For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.

Student Budgeting

How to do Christmas on a budget

To support our site, we may use links which earn us a commission at no extra cost to you.

Gifts, decorations, nights out... it's all part of the festive fun, but the costs can add up. Here are our top tips for saving money at Christmas.

five pound notes with santa on them

Credit (Santa): Jonathan Meath - Wikimedia Commons

We love Christmas just as much as the next person (arguably even more so). But, the one thing that can put a dampener on our Yuletide spirit is thinking about the costs.

Some people may think Christmas is all about spending thousands on amazing presents, decorations and food. But many are starting to go against the trend and get smart with their festive finances.

With a sprinkling of budgeting advice and an added dash of creativity, you'll be able to have the Christmas you've always dreamed of. All without the bank balance of your nightmares.

Make sure you remember to do these things before you go home for Christmas.

Christmas money-saving tips

These are the best ways to do Christmas on a budget:

  1. Make a Christmas budget

    calculator and pen

    Credit: eamesBot – Shutterstock

    When doing Christmas on a budget, you'll have to make... a budget. It might be painful, but check your bank balance to work out how much cash you have to play with.

    Use our budgeting guide to help establish how much you've got going spare and base your festive plans on that. Make sure to consider your usual expenses, too.

    If you need extra money at Christmas, maybe consider cutting back on a few luxuries, taking on some additional shifts at your part-time job or trying to make a quick buck.

  2. Prioritise your Christmas purchases

    We all want a meal with all the trimmings, a first-class degree and the latest games console for Christmas. But sadly, the overdraft just won't stretch far enough.

    Particularly when you're doing Christmas on the cheap, you're never going to be able to fulfil absolutely everything in your ideal festive fantasy. Grab yourself a pen and paper and start thinking about what's really important to you this year.

    You probably won't be able to buy a present for everyone you know or afford to go to every Christmas night out you've been invited to. But once you've worked out what you want to get at Christmas, you can start thinking about how to make it work.

  3. Agree not to buy Christmas presents this year

    It sounds corny, but it's true: if your friends or family care about you, they won't mind skipping the gifts this year (or any other year, for that matter!).

    Most people are pretty sympathetic to the financial plight of students (especially other students). If buying presents is going to cause you some money troubles, people will understand.

    This deal works best with your fellow students, as there's every chance that they'll be facing the same predicament. Asking them not to buy gifts for you shows that you're not just looking to hoard the presents, and could take a load off their mind too.

    And, if you and your friends and/or family decide not to buy gifts this year, it has the added benefit of reducing each person's carbon footprint.

  4. Beware of Christmas 'deals'

    With festive joy arriving in shops everywhere, it can be tempting to get sucked in by "special offers" and "unmissable deals".

    It might look like retailers are spreading the festive cheer, but the truth is that they're trying to stop you from saving money at Christmas.

    If you are looking for gifts, though, remember that there are still some good deals out there. You can find some real money savers in our deals section.

  5. Use price trackers to decide when to buy gifts

    In the fight against retailers who are just trying to persuade you to spend your hard-earned cash, Idealo is one of your most faithful allies.

    All you have to do is enter the product you're interested in buying. Not only will Idealo show you how the price has changed over time, but it'll also tell you where the cheapest place to buy it is.

    Camelcamelcamel does a similar thing. It lets you enter the Amazon URL of a product to see how its price has changed over time on the site.

    While getting your Christmas shopping done early is certainly admirable, a quick glance at whether a product's price is on an upward or downward trend could help you decide whether to wait a couple of weeks before splashing out.

    But don't leave it too late or you'll miss the Christmas delivery cut-off dates.

  6. Spend less on your Christmas dinner

    christmas dinner spread with turkey

    Keen to have a traditional Christmas dinner without spending a fortune? It turns out that it's possible to have the full spread for less than £2.75 per head.

    You heard us right. That's roast meat (or you could use a veggie alternative) with potatoes, carrots, peas, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. All for less than a takeaway coffee.

    Check out our guide to doing Christmas dinner on a budget for the recipe.

  7. Don't buy new wrapping paper

    Not buying new wrapping paper has two main benefits: it saves money and it avoids waste.

    Wrapping paper may look nice, but it's not usually a very eco-friendly way to wrap gifts. Some wrapping paper can be recycled, but it's often not recyclable (especially when it's decorated with glitter or foil).

    With this in mind, buying new wrapping paper for Christmas presents is an unnecessary purchase.

    Instead, maybe reuse an old gift bag, or use the box that the gift came in.

    You could even upcycle old clothes that you no longer need or want, and turn them into fabric gift wrap. This will look lovely, and can be reused to wrap presents for years to come.

  8. Try Secret Santa with a small budget

    Every December, you can find yourself buying Christmas presents for family, friends, colleagues, classmates... the list adds up (as do the costs). If you're keen to buy gifts but don't want to spend much, you could suggest doing Secret Santa instead.

    In case you're not familiar with Secret Santa, it involves putting everyone's names into a hat, with each person pulling one out. Whoever you pluck from the hat is who you buy a gift for, but nobody else. There's usually a set budget for gifts and it tends to remain anonymous.

    Agree amongst each friend/family group who wants to get involved, throw your names in and decide on a maximum spend you're all comfortable with. This way, everyone gets a nice gift and no one has to spend much.

