How to survive Christmas on a budget

Christmas 2018 dinner table

Want to make it through the festive season in one piece? Find out now how much Christmas is going to cost you. The earlier you do this, the easier it is to stay organised and save cash – but even a last-minute plan could save your neck. First you need to calculate your seasonal spending budget:

  • Estimate how many gifts you’ll buy along with the total cost. Remember to include cash for extras like wrapping paper, bows and tags.
  • Do the same with meals out, parties and any other events you’ve accepted or might attend. Don’t forget knock-on costs, such as new outfits or transport.
  • Give yourself a spending limit for any parties or Crimbo dinners you’ll be hosting.

Tally up each list in turn until you’re left with a total for your seasonal spending. If that figure is larger than your savings or typical disposable income, don’t panic. Use the tips below to enjoy Christmas 2018 for a lot less. Whether you’re buying a Christmas dress, a party dress, toys for the kids or Christmas gifts for everyone else, make sure you follow these simple rules. 

1. Don’t waste cash being nice

The simplest way to save money is to not spend it in the first place. That’s not being glib: just think how many gifts and occasions you cough up for because it’s easier than saying no!
Decide who you want to treat, then work out how much you can afford to spend on each gift. You can give freebies to everyone else (more about that below). Do the same for all your other costs: whittle it down to a select but affordable list of events and entertainment.

The other solution is to give yourself a bigger budget. Saving even a tenner every month takes off a lot of pressure come December, but for extra oomph pick a money maker and get on with it.

2. Keep freebies on standby

A freebies stash is great for stocking fillers or unexpected gifts you feel you have to reciprocate. Heads-up: getting a decent selection takes time and effort, so it’s one to keep on the boil all year round (dip it into for birthdays and other pressies along the way).
While they’re not completely free, consider home-made gifts, too: cookies, cakes, bath salts, massage cheques and anything else creative can be a low-cost, heart-tugging success.

3. Make Christmas cards cost-effective

While you can buy greetings cards pretty cheap, posting them is an extravagance when money’s tight. Instead:

  • Draw or design your own cards. The effort involved helps keep the number down – plus it’s fun and a little bit more special.
  • When buying or making cards, get them ready in time to hand out in-person, never by post.
  • Send free eCards to anyone you won’t see face-to-face: try Open Me or make your own with a drawing or photo editing program or app.

4. Make group savings

Got friends, family or housemates in the same boat budget-wise? Use it to your advantage:

  • Do Secret Santa with a theme: try home-made (or home-brewed), second-hand or hand-me-downs, write a song or – as a total twist – pick a task the recipient has to do.
  • Throw a party in lieu of cards, gifts and nights out. For extra savings, get home-brewing or baking in advance!
  • Swap one (or more) ticketed events with something free or cheap. Festive swims, park runs, fireworks displays and beach picnics are all freezing but memorable!

5. Always have a wishlist

Wishlists can be controversial, but they have their benefits: no more unwanted reindeer socks for starters. Where wishlists make sense is if you live on a student budget all-year round.
Instead of a jumper with googly eyes that you’ll only wear once, suggest gifts you really need or will make use of:

  • Cash for rent, bills or other expenses
  • Supermarket vouchers or a meal out
  • Textbooks, stationery or other course items
  • Store-specific gift vouchers, i.e., to collect enough for really expensive items

While you can’t demand that people honour your present list, it’s worth at least letting everyone know you have one and where to find it (i.e., at an online retailer or in a personal cloud folder).

Last word…

NEVER feel guilty about celebrating Christmas – or any other public holiday – on a budget! Cheaper presents can be the most thoughtful or memorable: you don’t need big bucks to make someone feel special. This is something you have to actively remind yourself about, though, as the pressure to spend, smile and have an amazing, Instagrammable break is pretty high.

Even if you do end up going for something a little more expensive, don’t forget to take a look at Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to see if you can nab yourself a discount.

Just stick to your plan and say no to easy fixes (especially if it involves credit!). For more on personal budgeting check out these simple budgeting rules that could change your life.


Guest poster Ruth Bushi, Editor of Save the StudentGuest blog by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student – the UK’s largest student money advice site

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