goes up at this time of the year so it makes sense to buy early and get your meat in the freezer. Iceland do some good frozen meat joints.

If you are buying fresh do a price comparison online and check out your local butcher or farm shop as well.

Buy brown paper

frugal christmas

Consider buying plain brown parcel wrap instead of fancy foil covered (and unrecyclable) Christmas wrapping paper. It is much cheaper and looks very pretty with some ribbon or raffia ties. You could even keep your children entertained and get them to do some potato printed wrap!

Plan your food

I tend to harp on about meal planning, but it saves loads of money and prevents food waste. This applies just as much at Christmas. As it can be a time of over consumption and waste, perhaps even more! Plan all of your food over Christmas and only buy what you will actually eat. It is only a couple of days! Also plan what you will do with any leftovers.

I tend to buy as I go along over several weeks to spread the cost as well.

Bargain sites for a frugal Christmas

Don’t forget to check the online cashback sites before you shop online. I got 8% cash back buying my daughter’s Christmas present at ASOS by clicking through from Top Cashback, for example. I also check Quidco to see if they have a better deal.  Both of these are my tell a friend codes. If you click through and make a purchase via a the Top Cashback one you will receive a £5 Amazon gift card (you need to spend a minimum of £10). You also get £5 if you make a purchase via Quidco using my link.

I also like Bargain Crazy for its discounts on pretty much everything, but it is looking particularly good for frugal Christmas gifts at the moment.

How are you preparing for a frugal Christmas? Check out my other posts to help save money at Christmas here and here.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

As ever, I am linking up with  Cass Emma  and Becky in their Five Frugal Things linky.

Christmas gifts that save money

gifts that save money

I like to buy my friends and family presents that I think they will find really useful and that will last. Gone are the days when I was happy to buy lots of cheap, throwaway items. Now, with a view to sustainability and frugality, I am thinking why not also purchase Christmas gifts that save money for the recipient?

Here are some of my ideas for great gifts that save money.

Christmas gifts that save money

A slow cooker

Resist the lure of the takeaway after a hard day at work with a slow cooker. They cost hardly anything to run, and with a bit of organisation in the morning you can come home to a delicious, hearty casserole. We use ours loads in the winter. Slow cooking can also make a tough, cheap joint of meat taste lovely and tender. The 3.5 litre VonShef model from Domu.co.uk costs £19.99.

 A popcorn maker

gifts that save moneyAs I mentioned in my post Eighteen of the best green Christmas gift ideas,  my daughter is addicted to popcorn. She goes through packets of the microwaveable stuff. As a poor student, she could save money and a ton of packaging with this glass popcorn maker from Amazon.

Cotton face cloth

gifts that save moneyFor the eco-conscious beauty queen in your life, how about buying them a couple of organic cotton face cloths like this one from Beauty Bay? The recipient can ditch the cotton wool pads or face wipes and use this washable version to remove their makeup instead.

I own several nice, soft face cloths so no longer purchase disposables to clean my face. You could team it up with an organic cleanser like the Skin n Tonic Steam Clean cleansing balm.

Save money on coffee

gifts that save money

For the person who always turns up at the office with a take out coffee, a cafetiere along with some decent filter coffee will potentially save them hundreds of pounds each year. You can buy this attractive glass and copper one at Domu.co.uk for £9.99.

Reusable water bottle

Everyone should have a reusable water bottle. They save money and are great if you want to reduce your environmental footprint as well. Evolution Organics do a nice unbreakable Santevia stainless steel water bottle for £19.99.

For those who spend a fortune on disposable plastic bottles, this is one of the best Christmas gifts that save money.

A sense of history

A subscription to an organisation such as English Heritage makes a lovely present for those who like to get out and about. A membership will give free entry to over 400 historic places throughout the UK. It saves a lot of money on individual entrance fees.

Cinema ticket

Who doesn’t love going to the cinema? However, tickets to see the latest blockbuster can be expensive. You can treat someone to a Cineworld gift voucher. If you buy through Top Cash back using my referral code you will also earn yourself a £5 Amazon voucher.

Battery charger

If you know of a household with a lot of gadgets, how about a Duracell 45 Minute Charger with some rechargeable batteries? These are a win-win for the recipient’s wallet and the environment.

Wine saver

I love a glass of fizz or wine but won’t drink the whole bottle! A wine saver like this one from Domu will keep the contents of the bottle fresh and fizzy and prevent expensive waste.

Wind up torch

gifts that save moneyAnother way to avoid costly battery replacements is to buy items that are rechargeable. A solar powered wind up torch  such as this one is eco-friendly as well as money saving.

A financial education

<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0375752250/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0375752250&linkCode=as2&tag=shoecottfrugl-21&linkId=0553d2c7647d3df5010a2b043a421f0c"><img border="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?_encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=GB&ASIN=0375752250&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format=_SL250_&tag=shoecottfrugl-21" ></a><img src="//ir-uk.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=shoecottfrugl-21&l=am2&o=2&a=0375752250" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />Yes! You can buy a financial education – in the form of a book. A couple of my absolute favourites to help learn about saving money are the Tightwad gazette and How I lived a year on just a pound a day by Kath Kelly. Check out my frugal books page for other ideas.

A dehydrator

gifts that save moneyGrowing your own food is an amazing money saving hobby. An unusual gift for the avid veg grower or allotment holder is a food dehydrator. This presents another way to preserve your harvest when you have a glut and prevents food going to waste.

Reusable steel razor

Christmas gifts that save moneyOn my Christmas wish list – for both its money saving potential and to cut back on plastic waste – is a stainless steel safety razor. I am fed up of spending so much on plastic razors that last just a few shaves. This one should last forever if I look after it.

What other ideas do you have for Christmas gifts that save money?

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Eighteen of the best green Christmas gift ideas

green christmas

Are you dreaming of a green Christmas? I am! I am hoping to give and receive a lot more ethically sourced and environmentally friendly presents this year. Some will even save the recipient money, so even better.

I am at a stage of my life when I don’t want endless ‘stuff’, especially when it arrives in copious amounts of plastic packaging. Thoughtful gifts with natural ingredients and easily recyclable packaging are my aim for a green Christmas this year. Here are a few ideas.

Plastic free tea

green Christmas

For the eco-conscious tea lover, how about a selection of fine tea in plastic free teabags? We Are Tea ethically source their whole leaf tea and are the first premium tea company to remove paper tags from their entire range. Every tea bag is made from corn starch and sealed with ultrasound, making them 100% biodegradable. This year will see them go completely plastic-free across the whole of their packaging and supply chain.

The range of teas includes Moroccan Mint, Oolong, Super Berry, Soothe, Earl Grey and Jasmine Silver Needle. They very kindly gifted me some to try and they are definitely a cut above in terms of flavour.