    Hannah Williams, Content Editor here at Save the Student, managed to get the family to agree to Secret Santa last Christmas:

    Hannah WilliamsThere were going to be 16 of us on Christmas Day and the thought of the amount of money we'd be spending to buy everyone presents made me feel sick!

    So I suggested we do Secret Santa with a maximum spend of £10. A couple of more traditional family members were a bit harder to persuade, but I think in the end everyone was for it.

    So often you'll end up with a bunch of presents you really don't need or want so it just made so much more sense to do it that way. I reckon we saved at least £100 each.

    If you're looking for the perfect, cheap Secret Santa present, try gifts that cost less than a fiver. A couple of good examples are a framed photo and a jar of their favourite sweets.

  9. Buy cheap gift cards

    It's hard to go wrong with vouchers as presents. And we know some very good ways to buy discounted gift cards.

    eBay is a great place for buying and selling unwanted gift cards, with some going for as much as 20% less than their retail value. If you're a little stuck on what to buy someone, but know they get all their clothes from ASOS, you can get them an ASOS gift card at a fraction of the price.

    CDKeys is another site that often sells gift vouchers at reduced prices. And Tesco sometimes sells discounted gift cards.

    Even if you do know what you want to get for someone, you can still use the gift card trick. Just search for a discounted gift card at a shop you're looking to buy from, use that to buy the gift and voilà! You've saved yourself some money.

  10. Make Christmas presents by hand

    From making snow globes to curating a photo scrapbook, there are loads of homemade present ideas that will cost you very little.

    Even if you're not blessed with a creative flair, there's nothing to stop you from whipping up some simple creations in the kitchen.

    You could bake a huge tray of delicious treats and give them to everyone on your list. If you're stuck for ideas, why not try our chocolate truffle recipe?

  11. Do IOUs and buy gifts in the January sales

    It's no coincidence that shops wait until January to drop their prices.

    Once everyone's spent an arm and a leg buying gifts for all their nearest and dearest, retailers try to trick you into spending in the new year by offering some serious bargains. Just a shame that you can't use these sales to get your Christmas presents...

    Although, there is a way to beat the system! If a friend or family member has asked for something specific, or you're just keen to get them a particular gift, you can always give them an IOU if you can't currently afford it. Then, come the January sales, you can get them the perfect present at a lower price.

    Or, if you're super organised you can buy your gifts in the January sales ready for the following Christmas.

    Our very own Digital Marketing Manager, Lauren Nash, has got this tip down to a T:

    lauren nashEvery year, I shop the January sales for some serious bargains.

    Boots in particular offer a great price reduction on their 3 for 2 gift sets, with an immediate 50% off on Boxing Day, all the way to 90% off by February - March (if there are items still left).

    I've picked up embroidery hoop gift sets for just £1.80 (down from £20), as I found that my Boots student discount also stacked.

    This is a great way to ensure that you can treat your friends and family the following Christmas, without breaking the bank. As long as you've got some space to store the gifts for 11 months!

  12. Get cashback on your Christmas shopping

    Using cashback isn't just a tip for saving money at Christmas. But let's face it, you'll probably be doing more shopping during the festive period than at any other time of the year (other than when your Maintenance Loan comes in, of course).

    When you shop via cashback sites like Quidco and TopCashback, they'll give you back a certain percentage of your total spending. This essentially amounts to a discount on the product. All you have to do is make sure you visit the cashback site first and go through them.

  13. Use loyalty points or supermarket savings schemes

    woman holding red card

    Credit: UfaBizPhoto – Shutterstock

    This tip only works if you've been saving loyalty points for at least a few months. Unless you're already signed up for saving schemes or have a loyalty card, consider this some advice for next year.

    Loads of supermarkets run saving schemes. With them, you save up money to spend at that specific shop. When it's the end of the year, they give you a small bonus of up to 6% on top.

    Of course, there are a couple of drawbacks to taking part in this. For starters, you can't spend your savings anywhere other than the supermarket running the scheme.

    What's more, in the case of Tesco (where the Christmas bonus is just an extension of the Clubcard programme, which requires you to spend at Tesco to get points), it essentially locks you into spending with that supermarket for an extended period.

    Nonetheless, if you're happy to commit your custom to one particular shop, these schemes can be a great way to save money at Christmas. Use the links below to get the full details on each supermarket's Christmas saving scheme.

    Supermarket savings schemes

  14. Give out charity gifts at Christmas

    There's no denying that times are tough for students. But, it's also true that there are plenty of people who are still much worse off.

    Hopefully, you have most of the things you need in your life, and hopefully, your friends do too. Instead of wasting money on something that they'll only use a couple of times, why not make a charitable donation on their behalf?

    Plenty of charities allow you to donate in the form of a gift. Some will even let you do it in the name of someone else, essentially gifting a gift!

    Save the Children, WaterAid, Refuge and Oxfam (plus countless others) all let you buy something essential for those who need it, with some truly worthwhile gifts costing just £5. If Christmas is a time for giving, then this is about as Christmassy as it gets.

We hope you have a very merry (and cheap) Christmas! Good luck with the budgeting.

Check out our homemade Christmas present ideas for some great cheap gift inspiration.

Tom Allingham

WRITTEN BY Tom Allingham

Tom joined Save the Student in 2017, initially heading up the editorial team before becoming Communications Director. He has appeared as a Student Finance expert on a range of TV and radio stations including the BBC, ITV and Sky, sharing his top tips for saving money and cutting student bills.
Read more


Tweet / Instagram DM / Facebook DM / Email