Cutting the cost of Christmas...
Without feeling like Scrooge.
Christmas comes but once a year, which is just as well, as many of us can find we are still paying for it when the summer holidays come round.
According to a survey by the Halifax, Brits spend an average of £500 on Christmas, including gifts, food, alcohol and socialising. Those of us with large families and children spend even more.
This year, with worries about Covid making money tight, we can’t afford to put ourselves in that position. But it doesn’t mean we have to endure an austerity Christmas with IOUs instead of presents and a turkey twizzler instead of the whole bird.
We can cut the cost of Christmas without cutting the fun by spending less but spending smarter.
Carve a slice off your food budget
What is Christmas without slightly too much to eat and drink?
You can still overindulge without overspending if you shop carefully. A big turkey looks good – but do you really need a huge bird if travel restrictions could mean fewer people sitting down for Christmas dinner? You can save on all the extras with some own brands – mince pies and cheese biscuits from Asda taste very much like those from Marks and Spencer, and cost a great deal less. Satsumas and sprouts from the market can be bargains, even compared to discount supermarkets.
Of course, you may need a drink or two. Shop around for Christmas cheer online and you could undercut wine shops and supermarkets – but keep your eyes open for booze bargains when you shop for food. Many supermarkets will have bought in large stocks of beer, wine and even spirits, and will be offering them as cut price incentives to get you through the door.
Also, if you can, cook from scratch. It might take more time but it will be cheaper than buying ready-made dishes. Or get every guest to bring a dish or a course – but you may need to coordinate who brings what to avoid a dozen or so Christmas puddings.
Agreeing a spending limit with family and friends can save a fortune. A limit on how much you spend could actually be fun - having less money to spend means putting in more thought and time, which makes for some really imaginative giving.
But you don’t have to stop there.
You can pass on all those unwanted gifts from last year. If a present is still box-fresh and you know someone else will actually want it, where it came from does not really matter – although you need to be careful you don’t pass it back the person who gave it to you in the first place.
But do presents even have to be brand new? Kids grow out of toys fast, and things like bikes can be bargains secondhand and just as much fun as one that comes in a box. Try eBay or Gumtree for bargains, or even your local Freecycle – you (and your offspring) could be lucky.
If you must buy new, look online. Most things can be bought online for less - a Guardian survey revealed Amazon is cheaper than on the high street seven times out of 10 – and you get it delivered to your door.
Of course, you could save postage on a gift by getting it delivered directly to the recipient, instead.
Play your cards right
You can pay anything up to £5 for a single card in WH Smiths. Buying a whole pack of ten cards from a charity shop could cost less, and help the charity as well as your budget. Or make your own - look at online craft shops like Hobbycraft for supplies, the children will love joining in.
Of course, you will still need to post them, and the price of stamps comes as a nasty surprise, especially if this is the only time of year that you buy them. The answer can be hand delivery, while for those friends who you will not be seeing, an e-card maybe the answer.
There are many sites offering e-card services, and some even let you design your own cards. The costs can work out lower than real cards, and they are better for the environment.
Sites like dontsendmeacard.com combine both good ideas with charity e-cards. For a small donation you can choose a design and send it to up to 100 people.
Brown paper packages tied up with string…
Speaking of the environment, wrapping paper is costly and difficult to recycle. Do your bit for the planet and your budget simply by using brown paper and string. Add a few holly leaves, or make a potato stamp to decorate the paper and the package can look far more stylish and exciting than the glitziest bought in paper.
If you kept them from last year, you can even cut up old Christmas cards to make tags.
Finally, making Christmas really memorable for children means magic, and magic is of course free. A free letter from Santa can be delivered by the Royal Mail, and the excitement ramped up with a Christmas Eve walk into your local centre to see the lights and tree.
On the day itself, you can prolong the excitement of opening presents with a treasure hunt involving all those little, smaller presents, leading up to the main present. Children have as much fun opening packages as they do with the gift itself.
Father Christmas may have been hit by the Covid downturn. Christmas, you and your family don’t have to be.