I am a bit of a tea addict – I just love the stuff. Recently I have become more adventurous in the types of tea I drink so I think these would make a lovely present. However, I was disappointed that these plastic free teabags arrived in a cardboard box but the inner packaging was a plastic bag! This seemed totally unnecessary to me but, as their aim is to be completely plastic free this year hopefully the plastic bags will soon disappear.

green Christmas

If your tea lover prefers to avoid tea bags altogether, you could give them this cute little glass teapot or perhaps a single cup tea infuser? Ounona do one with a very fine strainer and a drip tray, making it easy to use and mess free.

Glass popcorn maker

My daughter gets through bags and bags of microwaveable popcorn. She is totally addicted! I plan to buy her this glass popcorn maker from Amazon, which will be healthier, cheaper and cut out all the packaging she currently has to dispose of. I have seen others that have no plastic, but I think it needs some protection. It won’t be too sustainable if she immediately breaks it and has to throw it out!

green Christmas

Cycling: green and budget friendly

Cycling is obviously a fantastic, eco-friendly means of transport, and healthy too. The cyclist in your life will appreciate some accessories to keep them on the road. For the serious long distance cyclist I like the sound of 100% Natural Cyclist Butt Balm from Ultra Bee. It’s not clear what the packaging is on this. I doubt it’s glass so hopefully the plastic is recyclable at least. It is however made with natural, soothing ingredients such as honey, propolis and calendula.green christmas

Maybe a snazzy metal bicycle bell? I like this jungle one for £10 from Pretty Useful Tools. I would also really love an old fashioned wicker basket for my bike, like this Home-ever traditional handmade one for £18.99, which I think is a good size and a nice shape. In my ideal world, I would cycle to market and bring home my fruit and veg in this!

Socks with purpose

green christmas gifts

Socks may seem a dull gift for Christmas, but we all wear them! I am always happy to receive a cosy pair. Imagine if your Christmas socks could help save a critically endangered species? Critically Endangered Socks produce
soft and luxurious socks made from a blend of sustainably sourced, Oeko-Tex certified bamboo and cotton.
Each pair is named after and draws inspiration from one of five critically endangered animals, with 20% of sales going towards a different hand-picked animal charity. at £12 a pair, these aren’t budget socks, but they are great quality.

I was given a couple of pairs to try and they are very comfortable and durable.

Ecofriendly teeth cleaning

Did you know that every plastic toothbrush you have ever had has yet to decompose? It makes sense to change to a compostable bamboo toothbrush. I like these ones from Trilink, as the bristles are also biodegradeable – a lot of bamboo toothbrushes still have plastic bristles. One of these would be good in everyone’s Christmas stocking.

You could add some chemical free toothpaste in a glass jar as a nice gift too. This spearmint one from Georganics looks interesting. I confess I have yet to try it but it is on my wish list from my Secret Santa. The reviewers on Amazon either love it or hate it!

Luxury toiletries for a green Christmas

As well over-packaged goods, I have started to avoid skin care products and toiletries with chemical ingredients. Natural, effective products can easily be found as cheaply as the better known brands. They can be even cheaper since they don’t have to pay for the massive marketing budgets of the well known skincare brands.

I wrote a whole post on this recently, Eco-friendly Beauty on a Budget. For a green Christmas, though, I am happy to push the boat out a bit. Yes, you could pop down to Boots or your supermarket and buy one of the usual Christmas gift packs, or you could take a greener and more adventurous approach with some beautiful products that aren’t laden with chemicals.

How about this gorgeous organic hemp shea butter cream from Hemp Help? The outer packaging is made from bamboo. The inner pot is light weight plastic but, as the company explained to me, they worked out that a glass container would mean the weight of the product would multiply the carbon footprint by three. I would prefer to avoid plastic but guess a bit of balance is required.green ChristmasThere is a good article here from Treehugger listing the top 20 ingredients to avoid when buying cosmetics.

Get rid of disposables

When I take my reusable bamboo mug out and about with me people always seem interested in getting one. If you know somebody who likes a takeout coffee or who travels to events where disposable cups are the norm, this would make a great green Christmas gift.

green Christmas

A bamboo or stainless steel lunchbox is also a good present. Taking your lunch to work or out and about saves money too! I found a beautiful bamboo one in TK Max recently for only £5.99, which I thought was a bargain.

green Christmas

I was also gifted this stainless steel stackable one from a lovely online shop called &keep.  This one is priced at £19.96 and would be ideal for a child’s lunchbox. I like that it has a separate small box as I usually take a snack of dried fruit or nuts to work, but I found the bottom layer too shallow for anything except some grapes. If I was making a purchase I would go for the deeper one priced at £19.99 here. They are a lot more expensive than your standard plastic lunchbox, but will last forever. It is an item that somebody might not pay for if they had to make the purchase themselves but would really appreciate it as a present.

green Christmas

Something else that I was gifted from &keep was a pack of three beeswax wraps. I have wanted to try these as an alternative to cling film for ages and haven’t been disappointed so far. They mould round a dish of food to keep it nice and fresh, are washable and last around a year. If you know someone desperate to cut their waste they would love these! At £14.99, these are something of an investment though. As Mr S’s brother is a beekeeper, I have a potentially endless supply of beeswax so at some point I plan to make some of these myself. I have already found a few tutorials on You Tube.

green Christmas

TK Max had a very good range of glass and silicone water bottles too. I prefer drinking my water out of glass and use one every day at work. This one was just £7.99.


I guess e-books are the more eco-friendly option, but I still prefer real, paper books! They can be read and passed on. In whichever format you decide, books still make lovely gifts. I am currently reading and enjoying Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Bea Johnson, which is full of fantastic information on cutting out the waste and living a greener lifestyle.

I often buy second hand books to add as stocking fillers for my daughters. They have never complained! You can get so many in charity shops or purchased from your local library sale.

Charity gifts

For the person who has everything, you could gift a charity in their name. Oxfam Unwrapped has loads of ideas for gifts that do good to deprived communities, such as a Poverty Busting Pig for £23 or Education for a Child for £19. You could even give some of these as stocking fillers. How about a Fantastic Farm Kit for a fiver?

House plants

We have recently started introducing more house plants into Shoestring Cottage. They are known to help reduce indoor pollutants, as well as looking pretty and retro. They also make lovely gifts! This article explains more about why you should have more houseplants.

It’s a Green Christmas wrap

green ChristmasOnce you have made all your green Christmas purchases, of course, you don’t want to ruin all your good work when wrapping them. Avoid clear plastic or foil covered wrapping paper as neither are recyclable. Instead, go for good, old fashioned (and cheap) brown paper with colourful natural raffia ties. Be careful when purchasing raffia, though, as much of it is actually rayon. I would go for something like this one in a nice festive green.

I hope you like my ideas for green Christmas ideas and would love to hear about your own.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Support a food bank with the reverse advent campaign! #foodbankadvent

reverse advent

Regular readers may remember that last year myself and many other bloggers from the UK Money Bloggers group threw our support behind a reverse advent Christmas campaign for the Trussell Trust. In case you don’t know, the Trussell Trust runs most of the food banks in the UK.

We are doing the same thing this year, organising food bank collections in our homes and workplaces, as well as spreading the word to urge as many people as possible to take part.

What is the reverse advent campaign?

