Christmas on a Budget
Here at ParentsNeed we adore all things festive. We don’t however have a deep and sincere love for the cost of Christmas! Keeping on top of the bills and the forty-thousand things our children need, not to mention their food (!) can be a balancing act at the best of times. When you throw a hugely expensive event such as Christmas into the mix though it can unfortunately suck some of the joy out of the occasion if you’re left worrying about money.
We aren’t willing to give up the “Joy of Christmas” feeling and don’t think you should either so here’s our guide to managing Christmas on a budget. It might be easier than you’d think.
Who are You Buying For?
Do you buy for your partner, your children, your parents, your siblings, their children, your partner’s parents, siblings, spouses, children and Maud next door? Do you do Secret Santa at work and do your children want to buy gifts for their best friends? Sound familiar? No wonder Christmas is such a strain financially! In an ideal worth we’d only buy for our immediate family (those in our home) and Maud next door who puts up with all our noise and the repeated ball over the fence retrievals. We understand that suddenly refusing to buy for people you’ve always bought for could cause friction but there are ways around it.
You might find that other family members would love the idea of not buying for you too! Christmas can be expensive and of course you really want to focus on your own children. Why not see what people say? It might be that everyone is thrilled with the idea of not buying for so many people too. It might be that “just buy for all the kids” becomes a better choice as after all, Christmas is all about the kids!
For those outside your immediate household you need to put spending limits in place and make sure that people are aware that you are doing so. It would be better still if they would adopt the same spending limit. $10 per person for grown-ups especially can get you a funny, cute, practical or pretty gift if you shop around.
The same idea needs to apply for work colleague or the like. Instead of everyone buying for each other why not introduce (or better yet get someone else to introduce and manage) a Secret Santa gift. Everyone picks a person’s name out of a hat and spends up to the agreed amount on that person. It might be worth asking if your large family fancy adopting a similar idea amongst the grown-ups!
Do you still send cards? If so, why? Once upon a time sending a card really meant something however if you ask the majority of people these days if they’d like to scrap card-sending altogether they’d jump at the chance. Not only are the cards themselves an additional cost, the postage can be hefty by the time you’ve finished and don’t mention the time writing out cards and addressing them takes.
If you have a few relatives and friends who really appreciate your cards, especially older friends and relatives keep this correspondence going but otherwise, why not go digital? Many do these days because it is cheaper (free) and more environmentally friendly.
How early is too early to start buying or saving for Christmas? Boxing Day isn’t too early for the following year! If you spread your Christmas buying over the course of a year, particularly if you are buying for a lot of people it takes the sting out of those two very expensive months before Christmas (when gifts in the stores and online suddenly seem to have an inflated price tag!). Buy a gift or two once a month and put them aside, just remember to keep a note of who you’ve bought for and what you got otherwise you might end up buying twice for one person and missing someone else out altogether!
If buying as you go doesn’t appeal to you why not put a set amount aside each month into a saving account (not something you can easily dip into) so that when Christmas comes around again you have everything you need cash-wise and then can enjoy shopping without any hardship.
Supermarket and Store Savings Cards
Another way of saving up for Christmas is to take advantage of supermarket and store loyalty cards. Many of these allow you to accrue points (etc) when you shop throughout the year. Why not save these points or vouchers up until December and use them to buy gifts or buy food items?
Some retailers will even allow you to buy stamps to put on a savings card which you can redeem in store against your shopping bill when the card is full. You often get a bonus for filling the card too.
Taking advantage of these things costs you very little, or with loyalty points nothing at all if you were shopping in a certain place anyway and can make a real difference come Christmas time.
Do you have a particular skill that could be put towards Christmas gifts? Do you crochet or knit? Homemade dolls and cuddly toys are fabulous and appreciated. Could you make sweets or baked good to put in a little handmade hamper? You don’t need to spend vast amounts of money on someone to show them you love them and taking the time to make something for someone is as appreciated as a “cash-bought” gift.
You could of course trade other skills at Christmas-time. Some people are so difficult to buy for and you usually end up buying sock or perfume AGAIN. Why not offer them five hours DIY time, to do their ironing for a month, five lawn mows, two nights of babysitting or similar. Quirky, fun and very useful these things cost you time as opposed to money and if you choose what you offer carefully can make a big difference to someone. The money saved can be spent on your immediate family, especially the children.
