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How to do Christmas on a budget

With so much to think about, it’s easy to let the Christmas costs run away with you. Try out our top tricks for saving money while staying festive.

04 November 2019Hannah Salih 4 min read

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The festive season can be a bit of a blackhole when it comes to your funds. It’s no wonder so many Brits wake up in the new year nursing a financial hangover from a season of all-round over-indulgence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your Christmas can still be full of festivities without blowing your budget completely. It’s all about striking a balance.

Here are 13 tips and tricks to help you cut costs on all the biggest expenses you’ll face this season.

How to control your food costs

1. Don’t overdo it

If anything will push you over budget, wasting money on too much food that you end up chucking away will do it. The BBC have a handy guide for Christmas portion control. That way you can make sure you're not over-buying.

Another tip is to plan out all the meals you’ll need to cook over the big week in advance. How many meals are you making and for how many people? Try to plan what leftover ingredients you’ll have that you can use in the next meal.

2. Don’t be lured in by brand names

Even if you're loyal to a supermarket or brand throughout the year, Christmas is the time to shop around for cheaper prices. But that doesn’t mean compromising on taste.

In Good Housekeeping magazine’s blind taste test, Tesco’s £2 mince pies came top, beating mince pies costing upwards of £19.

When it came to canapé’s, according to the BBC Good Food’s test, Lidl’s £3.49 offering was a joint winner with the £9 canapé’s from M&S.

3. Don’t be afraid of a little DIY

Cheaper versions of christmas essentials can easily be jazzed up for less than it would cost to go for a more luxury option. Grate some fresh orange zest into basic mincemeat, buy a plain Christmas cake and ice it yourself, or put together your own cheese board.

4. Think about the size of the bird

A larger bird usually works out cheaper per kilo, so if you’re organised with your leftovers, it could be good value for money. But if you always struggle to use up leftovers, there’s nothing wrong with going smaller on the meat and bigger on the veggies.

5. Compare prices for the cheapest basket

The website My Supermarket helps you compare prices across the main supermarkets in the UK. You can compare products or fill up your basket, and then the site will tell you at which shop your basket will be the cheapest. There's also an app if you want to check on the go.

6. Take a chance on Christmas Eve – if you’re feeling daring

If you want a serious bargain, Christmas Eve just before the shops shut is your time - as long as you're willing to live with the risk. You may be able to snag a whole turkey for under a fiver, but there’s also a chance you’ll come away with little else than a packet of sprouts.

How to save on socialising

Christmas isn’t all about the gifts. It’s also about spending quality time with friends and family, but often this doesn’t work out all that cheap.

1. Book your travel now

With 4 weeks to go, you may still be able to pick up some advanced train fares. You could also try using a split ticketing tool to see if you can save on fares by breaking down your journey into several tickets.

2. Make the most of loyalty points

Using your loyalty points can be a great way to bring down the cost of your Christmas food shop. But to really make the most of your rewards, exchange your loyalty points for vouchers. You can get vouchers for days out, restaurant meals and travel. For example, £5 of Tesco Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for a £15 voucher for National Express coaches.

3. Get savvy with discounts

Deal sites such as Groupon have deals on everything from five-course tasting menus to deals on drinks. If you’re London-based you can also try the app Drinki – you get one free drink at a choice of bars, every night.

4. Don't be afraid to say no

It's easy to feel obliged to go to festive gatherings even if you're not that keen. Any money you spend here is likely to be a bit of a waste. Try to be mindful of your spending and say no to things you don't care as much about so you can spend on the things you do.

If friends keep suggesting activities you can't afford, why not suggest an alternative. We hear staying in is the new going out. Use all the tips above to whip up a restaurant quality meal and use the app Vivinio to pick a great wine that’s good value for money.

How to save on gifts

1. Take your time and don't get caught in a shopping frenzy

This is key to avoiding the Christmas overspend and making sure you don't fall prey to those expensive impulse purchases.

The first step is getting organised before you hit the shops. Make a list, set a budget for each person and don't go over it.

The second step is to shop tactically. If you're planning on doing all your shopping in one big spree you could end up getting carried away with spending. It's often easier to part with an extra £5 here and £10 there when you're already spending a lot of money. So if you can, avoid doing all your shopping in one go and don't leave it to the last minute.

We have an article all about making your Christmas shop more successful.

2. See if a courier is cheaper for parcels

If you're looking to send your gifts at the last minute it can be easy to throw a load of money at courier costs.

The site Interparcel lets you compare prices from different couriers and then sort out your mailing online. Some couriers will even pick up from your home. However, this may only work out cheaper if you're sending large packages.

3. Stray from tradition

It turns out that secret santa is no longer a gimmick just for the office. You may have to do a little bit of persuading, but if you have a large extended family, big friendship group or you're just looking to budget, this can be a great way to save. And since you're not having to buy each other lots of little gifts, you may end up with one gift that may be a little nicer. You can use 'Draw Names' to pick your names and even let others in your group what's on your wish list.

Hannah Salih Image

Written by Hannah Salih

Content Creator

Hannah is currently studying for a Master's in Comparative Cultural Analysis. She knows all about personal finance, but as a student, she's an expert in money saving tips and tricks.