You all know how advent calendars work. Each day leading up to Christmas you open a window and take out a little chocolate or gift. With the reverse advent idea, instead of taking something out you put an item in a box.

However, don’t wait until the 1st December to start as the food banks need our reverse advent contributions before Christmas, to give them time to distribute food to those in desperate need. Kids love doing this and it gives them a different view of Christmas. It makes adults and children alike appreciate the happy Christmas they are likely to experience if they realise that others will be lucky to get a hot meal, let alone any presents.

Why take part?

I find it depressing that in a wealthy and developed country like the UK we even need food banks. However, they do provide a lifeline and are so worth supporting.

Winter is a difficult period for families living in poverty. Not only do fuel bills rise but children are home for the school holidays and therefore not receiving a free school meal.

They are needed more than ever now as the roll out of Universal Credit has caused delays to benefit payments. The Trussell Trust says that the main reasons for referral between April – Sept 2018 were benefit payments not covering the cost of essentials (31%), benefit delays (22%) and benefit changes (17%).

Just imagine being so cash strapped you have to feed yourself or your family from a food bank. Now imagine that is also Christmas and the shops are all sparkly and full of people spending their cash like crazy. You can see the great service that food banks provide in such circumstances.

If you cannot organise a whole box of food, don’t worry. Most supermarkets have collection points for food bank contributions so you can tuck a couple of things in there. Everything helps.

What should you give?

Myself and my colleagues at work already have our collection boxes in place and they are filling up. Around the middle of December we will squeeze all of the donations into my car to be driven to the local food bank.

We have been checking the website of our local food bank to see what they are short of currently. You can type in your postcode to find yours here.

To give you an idea of the types of items they particularly welcome, ours is currently asking for the following:

Long life milk

Long life juice


Carrier bags


Tinned fruit


Tinned potatoes

Tinned puddings

Tins or packets of custard


Peanut butter



Shower gel

Small jars of coffee

Small washing powder or liquid

Multipacks of sweets or snacks

So what are you waiting for? Get organising your reverse advent food bank collections at your home, workplace, school or club. I would love to know what you are doing or planning to help this amazing cause.

Some more information from the Trussell Trust

Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income.

The Trussell Trust’s 400-strong network of food banks provides a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. In the last year their network gave 1,332,952 emergency food supplies to people in crisis. You can read more about the amazing work done by the Trussel Trust here.

Is it too late to save for Christmas?

save money for Christmas

Christmas comes round at the same time every year, yet still takes some of us by surprise! We are now heading towards November, so is it too late to save for Christmas?

A financial headache

I have done Christmas on the credit cards before. The financial headache going into the new year wasn’t fun. The baubles and glitter have all gone, it’s cold and dark and you are scrabbling around to save money to pay for the festive excesses – and paying interest on it too! As I said, not fun!

I realised I had to save for Christmas, so since then I have always put away a small amount each month.

As I wrote back in August, it is always best to start early when it comes to Christmas. But if you haven’t, is it now too late to save for Christmas? If you make a massive effort you could still put some money away.

How to save for Christmas

Set a budget

Actually set two budgets. One for day to day living and the other for Christmas itself.

How little can you live on? Go through all expenses and cut out anything that’s not strictly essential (see below for ideas). You will be surprised at how little you can live on when your goal is to save for Christmas.

What do you actually need to buy for Christmas? Make a list of everyone you want to buy for and set a strict amount for everyone. If you spend £500 on each of your family but don’t have the money, have a rethink. It’s one day! Don’t put yourself into debt.

What will you eat? Set a shopping budget. Don’t plan to buy more than you can eat. Use last year’s decorations, send out e-cards rather than hundreds of Christmas cards, etc.

Pare down to the essentials

You can free up money to save for Christmas by reducing all inessential spending. It’s only for a few weeks and your goal is to have a worry free and debt free Christmas.

Here are a few ideas:

Cut unused gym memberships.

If you go out to dinner once or twice a week, cut it out and eat at home instead.

Give up on trips to the pub and buy some supermarket beer.

Knock takeaways on the head.

Reduce your TV package to the channels you actually watch.

Stop buying newspapers and magazines and read online instead.

Give up the take out tea or coffee and take a flask out with you.

Stop shopping for fun!

Have a no spend month

You might even decide to cut out spending money altogether. We often choose October or November as a no spend month. This means buying nothing at all apart from food and spending only on your bills. I find a no spend period, whether it is a whole month or just a week, really liberating. There is no debating whether you should buy or can afford something. You just don’t do it!

Having said that, I would allow Christmas spending during November as it can help to buy as you go along – using the budget you made, of course.

Find free stuff to do

Check out free things to do in your area and you may be surprised at how little you need to spend on entertainment.

Eat from the larder

Pull out every item in your food cupboards, fridge and freezer and plan meals around those. This can dramatically reduce your grocery spend and prevent food waste.

Plan every meal and shop with a list

Leading on from the above, plan your whole week’s meals. Then make a shopping list of only what you need and stick to it. I have a post on the benefits of meal planning here. If you can, leave the family at home so they don’t beg for extras and don’t go shopping hungry.

Sell your old stuff

This is a great time for a declutter. You might even be able to sell some of your old things on eBay or Facebook to put towards your Christmas fund.

A declutter can be massively liberating too, and will make space for new things that arrive at Christmas.

Go extreme

You could check out some of my more extreme ideas to save money for Christmas here. These will help you stretch your budget as much as possible.

What do you do to save money for Christmas? Are you ready? I haven’t bought as much as I usually have at this point, but most importantly I do have the money saved that I need to spend for Christmas. Hopefully these tips will help you and stop you getting into debt.

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Planning for Christmas: Start early, save money!

planning for christmas

I know it’s only August, but is anybody planning for Christmas yet? I actually started in January. Not in a ‘What are we eating for dinner next December 25th’ sort of way. I’m not that organised!! However, I do generally peruse the sales for Christmas cards, wrap, decorations and the odd generic gift.

Most importantly, I start planning for Christmas by putting money aside, beginning in January. Having to find the money for Christmas (even if we do it in a fairly modest and frugal fashion) could easily be (and has been) a major source of anxiety.

The ghosts of Christmas past

planning for Christmas

In the past, I would leave it until November, thinking I was being pretty switched on by starting a couple of months in advance. In fact, the Christmas purchases would eat into our pay packets and leave us feeling very skint by January. A couple of times, it was left so late it went on the credit card. It is no fun when you are still paying for Christmas the following spring!

One notable year, when the kids were small and I was super skint, I bought almost all of the presents second hand from boot sales way in advance. This was good in one way. The kids had second hand toys that were in decent condition and new to them. I had very little last minute shopping to do. They were oblivious and perfectly happy with what Santa had brought them.

My relatives, however, weren’t impressed and didn’t get into my frugal Christmas spirit. As I have three siblings, their partners and kids, it is a large family. Buying for so many when you don’t have a lot of money creates a lot of pressure. As no one else was feeling the pinch in the same way I was it was hard to get them to understand the problem. I wasn’t being a Scrooge – I was broke! Christmas felt horribly stressful when it should have been a fun family time.

