10 tips for a low cost Christmas

The festive season is often a time when we feel under huge financial pressure, especially this year when many people are having to get by on reduced incomes.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to keep Christmas spending to a minimum. We asked the Rest Less Community for ideas on how to cut those festive costs and received some brilliant suggestions – we’re so grateful to everyone who responded. Here are some of our members’ thoughts on how to enjoy a cut-price Christmas, along with a few tips of our own.

Set a budget

It can be really easy to get carried away buying presents and, especially if you’ve got a big family, to lose track of the amount you’re spending.

Before you embark on your Christmas shopping, write a list of everyone you’d like to give presents to, and how much you can afford to spend on each of them.

If your budget is particularly tight, one of our members suggests agreeing with other adults you usually buy presents for to restrict gifts just to the kids this year. If they agree to this, don’t  spend more than usual on the children’s presents – remember that if they are very young, they’re just as likely to find the box and wrapping as interesting as the toy that’s in it.

Buy second hand

Challenge your family to a second hand Christmas, where you commit not to buy any new presents for each other. Not only does this help keep costs down, but it can have a big environmental benefit too, as you’re recycling items that might otherwise have been thrown away. One of our members says her two daughters clubbed together last year to buy her husband a second hand bread-maker for £40, which would have cost £140 to buy new. Since receiving his bread-maker, the family has only bought four shop loaves – the rest have been made at home. Her top tip is to plan early to give yourself time to find what you want.

Plenty of local groups on Facebook buy and sell items. It’s usually possible to track down many of these simply by entering the words ‘For sale’ and then the area where you live. Bear in mind though that you don’t have much protection if something you buy doesn’t work and it will be up to the discretion of the seller as to whether they will offer you a refund. The online auction place eBay provides greater protection for buyers of second hand goods, as if you pay using PayPal, you can get your money back if the item never arrives or doesn’t match the seller’s description.

Get crafty

Giving gifts you’ve made is a great way to keep your festive spending down, and also shows that you’ve gone to a lot of time and trouble. The Rest Less Community reports that jams, preserves and biscuits are really popular as is homemade lemon curd. You could also knit or sew gifts. One of our members says she made five pairs of knitted gloves for female friends from an eBay sourced cone of merino yarn bought for £14. Check out more ideas for homemade presents in our article 18 homemade Christmas gift ideas.

Give your time rather than presents

If you can’t afford to buy presents this year because you’re struggling financially, one of our members suggested donating your time instead, whether it’s a “voucher” promising to walk the neighbour’s dog, or doing someone’s shopping or ironing, or perhaps making them a cake if they want one.

Keep food bills down

Food and drink often make up a big part of our Christmas costs, but planning ahead can help make it feel like less of a financial burden.

Top food tips from our members include going for a turkey crown rather than a whole bird, and padding it out with lots of vegetables. Another option is to consider going for a chicken instead, as the cost of turkey tends to rocket at Christmas.

It’s also a good idea to start food shopping early if you can to help spread the cost. Mince pies, for example, often have a long ‘use by’ date, and you can freeze things like sausages and smoked salmon in advance. Only buy what you absolutely need to avoid food waste and make sure you’ve got a few recipes lined up in case there are any leftovers. It’s also worth shopping around to find the best food and drink deals. If you like to splash out on Champagne for Christmas, Lidl and Aldi are well worth a visit, with a bottle of bubbly costing £12.50 and £10.99 respectively.

If you’re struggling to afford food, or you’d like to make a food donation, contact your local food bank via the Trussell Trust website. Alternatively, you could consider using a food sharing app such as Olio. You can list anything on the app that you won’t be eating in your household but hasn’t yet gone off, or you can search for food or other items that are being offered within your local area.. You can download Olio free of charge for iOS here and Android here.

Seek out discounts and vouchers

When Christmas shopping online, always check to see if there is a discount voucher available which can get you money off the presents you’re buying. Sites where you can see current voucher codes include Vouchercodes.co.uk and Groupon.co.uk. Simply enter the name of the retailer you’re buying from and these sites will let you know if there are any discounts available.

Earn cashback on your spending

If you’re doing the bulk of your Christmas shopping online, make sure you earn cashback on your spending through sites such as Quidco.com and Topcashback.co.uk.

You can register for free on both of these sites and then you simply search for the stores that you’re planning to buy from. If these companies are affiliated with the cashback site, you could receive some money back on your purchase.

According to Topcashback, members receive an average of £325 per year in cashback, which is available on a wide range of goods and services. Cashback rates vary widely – you could get 1% cashback on one purchase and as much as £150 cashback on another from a different store, depending on what you’re buying.

Use loyalty card points

If you’ve got lots of loyalty card points sitting unused, think about cashing them in to get money off your festive shopping. For example, if you’ve built up 10,000 points on your Sainsbury’s Nectar card, you can get £50 off your Christmas shop. If you have a Tesco Clubcard, you need 5,000 points to get £50 off your shop.

Bear in mind that some loyalty schemes allow you to boost the amount your points are worth if you spend them on rewards rather than your food shop. For example, with Tesco you can get three times your points’ value if you spend them on rewards such as magazine subscriptions or days out. Find out more here.

Organise a Secret Santa

Setting up a Secret Santa can be a great way to ensure you stick to a budget and that you don’t have to buy presents for lots of people. It usually involves friends or family agreeing to spend a set amount on a gift and then picking a name out of a hat which tells them who they’re buying for. The aim is that everyone gets a present, but also that they only have to buy one each. Coronavirus means it’s not possible to all get together to draw names out of a hat this year, but you can still set up a Secret Santa scheme with the help of the online Secret Santa Generator (drawnames.co.uk). This enables you to add participants’ names and set up exclusions, along with gift exchange details. Another suggestion we had from our community is to pool money to buy one bigger gift per family instead of everyone giving small gifts. It might not necessarily save much money, but should help reduce the number of unwanted gifts everyone receives.

Send cards and gifts second class

If you want to save cash by sending Christmas cards out second class rather than first, the last posting date to ensure they get there in time for Christmas is 18 December. You can see all the Christmas posting deadlines here. Alternatively, consider sending out e-cards, so you can save on postage altogether and reduce your impact on the environment at the same time. For example, paperlesspost.com has some good free options you can download and add your own photo to. 

We hope you found these ideas useful. Do you have any other tips or ideas to share? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the Christmas money saving conversation on the Rest Less Community or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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