Christmas can be an expensive time of year and inevtiably we all have more expenses than usual. In this post I explore many ideas where we can try keep the costs to a minimum, but still enjoy the festivities.
- Make Lists
I love lists! Making a list helps me stay on track, it feels good ticking things off and it helps my aging brain remember the important things! Making lists for Christmas purchases and setting a budget on each item can help to limit your festive spending. And of course when you make a list at this time of year, don’t forget to check it twice!
🌲 Write out each person that you would like to buy a gift for, along with a budget for each – use this to come up with ideas
🌲 If you need new decorations, make a list of what’s needed – if it’s not on your list, then the Singing Santa can stay on the shelf!
🌲 Write out a food shopping list – include the extras like sweets/crisps/drinks etc so that you can set a realistic Christmas ‘big shop’ budget – try not to be seduced by the offers this time of year, if it’s not on the list you prepared, then you don’t need it
🌲 List all other expenses that you may have over the holiday period – it could be travel expenses, entertainment for the kids off school, salon appointments, nights out, having friends over – as best you can try to list these known events and ensure you set a monetary value against each
- Christmas Cards
Buying, sending and receiving Christmas Cards has become part of the typical Christmas routine. I love taking out my list and writing the cards and equally love reading and displaying the cards I receive. The one thing I don’t love is how the cost adds up once you factor in postage. It can be easily €50 on postage stamps alone, and at a time of other expenses, it’s one we could all do without. I know it’s not feasible to recommend that we stop sharing Christmas Cards with eachother, but let’s take a look at some ways we could reduce the amount we need to spend.
🌲 Rather than posting cards to those that you’ll be seeing before or over Christmas, why not simply hand them out
🌲 If you’re sending cards overseas, try a nice email with a few pics instead
🌲 Perhaps replace some cards with a festive catch-up phonecall
🌲 Put together a ‘Print it Yourself’ Christmas Card email that you can send to loved ones
🌲 Take a look at your Christmas Card list and see if you could trim it. Sending cards to those who appreciate and cherish them is not a waste of money in my opinion, but I bet there are some people on your list who really don’t want a card
🌲 For those who you are sending cards to, make the €1 stamp worth it! Add in a photo or 2, a nice long message etc
- Gift Wrap/Bags
Whatever the occasion, along with the price of the present, we generally have to factor in gift wrapping also, Christmas is no exception. It’s one of those things – we like to give the element of surprise along with the gift so we wrap it up – like a grown up version of Pass the Parcel! I don’t think anyone would disagree with me here – wrapping paper is a huge waste of money. It looks good, sometimes we need to conceal the gift if it’s on display under the tree, but more often than not, it goes in the recycling about 30 seconds after the gift is unveiled. Let’s look at some ways of reducing the cost and waste of gift wrap and gift bags.
🌲 If you are buying wrapping paper, look around for the best value and try to always go for a generic colour with no print. Buying paper adorned in frosty snowmen means you can’t use it for birthdays during the year. In the same way that you won’t give wedding bells paper with your Christmas gift. Look out for plain silver, gold or neutral colours that will suit all occasions
🌲 When you receive a gift, try to open carefully so you can keep and re-use the paper again. The same goes for gift bags, let’s all just agree to never write on a gift bag label so we can all re-use time and time again!
🌲 Wrap gifts in items you find around the home – newspaper, old magazine pages, printer paper, leftover wallpaper. Brown greaseproof paper, with a DIY paper bow can look really great under the tree
🌲 Make the wrapping a gift – wrap the present in a reusable shopping bag. You’ve still to buy the bag, but at least it’s got a purpose and will be used again
🌲 Throughout the year we often receive white or brown paper bags for various shopping. Hold on to these, add some festive decoration and pop your gifts in them
🌲 If you have young children, what could be nicer than wrapping gifts in some of their art creations
🌲 If you’re used to buying tissue paper (crepe paper) to bulk up a gift bag present, why not use shredded paper instead – newspapers, supermarket leaflets, old envelopes – stick them through the shredder and use them in your gift bags
🌲 If you’ve kept them, use last year’s Christmas Cards for making some nice DIY gift tags
- Secret Santa
Christmas is a time when we like to treat our loved ones, we get a chance to give our friends and families a token of our appreciation for being there throughout the year. But the cost of the gifts can really add up, even if you only have a small family or small circle of friends. To help with this, why not do Secret Santa (or Kris Kindle) – where each member of the family or group only buys and receives one present. You can put all the names in a hat (or a virtual hat using the likes of Elfster or DrawNames), and set an upper price limit. We do this in my family and also in my partner’s family too. Without doing this every year we would be buying 18 presents just for immediate family (adults) and this gives each person a chance at receiving a quality gift. I’m sure if you suggest it amongst your family or friends, most people would be on board with the idea.