Paring it back

Eventually, when more nephews and nieces arrived and a couple of my other family members were having their own money struggles, when I suggested doing things differently they were more enthusiastic. We discussed a budget of no more than £5 per person or buying only second hand. However, we eventually settled on £20 for each child (‘child’ being in still education and not working) and a secret Santa for all the the adults. So we each buy just one present for whoever we draw for the Secret Santa and then budget £20 for each of the kids.

This works well for us. It save loads of time trying to think of what to buy, as well as saving money.

Putting money aside for Christmas is a crucial way to stay in control of the festive spending.

Planning for Christmas by writing lists

planning for Christmas

I write a list of everyone I need to buy for, with the amount I will spend on each person. It is important to include friends, colleagues, teachers, window cleaners (Yes, I buy a nice bottle for the window cleaner! I have had the same one for 20 years at 4 different houses!) on the list to help me budget. We do a secret Santa at work as well.

Set a budget for food. I can tighten this up once we have decided what is happening. Are we staying at home or going to family? Are we planning to host or attend any gatherings with friends? I actually asked my family the question this week, but I went in too soon. Some of them were still on their summer holidays!

Buying as you go

At this point in the year, I have often found quite a few little stocking fillers for Mr S and the girls. New Look has started their accessory sale, so that should be promising. I got some mega discounted items in their recent cosmetics sale, as outlined in my recent Frugal Friday post.

Marks and Spencer have their ‘sizzling summer event‘ on too. This is another sale I want to look at, as they currently have 50% off some items. Might be good for undies and pyjamas.

Another site I keep an eye on all year round for bargain gifts is The Book People. Their collections of books are such amazing prices. These are very good for stocking fillers. The only trouble is I have to stop myself buying loads for me! I have plenty to read at the moment.

No spend month

I always do a no spend month after Christmas, to get the bank balance looking as healthy as possible to start the new year.  This year, I intend to do another no spend month in October to get some more money into our Christmas and general savings.

A no spend month really focuses your attention on how much money you fritter away on small bits and pieces and never notice. It is even more helpful for people who haven’t managed to put any money away up to this point – it’s not too late to save!

Those of you who are keen cooks probably already have the ingredients for your cakes and puddings. I tend to make my life easy and go for whatever Aldi has to offer. They always have a nice Christmas food range.

Using last year’s present

We will very soon be using Mr S’s Christmas present from 2017 – two nights in a farm cottage in Norfolk. We have had a few breaks this year and this will be our third. I am looking forward to it.

I bought it through BuyaGift.co.uk. This is another site that is great when you can’t think what to get someone that they will really appreciate. Sometimes an experience works best.  Mr S is really hard to buy for!

How about your planning for Christmas? Are you super organised and already writing lists? Have you budgeted or are you starting to panic? I would love you hear your tips on planning for Christmas and saving money.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thanks!


Christmas thoughts and an over active brain

Christmas thoughtsI woke up very early today.  There seem to be lots of Christmas thoughts whizzing around my head.  Sifting through them with a cup of tea,  I am surprised at the amount going on in my head.

So this is a bit of a random post. A round up of my over active brain with all my Christmas thoughts in black and white!

Over spending at Christmas and a lack of logic

I belong to a Facebook group run by Skint Dad Ricky Willis. As you would expect, the group often has people posting about their financial woes. It is generally a supportive group with folk requesting and giving advice based on their own experiences.

A lady had totted up all she had spent on Christmas presents and was astounded to find it was £600 plus. Some people offered wise words about how to cut back next year, but many admitted they had spent much, much more. There were admissions of spending £1500 on just one child, buying two holidays for a partner for Christmas, etc.

I would imagine that if you join a group like this, you are either struggling financially or take a keen interest in money. If you have saved all year and you can afford it, obviously you can buy whatever you like with no worry or negative consequences.  But if you spend that kind of dosh and didn’t save the £3000 or whatever you have spent on purchases, no wonder you are skint the rest of the year!

For me, this sums up our crazy approach to our finances generally. I prefer to live within my means and Christmas isn’t that big a deal.

Veg price wars

It’s hard not to notice the supermarket price wars on Christmas vegetables this year. I stocked up when I did my last shop before Christmas in Aldi last night. I bought parsnips, carrots, sprouts and broccoli for only 19p each, plus Maris Piper potatoes for just 28p.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Asda have all waded in with offers on a similar range of veg. Lidl are also selling them at 19p, Asda at 20p, Sainsbury’s at 25p and Tesco at 29p.

Obviously this is great for us as consumers, but I have feelings of discomfort too. Someone is paying for all these discounts. I hope it is the supermarkets but I suspect it is their suppliers. Christmas thoughts to ponder.

On the mend

My friend with her badly broken ankle finally had her operation on it yesterday. They are hoping to release her home today, which is great! We were worried we would have to plate up her Christmas dinner and drive up to the hospital at one point.

The plan is to cook the turkey and prep all the veg here, then to drive round and finish it all at her house. She will be on the sofa with her feet up and we will all be her willing servants.

She will be out of action for a good month, all for slipping on wet grass.

Christmas thoughts for those on their own

I heard yesterday on the Jeremy Vine radio show on BBC Radio 2 about a lovely sounding family who run the Dairy Shop café in Sidmouth. They are keeping the café open on Christmas day so that those spending Christmas alone have somewhere to go to have a coffee, a mince pie or just a chat.

It was inspired by a single mum friend of theirs who said that one Christmas the only person she had spoken to all day was in the local shop. She had been grateful for that single bit of contact.

It might also be a nice place to escape if family relationships get a bit fraught over Christmas! I thought it was a lovely idea.

One piece of money advice

On another Facebook group (I don’t spend that much time on there really!), run by Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family, she asked if you could offer one piece of monetary advice to someone, what would it be?

There were some very interesting and helpful answers, so I thought I would share.

This was the most common tip: to save and have an emergency fund.

To get your savings taken out of your account by standing order so you don’t have to think about it.

To pay into a pension fund as early as you can.

Not to get into debt or take out a credit card. If you want something save for it.

Don’t live beyond your means or try to keep up with the Jones’s.

Think before you spend and ask if you really need it.

To keep a spending diary to increase your awareness of where you waste money.

Put your coins in a jar – it all adds up.

Keep household accounts and log all that you spend.

Just because something is available at a discount it doesn’t mean that you need it.

Sell everything you never use.

Take out a funeral plan.

Over pay your mortgage when you can.

Watch every penny.

Mine was to stop buying stuff and consider a no spend month, as I plan to do in January! If you could give a single piece of advice around money, what would yours be?

A vegetarian Christmas dinner

Off to make my vegetarian Christmas dinner. I considered this nut roast en croute recipe, which I took to my sister’s last weekend. It was nice, but you didn’t really need the puff pastry. So, I have finally decided on an old favourite, cashew nut and mushroom roast from Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian Kitchen. This is delicious and also nice cold with salad. This recipe doesn’t credit Sarah Brown but it is the one.

