Start prepping Christmas in July? Has the woman finally gone mad? If you are someone who feels their heart sink at the idea of Christmas – the expense, the time, the sheer busyness of the occasion – you might be tempted to put it off until the last minute. But if you need a budget Christmas, this is the perfect time to think about it.
Personally, I have found Christmas seriously stressful at times. Getting ahead with planning, even if I don’t intend to do anything out of the ordinary, really helps to allay the anxiety I have experienced in the past.
The ghosts of Christmases past
I have made many of the classic mistakes, getting a picture in my head of an impossibly perfect festive season fresh out of a glossy magazine or my Instagram feed. Like many others, I have berated myself when the house isn’t decorated with the most tasteful and expensive baubles, when I couldn’t afford to host the lavish parties that some of my friends did, take the kids to see Santa in Lapland, or buy every relative and friend an expensive gift.
I have bought too much food and alcohol, denting the budget and making me feel fat and unhealthy trying to eat it all and not let it go to waste. Christmas has gone on the credit card in past years too, meaning that it was still taking a chunk out of my monthly budget the following spring.
Our expectations of what Christmas should be are sometimes set so high, it is almost certain to be a let down. This can leave you deflated and defeated come January, maybe dreading the credit card bills or looking sadly at your overdraft.
Of course, many people absolutely love Christmas. They have no reason to worry about any kind of post Christmas hangovers, be they financial or alcohol induced. However, if you look forward more with a sense of dread at the potential expense and lack of time than anticipation of the fun of the occasion, this post is for you.
How to prepare for a budget Christmas
Put money aside throughout the year
Budgeting for Christmas may sound obvious, but how many of us actually do it? It was a revelation for me when I finally got to grips with this. Setting an affordable amount and putting it aside each month (starting in January), takes much of the stress and worry out of the occasion.
I have a spreadsheet with a list of everyone I need to buy for and how much I plan to spend. In addition, I decide on an amount for food and drink, although I don’t plan this to the last detail until I know where we will be. Sometimes we go to family, sometimes they come to us or sometimes we meet up on a day near to Christmas rather than for the main event.
This year I am actually going to budget less for each category because my income has dropped during Covid-19. I’m simply not prepared to spend more than I can afford.
Scale down if you need to
Even if you put money aside throughout the year, you still need to be realistic. You can only put aside what you can afford. Sometimes it makes sense to scale down.
It can be tricky to achieve this as there are many external pressures, often from family members. This can be partners, children, teenagers (especially) and extended family, as well as friends.
Personally, our Christmas has become more and more low key, which I prefer. However, this is easier for us as my daughters are now all adults. When you have small children, it should be a fun and memorable time. However, that doesn’t mean you need to get into debt!
Get people on board
If you can recruit your family in advance to the idea of a more frugal, budget Christmas, that will help a lot. Setting realistic expectations of money available is particularly sensible with teenagers, I have found.
Getting your partner on board is pretty much essential and having the discussion early can help take some of the heat out of the issue, rather than waiting until a few weeks before the event.
I used to (and still do) let my girls know how much I am spending on each of them and ask for gift ideas.
Small children are much easier to deal with, as they don’t mind a mixture of second hand bargain toys and books and newer, much wanted items. And don’t they really appreciate things they have waited for and really yearned for, rather than piles and piles of expensive gifts that they appreciate less and less as they wade through them?
If you have got into the trap of buying gifts for work colleagues, friends or extended family, you could suggest a Secret Santa arrangement instead. Within my quite large family (I am one of four children and we each have partners and our own kids) we started doing this several years ago. It was a massive saving of time and money and a big relief for us all.
Being honest about the budget available early will avoid the embarrassment of Christmas gifts received and not reciprocated.
Buy as you go
The best Christmas preppers buy their cards, wrapping paper and some of their gifts in the January sales. However, that’s not always possible when you are broke. It can also be hard to know what children are going to want in a year’s time, or what the latest trends will be.
However, if you do have the money, it can be good to stock up. Just don’t do what I have done several times and forget what you have bought!
As you find appropriate gifts or even food items (I start buying these as soon as they hit the shops), get them and find a safe place to stash them away from prying eyes. Remember to tick people off your list as soon as their gift is sorted.
Buy second hand
My daughters and Mr S pretty much know that some of their gifts from me will be second hand. I find lots of nice little stocking fillers such as books and trinkets as I peruse charity shops and boot sales throughout the year.
I am happy to give and receive second hand as the house is full of preloved bargains anyway, as I explained in my recent post My Second Hand Life.
Make some gifts
Whilst you are out and about, look out for baskets and tins to use as suitable gift boxes. These can be the basis for a home made hamper. You can fill with inexpensive toiletries from the pound shop, sewing or craft items, jams and chutneys (either home made or purchased), or some seeds, gardening gloves and plant labels for the gardener. You could also make a kids entertainment box with paints, play dough, coloured pencils, buttons, glue, etc.
Keep an eye out for appropriate bits and bobs for your gift baskets and start buying a few here and there.
You could also make some of your children’s stocking gifts. Brightly coloured play dough is easy to make and can be presented in a decorated container. Or, if you are feeling crafty, how about personalised scrapbook with the child’s name and photo on the front, sock puppets or some knitted doll’s clothes?
Give them lots of cheap but useful items such as coloured pencils, pens, pads, craft paper, colouring books, sweets, bubble bath, skipping ropes, bats and balls, underwear, pyjamas, books and Christmas cookies. You can start to gather all of these things from now on.
For adults, you could make jams and jellies and cover with fancy fabric. Now is the time for jam making, when fruit is plentiful and cheap.
Or you could make bath salts such as these or these from Cass at Diary of a Frugal Family. If you start making your gifts in the coming months you will enjoy doing it, rather than having a last minute panic.
Develop inexpensive family traditions that you can look forward to each year. Ours was attending the kids’ carol service each Christmas eve, where we sang Christmas hymns and the children received a ‘sleepy biscuit’ on the way out. As the season approaches, mark down potential events on the calendar so that you don’t forget them.
Make your own decorations
Planning ahead means that you can gather items to decorate your house with for free or very cheaply to help with your budget Christmas.
I am not the most crafty of people, but even I can manage some cheap and simple things to decorate at Christmas. These days, I tend to think that less is more, which makes the whole notion of Christmas decorations much more simple, cheaper and less time consuming.
When the kids were little I let them run riot with the home made paper chains and make angels or snowmen from toilet roll tubes, glitter or cotton wool. This kept them busy and made them feel involved.
If you aren’t particularly artistic, making your own decorations can be as simple as collecting pine cones and spraying them silver or gold. You could collect holly, mistletoe or any appropriate looking greenery and display in a big vase with fairy lights around the bottom.
Even if you make no decorations, look after those you have already and use them each year. Ours are quite vintage! Talking of which, I frequently come across Christmas decorations at the boot sales this time of year, which is another advantage of planning ahead for your budget Christmas.
Giving some thought to Christmas now and in the months ahead will save you money, stress and time. Are you planning for a budget Christmas?