- Presents for Kids
More often than not, kids receive far too many toys at Christmas time. I truly do believe that Christmas is especially magical because of kids, but it’s unfortunate to see them end up with so much ‘stuff’, especially some of the cheaper items that you just know won’t get a second look-in come the New Year. There are ideas you can introduce within your family and friends, to ensure that children are not getting too much, and you don’t have a spending nightmare.
🌲 Kids Kris Kindle – In my family we do Kris Kindle for the kids also, again setting an upper limit. Each Auntie/Uncle picks a name (at random) for a niece/nephew and buys a gift only for that child. It means that they are each getting one quality gift rather than multiple ‘just because’ gifts.
🌲 Gift Tokens – In my partner’s family, we do another great thing – we each contribute a set amount, which is used to buy gift cards for a toy store to be shared amongst the kids. The kids are able to choose gifts later in the year using their gift card, and it means they aren’t getting too much on the one day.
🌲 Fun Activities – Other good ideas when it comes to children’s presents, can be a fun day out (or fun day in) where you don’t have to spend too much money but the kids have a great time and make some good memories
- Compare Prices
Hopefully by now you will have made a start on the list of things you need to buy for Christmas. Note the word ‘need’!!! With quite a lot to be done this time of year, it can often be quickest to find the product you need, without necessarily looking for the best price. Especially when it comes to popular children’s toys, it seems that we almost feel lucky to find the item we’ve to get, rather than making sure we get the best price possible. Here’s a few ways to look out for the best price for the items we have on our lists.
🌲 Find at least 3 prices for every item – it’s so simple to go online and check a number of retailers for the item you need. If looking for some of the popular Christmas toys, check places like Smyths, Argos, Amazon, even Tesco – I’ve seen quite large price differences
🌲 If buying online, for example with someone like Amazon, pay in GBP if you can. The default exchange rate that they use will always be a little higher than the actual exchange rate your bank offers. I recently saved almost €5 by choosing GBP rather than EUR at Checkout
🌲 Again if shopping online, open up a second tab and just google the retailers name along with the words ‘discount code’. More often than not you can be lucky to find a site that has shared a discount code for the retailer you’re shopping with. The amount of times I’ve been lucky enough to get 10/15/20% off something I was already planning on buying, just by doing that quick check
- Gifts of Service
I’m sure at some point or another we’ve either given or received a present that wasn’t needed/used/purposeful. It’s true that some people can be harder to buy for than others, and especially nowadays; we typically buy what we need, when we need it. It can make it even harder to think of a good purposeful present that will actually be welcomed and used. A nice suggestion is to give somebody the present of your time – by giving them a ‘voucher’ for your help with something. Some suggestions below on gifts of service that you could give to loved ones this Christmas.
🌲 Cook a meal at your place or theirs
🌲 Do their housework for a full day
🌲 A DIY Afternoon tea
🌲 Breakfast in Bed
🌲 A Babysitting voucher
🌲 A DIY Manicure
🌲 A Mountain/Bog Walk
🌲 A Road Trip
🌲 At Home Wine Tasting/Cocktail Making
- Gifts that Make a Difference
With all the costs associated with Christmas, it can be a worrying time of year for a lot of people. We can unfortunately often feel a lot of pressure to have and host the “perfect” Christmas – and this can put people under unnecessary stress, along with unnecessary debt. Why not take a practical approach to gifting and actually ask friends what they would like – suggest that you could each take a small part of the financial burden of the season away by cleverly gifting this year. Some ideas that you could suggest amongst family and friends:
🌲 Gift them a Turkey or Ham voucher for their local butcher (this gift would obviously be given ahead of time)
🌲 Perhaps a Supermarket Gift Voucher would help out, I know I’ve had very lean Januarys before and knowing that I at least had grocery money would help
🌲 Maybe your friend/sister/cousin has a New Years Eve party to go to, but nothing to wear; perhaps you could help them out with an outfit
🌲 A family with children might appreciate a gift token for the cinema or a local play centre – something to do with the kids over Christmas holidays, but without the extra cost for them
🌲 Maybe your friend has a lot of visiting to do over the holidays – I’m sure a gift token for a fuel station would come in useful
- Come together on the Cooking
Some people absolutely love preparing and cooking the big Christmas dinner. Others can find it a struggle, making many different dishes for a large group of people. Some lucky houses might have many hands offering to help in the kitchen, for others all the work may be down to one person. There’s also a considerable cost when you factor in all the trimmings. Let’s look at some suggestions for how we could help out with this.
🌲 If a few of your close friends or family members are hosting dinner themselves, maybe you could share the prepping of the sides. 1 person can make the stuffing to divide out, 1 person can peel and chop all of the vegetables, 1 person can make a few trifles – you get the gist. To make it fair, each person can contribute the same amount of money to a kitty for buying the ingredients.