I hope my Christmas thoughts haven’t sent you to sleep. There is so much to do but we need to remember to enjoy it all too. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a warm, safe and happy time.


Five frugal things to help you save at Christmas

five frugal thingsHow has your week been? Christmas preparations are well in hand here at Shoestring Cottage. I am joining in with this five frugal things round up as Christmas is the perfect time to focus your spending and save where you can.

The decorations are in place, the presents are all purchased and mostly wrapped and I have been buying a few Christmas treats for a couple of months now. I set my budget for Christmas back in October, I have been saving all year. Now I can spend and not feel worried or guilty, and without putting it all on a credit card.

1. Only buying what we need

I don’t go crazy and try to buy only what I know we will eat. This year I decided to finally stop buying things that are traditional but that no one really wants, as proposed by Faith at Much More with Less. We actually enjoy some of the foods she has decided to ditch. However, dates sit around for ages as no one really eats them much – Mr S will usually dutifully consume them at some point, but it’s not about duty, is it? We also have a ton of hazelnuts in their shells that came from a friend’s tree,  so we don’t need to buy any more. They also tend to sit around for months before they all get eaten.

Nobody eats Christmas cake so that is off the shopping list.

However, we all love Christmas pudding so that is staying firmly on the menu. I usually buy a couple reduced after Christmas because Mr S loves it with custard any time of the year.

2. Using up all the leftover veg

vegetabl soup five frugal thingsThe very cold weather always means one thing here – soup! I love it! Soup is great for using up any bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. Into mine last Sunday went potatoes (including some frozen leftover mash), carrots, celery, frozen spinach, half a can of sweetcorn, the end of a bag of frozen peas and lots of Marigold vegetable stock.

We ate it after our freezing cold snowy walk last Sunday and it was just the job for warming our cockles! It was great for work lunches all week and there are still a couple of portions in the freezer.

3. A simple vegetable bake

I posted a recipe a couple of days ago for a vegetable bake, adapted from one of Delia’s in Frugal Food. It is so simple and cheap to make. Another good one for using up vegetables as you can add more or less whatever you have in the fridge. We had it for dinner with spinach. The meat eaters had a couple of chicken drumsticks with theirs, but I enjoyed it as it was.

I love the cheesy breadcrumb topping, which is a good way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread. I made a whole lot of breadcrumbs and what I didn’t use for the bake went into the freezer.

4. Making my own Christmas gift tags

I always keep my Christmas cards from the previous year and recycle them to make Christmas gift tags. It’s such a simple thing to do, I never know why everyone doesn’t reuse them in this way. It is quite nice to reread the messages from last year from friends and family too.

5.  Savvy Savers in the Sun

I was pleased to be asked to give some top tips for money saving at Christmas to the Sun, along with some other UK Money Bloggers. My contribution was to suggest that people consider buying second hand presents, particularly for small children. They wouldn’t notice or care. Looking on Facebook Marketplace, I can see all kinds of large ride on toys, dolls houses, bikes, scooters, dressing up outfits, etc. They mostly seem in great condition, but cost a fraction of their as new price.

I did this all the time when my kids were small. I have bought second hand phones and an ipad, computer games and a console, DVDs and many books second hand as presents.

There is a little bit of embarrassment about buying second hand as a gift but I don’t understand that. As long as the item works and is in good condition, where is the issue? And if it helps you stick to your budget, even better!

An early Christmas

nut roast en croute five frugal thingsWe are having an early Christmas dinner today with my extended family. My sister is off to see my nephew in Thailand so this will be our only opportunity. I am road testing the vegetarian nut roast en croute I found on the Sainsbury’s website. If it works, that will be my veggie Christmas dinner. The recipe is here. It smells lovely so I have high hopes.


Christmas bargain hunting – now is the time!

Christmas bargain huntingHow is your Christmas bargain hunting going? I am almost there! Hardest to buy for is always Mr Shoestring. He can rarely think of any ideas to give me.

I have cracked it!

I have been looking on BuyaGift.com* and  have cracked Mr S’s present! What I bought is top secret, though, as he reads my blog 😀. Suffice to say I am very confident he will like it and it was an absolute bargain!

If you have someone really tricky to buy for, BuyaGift.com does a good range of experiences such as spa days and cream teas.

We had a spa day recently and it was blissful. We also had three cream teas in close succession, using up Mr S’s birthday vouchers. This explains why my jeans are feeling a little tight at the moment!

Aldi shopper

I have been doing a lot of Christmas bargain hunting in Aldi. They have such a great selection of food and drink for a special occasion.

I even found gluten free mince pies in there this week so snapped those up in case my coeliac friend pops on for a cup of tea. 

Aldi do a brilliant range of gift items such as slippers, books, PJs, chocolates, etc. They are so good if you have a really small budget for Christmas.

Christmas bargain hunting online

I have done a lot of shopping on Amazon.co.uk too, including some things from my eco friendly Christmas presents guide here.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy going to the town centre and physically choosing presents. There are two reasons why I don’t do this much. One is lack of time. It is easy and convenient to shop on my phone in my lunch break, for example.

The other is that I like to ask people what they want rather than waste money. They nearly always tespond with a couple of links to websites!

I will go into the town centre at the weekend as I need to do a few jobs in person. It will give me the opportunity to see the lights and do a little browsing.  I do like the idea of supporting my local shops. It’s just that life gets in the way!

How is your christmas bargain hunting going?

*This post contains my affiliate link. If you click through and make a purchase it won’t cost you anything and I will earn a small commission. Thanks!

Reverse advent campaign: support your local food bank this Christmas

Reverse advent campaign

Reverse adventBy now, those of you who celebrate Christmas are probably in full swing making plans, buying presents, thinking of recipes, etc. But what if you had no money to spare for Christmas? What if you were jobless or homeless? Can you imagine how awful it must feel to be penniless at Christmas? Maybe you have been there.

With this in mind, how about making a contribution to the food bank this year? My team at the office are planning a reverse advent system. It works like this. You usually open your advent calendar and remove a chocolate, a toy – Aldi even does one where you get a mini bottle of wine each day! With the reverse advent you take a nice big box and every day you make a contribution instead.

Along with the usual staples such as baked beans, tinned fruit and vegetables, pasta and toiletries, we will be adding a few luxuries for Christmas. Fancy biscuits, good quality coffee, a Christmas pudding and maybe some creamy custard will all be making their way into our box.

Join us!

Reverse adventHow about joining us for the Christmas reverse advent? We will start mid-November rather than on the 1st December, so that we can deliver the goodies to our local food bank in plenty of time for the festive season.

If you want to find your nearest food bank and have a look at the list of suitable items to include you can visit the Trussell Trust. All should be non-perishable with a long end date. A typical food parcel from the food bank will include:

Cereal * Soup * Pasta * Rice* Pasta sauce * Beans * Tinned meat * Tinned vegetables* Tea/coffee * Tinned fruit

You can also check with your local food bank on the website to see what they are short of currently. It is a good idea to include some items of toiletries such as soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet roll or deodorant. The food banks don’t get many feminine hygiene products like tampons donated, so maybe some of those too.

