Already panicking at the thought of planning the perfect Christmas on a shoestring budget? Stop right there!
Firstly, there’s no such thing as the perfect Christmas. Social media might suggest otherwise, but remember, it’s just a highlights reel. What might look like the dreamiest of family gatherings may in reality be a posed one-second snapshot amidst hours of arguments over the TV remote and whose turn it is to wash up. Don’t fall into the comparison trap this Christmas.
Secondly, planning a winning Christmas on a budget couldn’t be easier. Spotting opportunities to save cash will help your money go further, and help you avoid a financial hangover in January. From transport to tinsel and everything in between, we’ve pulled together our favourite saving hacks to help you eat, drink and be merry on a budget.
Save on… food and drink
Hosting Christmas this year? The pressure to put on a delicious spread can be daunting, but don’t let money worries add to that.
1. Fresh vs. frozen
Swapping to frozen versions when it comes to groceries could save you up to a third on your weekly shop. And there’s no reason to stop just because it’s Christmas. Considering the majority of your plate is made up of veggies - sprouts, potatoes, carrots, etc. - switching to frozen from fresh could save you a significant amount. There are no prizes for peeling 20 potatoes single handedly, and we bet you no one will be able to taste the difference anyway. Plus, whereas fresh veggies will go off within a week or so, you can reach for any remaining frozen veg when the New Year diet kicks in!
2. Mix ‘n’ match
Head to Lidl and Aldi for the basics this Christmas - more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean more tasty. We’re not suggesting it’s a basic, but Aldi’s champagne was named one of the best in the world, and it’ll only cost you £11 (if you’re buying a branded version, you could expect to pay over £30 for a bottle). If you really can’t drag yourself away from the more expensive supermarkets, it’s best to buy booze in bulk. Many shops, like Waitrose Cellar, offer discounts if you buy a case of 6 or more of wine.
Head to Bring a Bottle to compare prices on alcohol across all the major supermarkets and make sure you’re getting the best deal.
3. Start early
A lot of Christmas treats are available in supermarkets from early September - this is the official start of food retail Christmas season. So it might be worth stocking up on non-perishables (like chocolate boxes and ingredients for the Christmas cake) when they’re at their cheapest.
You can find more tips and tricks for hosting Christmas day on a budget here.
Save on… decorations
Beautiful decorations don’t need to cost the world - a bit of creativity and willingness to get stuck in can go a long way. Instead of hitting the shops to get your decorative hit, why not make them yourself? If you’ve got children, or friends who do, get them involved for a cost-saving way to spend time with loved ones while getting into the Christmas spirit.
4. Do some DIY
If you’ve got a garden (or failing that, any woodland near you), you could collect twigs and greenery, dry them and paint them silver or gold. Stick them in a vase and decorate with some baubles, and you’ve got a lovely festive arrangement. This kind of thing will keep for years to come if you store it carefully, and it works a treat if you don’t have enough space for - or can’t afford - a Christmas tree.
Use any leftover greenery from above to make your own wreath. You can pick up a foam wreath base very cheaply from Hobbycraft or similar home stores, then let your imagination run wild. If you’re lacking inspiration, check out these DIY wreath ideas.
If baubles seem like a waste of money, you could make your own very easily. Try this: slice up some oranges, sprinkle with cinnamon and leave to dry somewhere warm (or bake until dry). You can then thread ribbon through each slice and hang on your tree - it’s guaranteed to make your home smell festive! We love these cheap and cheerful Pinterest ideas, too.
5. Consider second hand
DIY not your style? We suggest asking around if anyone has any decorations they no longer want - parents and older siblings might have some they’d be willing to pass down. Or failing that, your local charity shop might have what you’re looking for.
6. Hit the sales
Be sure to raid the Boxing Day and New Year sales for festive decorations. Retailers reduce anything vaguely festive after the big day has passed, so you could pick up decorations for next to nothing, and be extra prepared for next Christmas.
Save on… transport
7. Travelling by train this Christmas?
It’s an expensive way to get around, but there are ways you can cut costs. It might not make for the quickest getaway, but taking slower routes or splitting your fare into separate journeys could save you some cash. Visit ticketclever or Split Ticketing to find the cheapest price for your journey. It’s worth keeping an eye out for group discounts too if you know a few people heading to the same destination.
And don’t always take the most obvious or well marketed route. For example, if you’re travelling from London to Gatwick Airport, you’ll probably be advised to get the Gatwick Express train. Don’t! You’ll pay a premium for using this service, as they charge a set fare. Instead, buy a ticket for Southern trains - a commuter service that runs as frequently as the Express, (albeit not non-stop), but for a fraction of the price.
8. Or heading further afield?
It might be a little too late for 2019, but if you’re hoping to make a run for somewhere exotic next Christmas, you’ll want to sign up to Jack’s Flight Club. Set up by a guy with an eye (and the spare time) for finding the cheapest flights to destinations around the world, he’ll tell you when he’s found an unmissable deal. Sign up as early in the year as possible, and be open minded when it comes to picking a holiday location - the flights he picks up on are varied.
Save on… going out
9. Eating out
From rip-off set menus to deposits on tables, the cost of eating out can go through the roof at Christmas time. If you’re looking to dine out for less, it’s worth checking out OpenTable. They have a huge range of offers at some of the best restaurants in the country, all year round. Just search for your location, day and time, and they’ll show you restaurants with capacity and whether they’re running any special offers.
If you’re not fussy about the when, it’s often way cheaper to go out on Mondays or Tuesdays. Because it’s less busy, bars and restaurants tend to offer deals on these days to tempt you in. Take a look at the websites of your favourite places to go, and you could find yourself drinking wine at takeaway prices, or getting a great deal on a steak dinner.
10. Going out out
Planning a night out in December? Lots of bars and restaurants offer freebies at this time of year if you book a Christmas party with them. You’ll have to do your research, but you could bag your group free mulled wine, a bottle of prosecco or canapés on the house. It’s a bit cheeky, but it could be worth pretending you’re planning a Christmas party if you just fancy saving some cash on a night out with friends.
Wherever you’re heading, stick to our our top tips for not overdoing it and compromising your health this festive season.
Save on… presents
11. Don’t stick to December
We’ve all got that one person who’s notoriously hard to buy for (looking at you, Dad). Ironically, it’s usually the same person who’s seemingly got everything, and insists they “really don’t need any presents, honestly”, which isn’t particularly helpful when it comes to gift shopping.
If this sounds familiar, our #1 tip is to be on the lookout for gifts all year-round. (This also comes in handy if your idea of hell is battling the December crowds with zero inspiration.) Keeping your eyes peeled at all times means you’ll have plenty of time to find a present you know they’ll love, rather than pressure-buying that overpriced pair of socks on Christmas eve. There’s absolutely no shame in buying gifts in March and squirrelling them away for a few months.
12. Think ahead to next year
Most retailers run seasonal sales, like Boxing Day and Summer sales, which are a great time to bag a bargain for 2020. Sign up to Price Alert to be notified when certain brands start their sales. If you can’t wait for the sales, tonnes of online shops offer occasional discounts to subscribers to their mailing list, so it makes sense to sign up to receive emails from your favourite brands.
Of course, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no-brainers for finding great deals on presents. Read our top tips for saving in the sales here. Just be wary of shops pushing their prices up in preparation for Black Friday, or you might not be getting the amazing deal you thought you were.