🌲 If you’re going to somebody else’s house for dinner, offer to make and bring something – maybe the starter, the dessert, possibly agree that you’ll take care of the wine for the meal
🌲 We all end up with Turkey and Ham leftovers – not to mention stuffing, potatoes, sprouts etc. Why not suggest going halves with a friend on some things to avoid unnecessary cost and food waste.
- Set a Budget
I previously talked about making sure to list out everything that you will need to spend money on over the Christmas holidays. It’s important that everything you plan to buy is not only on a list, but also that everything is within your budget. It is so incredibly easy to overspend over the holidays. There will be special offers, sales, surplus of convenience food etc etc. My recommendation is to set an overall budget that you are comfortable with – the maximum amount of money that you are willing to spend this Christmas. I know that for me personally, without setting a budget at this time of year, I was overspending, buying ‘treats’ I didn’t need, wasting food and getting myself further into debt. I just accepted that as the norm and started off the new year knowing that January would be long and hard to get through financially. Not this year – this year I have my overall budget, then further broken into Gift Budget, Food Budget and Socialising Budget. If I overspend on the Socialising, I know I need to take it out of the money set aside for Food, so it will help me actually stick to the budgets for each. Each of them have a value I am comfortable with, allow me to have a great Christmas and also allow me to enter January with less stress than previous years. So work it out for yourself – what is the maximum amount of money you are comfortable with spending this year and divide that out between all the things you need to spend money on.
- Track all Spending
If following along with my recommendations, we would each have our list of what we need to buy, along with our maximum budget to spend. It’s important to keep track of everything that we buy and write it down; crossing it off our list and subtracting it from our budget. This will be my first year to do this, and I’m looking forward to the advantages that it will bring. I’ll know exactly what I still need to get and how much money is leftover to get it. It’ll also help me from overspending in certain areas and buying things on the double.
- Homemade Gifts
A couple of years ago, our neighbours gifted us this amazing chocolate gift that they had made with their kids. It gave me the biggest smile and I just thought it was so touching. They spent their time making it, they had fun while doing so and then kindly thought we deserved their creation. When we think about the reasons that we like to share gifts with family and friends, it’s because we want to show them that we were thinking of them and care about them. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to show our loved ones that we were thinking of them. Most people will appreciate a homemade gift that will actually be used. Some ideas for homemade gifts could be:
🌲 Wax Melts
🌲 Framed Pictures
🌲 DIY Meal Kit
- Start Some New Traditions
When I was growing up, the magic of Christmas wasn’t only reserved for the Big Man in red, but in the lights and decorations, the family traditions and seeing all my cousins. For me, the magic of Christmas is never going to be in the shops or on a night out. Of course, shopping and socialising have become the norm as I grow up, but it’s the simpler things that bring me the most joy. No matter what age you are, I believe Christmas should be about making good memories and taking time away from the hustle and bustle to enjoy time with loved ones. I’ve been thinking about Christmas traditions that needn’t cost the earth and thought of a few…
🌲 Pyjamas on, light the fire, watch Christmas Movies all day and take a break from ‘sensible’ meals
🌲 Wrap up warm, put a hot chocolate (or tea/coffee) in your flask and go for a stroll to admire the local Christmas lights
🌲 Bake some Christmas treats
🌲 Have a board game night
🌲 Attend a local Carol Service or a tree lighting ceremony
🌲 For those in or near Dublin, I used to love a visit to the Moving Crib in Parnell Square
🌲 Keep an eye out for free Christmas events in your area – the library is a great place to start
- Someone’s Trash can be your Treasure
No I’m not talking about rummaging through the neighbour’s bins or gifting your loved ones things just because you don’t need them. But one thing we can all do this year is see if something that is on our list can be bought at a cheaper price, while at the same time doing your bit for decreasing the amount of “stuff” that’s out there.
🌲 Check out the likes of Depop if you’re looking for a new outfit
🌲 See if the toys you’re looking for are available on Adverts, DoneDeal or Facebook Marketplace
🌲 See if Christmas Decorations that you need are available in charity shops or second hand online sites
🌲 Plan a ‘Swap Shop’ evening with a group of friends
- It’s OK to say No
I suppose this isn’t only for this time of year, but one we can keep with us well into the New Year. It’s actually perfectly ok to say No to someone or something if it doesn’t suit your plans this Christmas. Maybe that second night out is going to cost too much, maybe you can’t afford to send your parents on an all-inclusive cruise, maybe you don’t fancy driving halfway across the country on your days off work – whatever it may be, you are perfectly entitled to say No to people. I’d much rather be honest with my family and friends, than put myself into any debt. It can be really difficult to say no, we feel we have to add a whole host of excuses. But once you are honest with people, and once those people are truly important to you, they will understand your reasons.