Some more information from the Trussell Trust:

Thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day for a range of reasons, from benefit delays to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income.

The Trussell Trust’s 400-strong network of food banks provides a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. In 2016/17, we gave 1,182,954 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis.

Many members of the UK Money Bloggers group will be promoting this campaign. You can read the original post on this here.

I love this reverse advent idea! Do you think you will be joining in?








Eco friendly Christmas gifts

Don’t shout at me for mentioning the festive season in October – it soon creeps up! I have already started buying and have been looking at some eco friendly Christmas gifts.

Christmas has felt like a bad consumer melt down for me in the past. Too many people buying too much stuff and spending way too much money. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. I enjoy all of the opportunities it offers for people to get together, the giving and receiving,  the cooking and eating  of delicious food.

However, I dislike the general excess. People spending money they can’t afford, buying mounds of food that won’t get eaten, trashy, over the top decorations and the pressure folk feel to produce the perfect experience. I am already hearing parents stressing because they cannot get this year’s most popular toy and fighting for them when they arrive in the shops. Most of all, I hate spending money on trashy presents that won’t be appreciated.

Because of this, I try to make sure the recipients of any gifts I buy really want them. If that means taking away the surprise, then so be it. I also try to buy some items that are eco friendly. Usually small things for my daughters that will replace something that causes a lot of waste. With this in mind, here are my suggestions for inexpensive eco friendly Christmas gifts. I am dreaming of a green Christmas!

I am going for a frugal Christmas, so none of the suggestions below will break the bank.

Eco friendly Christmas gifts

For their stocking fillers, I have bought my daughters some stainless steel reusable straws. Plastic straws are thrown away after one use which is incredibly wasteful. I have ordered them from Lakeland, at £5.99 for 8 straws with a cleaning brush.

I hope they don’t read this, as I have also bought them some reusable Magic Makeup Removing Cloths from Amazon. You can remove all makeup with just water. The reviews suggest they really work, so I am excited about these. I have ordered myself some too.

If you have a nature loving friend or family member, Friends of the Earth have a cute bird feeder in their shop. You can stick it to your kitchen window and watch the birds feeding as you do the washing up! Love this! At £13.99 it won’t break the bank.

I know this isn’t a glamorous gift, but I would be happy to receive these Ecoegg Re-Usable Bamboo Towels. You can wash and reuse rather than buying kitchen towels.

I have never tried these, but my lodger has one – how about a Bamboo Toothbrush? She is very happy with hers. It remains to be seen how long it will last, but you are supposed to change them every three months so it should do that.

I have various plastic lunchboxes that I take to work, but maybe a stainless steel one would be a better option. Ideally, it should be air tight so that you don’t have to use plastic wrap as well. There are lots of different options online, but some of them are horrendously expensive. One was over £80!! Not on my budget…. Many were under £10 but looked cheap with poor reviews. This one seems a decent mid priced one and has excellent reviews.

For the kids, how about some recycled colouring pencils made from rolled up newspapers? I found these on eBay. Pencils and recycled paper crafts make great eco friendly Christmas gifts.

When I was at the SHOMO Awards recently, I met Zoe from Eco Thrify Living. She had bought her own reusable coffee cup with her, which I thought was such a sensible idea. I have found a similar one from Evolution Organics that I will be putting on my Christmas wish list. I have several china ones but they aren’t really practical for carrying around with you.

Buy an experience

Regular readers will know we had a lot of experiences given to Mr Shoestring for his 50th. My favourites were the afternoon teas. Who wouldn’t enjoy a big plate of cake? Of course, there are all types of experiences you can purchase and you can find some of them at buyagift.co.uk. I think these are a good idea for people who already have too much stuff.

Buying books

I also like buying books as these will tend to be read and passed on – not just binned. Coffee table type books are pretty but I avoid them as they tend to be leafed through and forgotten. I only buy books for people I know well or where someone has requested a book they really like. If you are considering books as presents, check out the Book People first. They have collections that are so cheap and fantastic for presents. When my children were smaller, I would buy the collections of kids books and separate them up to give in a party bag rather than loads of plastic rubbish. I also buy second hand books for stocking fillers.

Gift vouchers

If you don’t know what to buy, don’t buy anything. Rather than spend on something that might not be appreciated, choose a gift voucher instead. The other advantage of gift cards is that they don’t involved loads of packaging and gift wrapping. You can buy discounted cards from Zeek, so you can save money too. If you use my promo code you will get £3 for free. I generally use my gift cards, but if you have some you know you won’t get around to spending, you can sell on Zeek too. It’s a genius idea.

Does the waste and excess at Christmas leave you cold too? Will you be exploring some eco friendly Christmas gifts instead this year?


Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, but all opinions are all my own. Using an affiliate link will not affect you in any way. It will help to support the blog as I will earn a small commission if you purchase anything via an affiliate link.  Thanks!

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?

Planning for Christmas….and saving money

planning for ChristmasI can hear some virtual sharp intakes of breath at the thought of planning for Christmas when we are still in August! How dare I mention the C word when we have only just had the bank holiday!

I belong to several money saving Facebook groups. One of them is all about planning for Christmas and has been running since about April (if you are interested, search for Thrifty & Frugal Christmas). There are plenty of people who like to get organised! This group is full of ideas for cheap presents and even some freebie stocking fillers.

Take the worry out of planning for Christmas

Some of the money saving groups I read feature people who are anxious about the cost of Christmas. There was a big discussion on one thread about how to keep costs down. One young woman said she would only have a budget of £100 and she was worried about the strain of buying for her various family members. There is something terribly wrong if you are losing sleep months and months in advance of the event. Planning for Christmas should be fun, not just another thing to worry about.

It reminded me of how I felt a few years ago with three small children to buy for, loads of relatives (I am one of four children) and a very limited amount available to spend on Christmas. Even if I stuck to £10 a person, it was still more than I could afford at the time.  I suggested to my family that we stop buying for the adults and just stuck to purchases for the kids. We all have plenty of everything already and have seen enough Christmases to be past disappointment if we don’t get a huge pile of gifts. Now we do a secret Santa for the adults and buy just one present for whoever’s name we pull out of the hat costing £15 – £20. It works really well!

However, it took a few years for everyone to agree to this. It seemed we were the only ones feeling the pinch. So I had to find other ways to save money. The following is an amalgamation of my money saving ideas plus those I have gleaned from Facebook to help you with your planning for Christmas.

Be honest!

Both with yourself and your loved ones. Tell them your budget and what you will be spending on each of them. Make it clear you don’t want them to go over that budget when they purchase for you. You might even decide between you not to bother, or perhaps to spend a little extra on something else, like a nice meal out together.

I know that Ilona from Life after Money doesn’t do Christmas at all and I respect that. She says, ‘I find it very liberating that I have chosen not to join in. My brain is not cluttered with the worry of getting the right presents, buying the right food, sending cards, and generally running around like a headless chicken trying to keep up. I can sit back and relax and watch everyone else getting their knickers in a twist. You will not see a furrowed brow on my face, you will see a wide grin from cheek to cheek.’ You can read an article about Ilona and her approach to the festive season here.