What do you think about buying second hand gifts? Will your children know that you bought their main gift off Ebay? Will they care? When you buy second-hand, be it from a charity shop or an individual you are buying a pre-loved item at a much lower cost to you and of course may well be helping another family with their Christmas spending money!
If you’re looking for some extra spending money for Christmas this could be an ideal time to have a declutter. Have you got items around the home that you don’t use, don’t want and which could make you some extra money? If so hit the Facebook buy and sell pages, Ebay and similar selling sites or physical sales. Just remember not to put that hideous vase Great Aunt Sheila gave you on a public sale site as she’d be hurt (or furious!).
Many people worry about the cost of food at Christmas which is understandable. If you are just buying for your own household it is much cheaper as it is pretty much the same as buying the ingredients for a roast dinner (or whatever it is that you usually eat at Christmas). Avoid the expensive “Christmas” foods and chocolate goodies by buying these treats early (or in the post-Xmas sale if they will keep) and put them away.
If you have the honour of hosting Christmas dinner for a number of people, the cost naturally goes up. You have choices here, you can either use your Christmas savings, cashing in your supermarket loyalty points or similar to cover the cost or ask people to contribute! The chances are the people you have at your table are close friends and family and so they are unlikely to be offended if you ask for a pot luck approach to Xmas dinner. If one person prepares and brings carrots, another the potatoes, someone else brings the crackers, someone else a dessert etc the cost is spread and the dinner comes a lot less labour-intensive for you!
Christmas decorations are fabulous and really set the stage for the whole season. If you make sure you pack away your tree decorations, your lights and your Christmas ornaments carefully, and store them appropriately at the end of the season they last a lot longer. Children’s Christmas art-work from school or at home looks great framed or pinned up over Xmas and of course can be brought out every year for a nostalgic treat. Have the kids make paper chains and snowflakes and your home will soon look more festive than Santa’s Grotto (for a very low price).
A big expense each year can be the Christmas tree which is where the fake vs real debate comes in. Some people insist on a real tree and that is fine! Ask others locally where they get theirs as they are bound to have recommendations for cheaper trees that look great and last longer. If you want to get an artificial tree remember that some of them look almost as good as the real thing, don’t shed needles and are a one-off cost. Packed away carefully they can be brought out and used again year after year.
Wrapping Paper and Gift Tags
One of the best wrappings we’ve ever seen here at ParentsNeed HQ was wrap made by one of our staffs’ children. She’d given her young sons a big roll of brown packing paper, some stamps and ink pads. They had a wonderful afternoon making special wrapping paper. After getting bored of using stamps they used stickers for a while and then got out their felt tips and crayons, covering the paper in mini Santa and holly pictures. What a fabulous way to both save money and keep the children busy with Christmas-related activities. Making your own gift tags is similarly a great fun activity that costs pennies you can cut up old Christmas cards or design your own.
If handmade wrap isn’t for you check out the post-Christmas sales where you can pick up perfectly good Christmas supplies for next to nothing.
There are so many Christmas-related events that pop up at Christmas-time and wow are they expensive! Special winter-wonderland events with high ticket prices and special grottos that again cost a fortune are everywhere. When you have children, especially if you have more than one these events can become really expensive! Instead of avoiding all Christmas events altogether search for small local events. Not only are these a lot cheaper, supporting these events ensures they continue to run year after year, is great for the community and often helps raise money for charity.
If your town has a Christmas light switch-on, why not take the kids to that? Again, this is much cheaper than big ticket events and a lot of fun. Don’t be sucked into the glitz and the glamour as often big events also involve a lot of queueing as well as a high entry fee.
If you do want to go to these big events fair enough but try and book early to take advantage of early bird prices and check to see if a family ticket rather than individual ones would be cheaper.
The Spirit of Christmas
At the end of the day Christmas is all about family, not how much money you spend on people so it’s important to keep that in mind before you get caught up in the flurry of Christmas spending. It is perfectly possible to enjoy Christmas on a budget and doing so is often a lot less stressful!
What are your top tips for enjoying Christmas on a budget? We’d love to hear!