Christmas on a budget

Wish it could be Christmas every day?

That’s the last thing some people want, especially if money is tight. Once a year is about as much as many people can afford and it can be a time of real pressure for those who are struggling to make ends meet.

Christmas is supposed to be time of fun and festivities, but it can also mean real financial struggle. The presents, the food, the decorations – it can all add up. It can be an especially difficult time for anyone bringing up a young family.

Whatever your situation, Christmas doesn’t have to be a reason to get yourself into lots of debt and pay for it for the rest of the year. Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or simply want to cut back on the excess spending a bit this year, you should find our money-saving Christmas tips really useful.

Shop smart

If November comes and you suddenly realise you’ve got to fork out for a load of presents but have no extra cash coming in, it can be a really worrying time.

Try and spread out your present-buying throughout the year rather than leaving it all until a few weeks before Christmas, you’ll find it much more manageable this way. Make a list of the people you buy gifts for and if you see something at any time of year that you think would be prefect for them, you can buy it there and then and tick them off your list. This way, when November comes, you won’t suddenly need to spend a whole load of cash in one go.

If you start keeping your eyes open for potential gifts in January then you’re likely to find some great presents in the sales.

It might seem depressing to be thinking about Christmas when you’ve only just seen in the New Year, but you’ll find gifts in places like department stores at literally half the price they were being sold for a few weeks earlier, so it’s definitely worth doing if you want to get real value for money.

Get crafty!

Getting down to some arts and crafts could save you a bundle. You don’t have to be particularly arty to put together some colourful Christmas cards instead of buying them.

If you have children then why not use pictures they have drawn as Christmas cards? This is a really personal touch that won’t cost you a penny and will probably be appreciated more than a shop-bought card.

As well as making fantastic Christmas cards, children’s pictures can be used as wrapping paper for presents.

Family photos can also make great gifts at Christmas. You could pick a poem you like (searching on the internet is a good idea) and print it off then set it along with the photo in a good-value frame and you’ve got a lovely, personal Christmas gift for someone in your family.

Food glorious food

If it’s your job to get the Christmas food and drink in then it’s always best to write a list and stick to it. The shops are full of treats to tempt shoppers into ‘impulse buying’ and you could easily spend more than you had planned to if you’re not careful.

Check what you’ve got in before you do the shopping. This way you’ll avoid buying two of some things “just in case”.

For food and drink, there’s not much point spending money on brand names if the shop’s own brand is cheaper. This is especially true if it’s something like frozen veg – once it’s cooked and on the plate no one will care if it came in a branded packet or not.

The same is true for snacks like nuts and crisps; once they’re in a bowl it doesn’t matter whether they came in an economy bag, but it will make a difference to you if it means you’ve saved a little bit to spend elsewhere.

Finally, make rather than buy food wherever possible. It nearly always costs less to make something yourself than it does to buy it pre-prepared from a supermarket. But we can’t all be expert chefs and many people don’t have the time to spend ages in the kitchen, so don’t worry if you prefer to just buy cheaper options of your favourite Christmas foods instead.

What money can’t buy

If you’re having Christmas dinner at someone else’s house but can’t afford to contribute much in terms of money or gifts, why not offer to help with the food or do the washing up? One of the best gifts you could give is to let the host put their feet up after dinner whilst you do the tidying up.

You can make an actual Christmas gift of your time too; by making gift vouchers for your family with promises to do things. It could be a certain household task (that you don’t normally do or that they hate), cooking a special meal or giving a shoulder massage – whatever you can think of!

Although it might not always seem like it, Christmas isn’t all about the presents you buy and the food you eat. Spending time with your loved ones is important and it’s something money can’t buy. Explain to them that you can’t afford much this year but that you’re really looking forward to spending time with them.

Who can help?

A good website to visit for money saving tips is www.moneysavingexpert.com/, which features loads of great hints on getting the best deals and the most out of your money.

If you’re struggling to keep on top of your finances and pay the bills, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can offer free advice and help. Visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk to find out more.

You can get help and advice for debt problems by calling the National Debtline Freephone on 0808 808 4000 or visiting their website at www.nationaldebtline.co.uk/.

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