I love this! If you think it is a load of nonsense and don’t intend to join in with the rampant commercialisation of the season, don’t be afraid to say so.

Start early and spread the cost.

This is the reason I am writing this post at the end of August. I know that some of you will already be on top of your Christmas planning and might even have bought gifts in the January sales. However, if you haven’t,  buying something each week will mean you notice the impact of your spending a lot less.

I usually start about now, especially with Christmas food. I already have plenty of cards, gift wrap and decorations purchased in the post Christmas sales. Now I am on the look out for everything else!

Buy second-hand

Charity shops and boot sales, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Gumtree are all great places for this. One lady on Facebook said, ‘I help in a charity shop and we often have new items in from big stores, and many of the toys look like new’. I remember doing almost my entire Christmas present shopping at boot sales one summer. I saved an absolute fortune and I honestly don’t think anyone was any the wiser!

Get creative

If you are crafty you can make all kinds of presents. Pinterest is awash with great ideas for making gifts out of scraps and upcycling. I used to love soap making and created some really special soaps one year that rivalled the poshest in Lush but were much cheaper. You can knit or crochet, paint, or  grow plants. Just use your skills and talents!

Photos of your children are lovely gifts for grandparents in a charity shop frame (if they are old enough, get the kids to decorate it). If you are a cook you could make foodie gifts such as cakes, chutneys or biscuits. You could make them up into a hamper. Home Bargains is excellent for cheap baskets to use for these.

Hunt for bargains and freebies

Check out the sales and join Facebook groups where excellent deals are posted daily. As well as the Christmas one I already mentioned, I like Spend Less, Live Better and Free Samples Giveaways and Competitions UK. Check out stores such as Poundland, Home Bargains, B&M, etc for stocking fillers like colouring books and pens. They also do great offers on bigger toys and nice but cheap items such as candles. If you have a gardener to buy for now is a great time to find bargains in these stores.

If you have a family to buy for you could make a hamper for them to share and fill it with inexpensive bits and pieces like sweets, chocolate, small toys, etc.

Use cash back sites

If you are going to buy Christmas presents online you may as well get some cash back – it soon adds up. I use Top CashBack often but have also just signed up for QuidCo. Both offer cash back whenever you click through to make a purchase to a retailer. If you click through to Top CashBack via my link I will earn a small commission and you earn £2.50 when you spend £5.

Give time, not money

One suggestion on a Facebook group that I liked was to offer time as a gift. You could give tokens promising babysitting, gardening, car washing, ironing, cleaning, etc. This is a nice gift for teenagers to offer older relatives.

Set a limit and make it fun

If you don’t fancy Secret Santa, how about setting a limit per person and making a game of it? I read about a lady whose family agreed their gifts to each other could cost no more than £2. This meant they had to be really creative – either a home made gift, something cheap but amusing from the pound shop, or a charity shop bargain. They tended to make the gifts funny rather than serious and had a lot of laughs along the way.

Don’t feel bad about not spoiling your children

Everyone knows children whose parents almost bankrupt themselves spending thousands on gifts. Do the children appreciate lots of presents more than two or three thoughtful things that they really wanted and waited for? I remember being desperate for a Barbie and her horse when I was a kid. Because I had to wait six months for it to arrive on Christmas day I loved it even more and remember the pleasure I got opening it to this day.

Ask for contributions

Finally, if you are hosting a Christmas gathering don’t be afraid to ask friends and family to bring a contribution. A bottle of something at the very least, but preferably a dish as well. It is fun to share and this way everyone is involved.

Does planning for Christmas make you anxious? What are your top tips for effective Christmas budgeting?




Make do and mend: Love Christmas, Hate Waste


A Christmas wreath made from old magazines

I was exploring the Essex County Council website today and ended up on the Recycle for Essex site. Here you can find some excellent advice on reducing waste and lots of ideas on how to be creative with waste generally rather than dumping it. I love this make do and mend mentality.

Christmas crafts

There are some brilliant Christmas craft ideas. I like these gift bows made from old magazines.

You can also make gift bags from newspapers, a wreath from sweet wrappers or magazines, loads of decorations from CDs plus there are useful links to other wastes for more inspiration.


An old CD becomes Santa

There is a link to the Love a Food Hate Waste website too, which is a great site. There are lots of ideas for using up your Christmas leftovers, from Christmas pudding ice cream to Stilton, ham and Brussels sprout tart! I bet that is nicer than it sounds 😊.

You don’t need to live in Essex to find some inspiration for reducing your waste this Christmas. Check it out!

Make do and mend

I have been enjoying a blog called mymakedoandmendlife.com recently. Jen Gale has an interesting perspective on using less and wasting less which I agree with. She has had a lot of attention from the media of late too, with a piece in the dreaded Daily Mail about avoiding the rampant consumerism of Christmas and making it more simple. You can read it here. She and her family spent a whole year buying nothing. They went for a make do and mend approach, then carried on when the year was over. She is a very inspiring person with a refreshing view on life.

What are your tips for reducing, reusing and recycling this Christmas? Do you make do and mend? Are you trying to make it more simple and meaningful?

Ho ho ho! Planning for Christmas

Planning for Christmas

Ok don’t pelt me with rotten eggs. I know it’s only 2nd October. However, if you don’t want to end up with a huge credit card bill Christmas should be planned for. It comes at the same time every year, so it shouldn’t really be a nasty surprise to your wallet!

I am actually behind where I was last year in my planning for Christmas. I usually buy small bargain presents and stocking fillers as I  go through the year but the few I have found have been instantly used as birthday presents by the family. I also usually have lots more in the kitty, but my car has been troublesome and expensive and eaten a chunk of my Christmas budget.

Even so, I have made a start on my shopping  and will try to get as much done as I  can way before the rush. My sister couldn’t believe it when I asked for ideas for presents for her kids in September! I have bought a couple of Mary Berry cookery books as presents from Aldi. Lovely looking recipes at a bargain price!

  Secret Santa

I stopped buying for the adults in my family a few years ago. We are a large family and it’s just too expensive. Instead we do Secret Santa and this works well. We buy for children in full time education; once they leave school or university they join in with Secret Santa. I buy for my daughters and ask for ideas. They have a £50 budget and on top of that I buy small gifts such as socks, underwear, books and toiletries.

Most of our Christmas food comes from Aldi. They do a lovely range of treats at Christmas. If we are at home what we eat will be very traditional. It’s just a fancy roast after all, so doesn’t need to cost a fortune. I have made my pudding in the past but find it more economical to buy Aldi’s luxury pud rather than fork out on lots of ingredients. Christmas cake rarely gets eaten, so I will make a fancy cake as a treat, like a gooey chocolate one.

Buying in the sales

I have wrapping paper and cards put away that I purchased last year in the sales. Always a good tip! I keep and recycle gift bags so I never need to buy those.

I use the same artificial tree I have had for  years along with ancient decorations! I don’t spend a fortune and keep the decor simple. I might cut some holly to put in a couple of big vases. I expect the kitten to destroy any display fairly quickly and I can’t see the tree lasting long…

Anyone else planning for Christmas? Is it a source of joy or anxiety? Any tips for a frugal festive season?

Turkey with pasta and blue cheese: Christmas leftovers

turkey with pastaI thought we had used most of our Christmas leftovers, but then Mr S turned up with a great hunk of cooked turkey breast from his brother! Never one to waste such a gift I decided to adapt a recipe I have had for years. The turkey, along with the remaining Stilton and a bit of cream and wine, were combined to  make this delicious turkey with pasta and blue cheese.

The original recipe uses fresh chicken breast, Gorgonzola and white wine, but it worked just as well with the cooked meat, Stilton and a bit of rose wine that had been hanging around for too long in the fridge. If you are using raw meat, fry it in the oil with the garlic for a bit and then proceed as below.

Turkey with pasta and blue cheese


4oz spinach, chopped (or frozen peas, or par cooked broccoli)
2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
About 8oz cooked turkey or chicken
14oz dried pasta
4fl oz white wine
7 fl oz cream
4 oz blue cheese


Put your pasta on to boil as per the instructions. Heat the oil and gently sweat the garlic then add the veg and fry for a few minutes before adding the meat. Warm through then add the cheese cut into cubes, the cream and the wine. Allow it all to bubble away gently until the cheese has melted and the meat has heated right through. Season to taste then stir into the cooked, drained pasta and serve.

We had our turkey with past and blue cheese with some salad that needed eating but it’s nice with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

For more ideas for frugal recipes, have a look at my page here.

Changing the subject entirely, I found a great little blog via Instagram yesterday. I will be passing it into my daughters for inspiration. If you know a young person who needs a kick to start saving, send them to Jenni at Can’t Swing a Cat.

Some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.



I’m dreaming of a frugal Christmas…

I enjoy Christmas – I am no bah humbug sort of person. I love the little treats and outings that cheer up the short, dark days, the sparkly lights, the presents and the carol services. However, I can’t stand the sheer over indulgence that this involves for some people.

I do not believe that spending hundreds or even thousands on presents, clothes and parties makes it a special time. Watching people fighting each other during the obscene Black Friday buy-athon made me feel sick. I prefer a more simple, frugal Christmas.

christmas wreathMy daughters have always had plenty of nice Christmas presents; enough to feel they have been given some things they really wanted that they will treasure and look after but not so much that they get bored opening them.  I usually buy them a main gift, then things like books, pyjamas, sweets, underwear, games and the odd CD or DVD.  This year they have a cash limit to choose some particular items for me to purchase for them, and I have bought a few little surprise bits and bobs too.

Secret Santa for a frugal Christmas

I no longer buy for all of the adult members of my family. I am one of 4 and we all have partners, so where do you stop? Instead we do a secret Santa, and just buy one nice gift for the name we pull out of a hat. We buy for anyone under 18 who is not in full time employment as well. After that they go into the Secret Santa. It takes the pressure right off!

I don’t buy gifts for friends. Again, where do you stop?

Christmas on credit

One time, shortly after I had separated from my ex-husband, I made the mistake of not being organised and saving money for Christmas. Instead I bought all my gifts on a credit card. The Classic Error.  I will never do that again, as I was still paying it off months later and then had no contingency fund to pay for some other unexpected bills and they went on the card too.

I still have a small amount on a credit card, but I also have a (admittedly small) fund for Christmas, birthdays and emergencies. As I get more organised I hope to increase the size of this fund so that I never have to resort to a credit card again. In the meantime it is a useful fall back and I am disciplined enough to only use it very occasionally as a last resort.

A fancy roast

Dinner will be nice but not lavish. In the end it is just a fancy roast, isn’t it? I would love to host some Christmas parties but really don’t have the budget for that.

I am also hoping for a green Christmas: I will be carefully folding any undamaged wrappings and collecting gift bags and boxes for reuse; the turkey carcass will be made into stock and any left over food frozen or made into soup. Anything else that can be reused or recycled, or even composted, rather than thrown in the bin will be.

I don’t have time nor talent to hand make all my gifts and decorations, although I love seeing them on Pinterest. I am fascinated to read about how other  creative types make amazing things frugal Christmas gifts and decorations for pennies.

I will get out my 10 year old tree and put up some decorations and a few lights. But I will resist putting up a ladder and smothering the outside of my house with them. I don’t need to pay to light up the whole street!!

Will you be having a frugal Christmas?

Chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast: Christmas leftovers

I am still steadfastly working through my meal plan and using up all the leftovers from Christmas, as well as some of the bits and pieces I found at the back of the cupboard.  With this in mind, tonight we have a chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast, with roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts.

I adapted it from Sarah Brown’s Layered Cashew and Mushroom Roast in her book Vegetarian Kitchen. It is an old book, but very much worth getting hold of if  you every come across a copy. You can often pick a copy up second hand on Amazon.

Chestnut, Parsnip and Mushroom Roast

This is a bit time consuming, but worth the effort. It made a very moist roast, so if you prefer it crunchier add another 50-100g of chestnuts.

chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast

Chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast


Tbsp oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
250g shelled chestnuts
110g breadcrumbs (whizz the ends of the bread up)
1 egg
3 medium parsnips, boiled and mashed
1 tsp fresh rosemary (or half tsp dried)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped up
(you could just use a tsp of dried mixed herbs if you don’t have this)
1 tsp yeast extract, dissolved in 150ml hot water

For the mushroom filling:
225 g mushrooms, chopped and fried in a little butter


Fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes in the oil. Whizz up the breadcrumbs then the nuts in a food processor, and place in a large bowl. Add the egg, the mashed parsnips and the herbs, then the onion and yeast extract. Season to taste.

Grease a 2lb loaf tin and place half of the nut mixture into it, pressing down firmly, then add the mushrooms, drained so that you don’t make the mixture soggy. Add the rest of the nut mixture, press firmly again, then cover with foil.

Cook for one hour at 180 degrees, taking the foil off for the last 15 minutes to brown the top of your roast.

Serve this chestnut, parsnip and mushroom roast with gravy and vegetables. Yummy! For more frugal recipe ideas, see here.

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Cheat’s Christmas Chocolate Cake

I have slaved over a hot cake tin over past Christmases and spent lots of time and money making fabulous Christmas cakes that nobody eats. My lot just aren’t that keen!

So this year I asked them what they wanted and they said a chocolate cake.

christmas cakeI could make one from scratch, but since I am working all the way through to Christmas Eve, I don’t feel guilty about cheating, and have made a delicious frugal cake that I know they will really enjoy.

The secret? Betty Crocker’s chocolate cake mix! This costs £2.25 for each cake, £2.25 for one pot of chocolate fudge icing, which will be enough to fill and top two cakes, plus around £2 for some decorations (I had some in the cupboard already).

Sure I could make chocolate cakes myself more cheaply, but I am short of time as well as money, so I don’t think less than £9 for two special cakes is bad….