How to do Christmas on a budget
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.
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.
Christmas money-saving tips
These are the best ways to do Christmas on a budget:
Make a Christmas budget
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spend less on your Christmas dinner
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 £2.50 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.
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.
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.
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.
Buy cheap gift cards on eBay
It's hard to go wrong with gift cards as presents. And, we know one very good way of buying them for cheaper prices.
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.
Even if you do know what you want to get for someone, you can still use the gift card trick. Just search through eBay for a gift card at the shop you're looking to buy from, use that to buy the gift and voilà! You've saved yourself some money.
Make Christmas presents by hand
From making your own snow globes to curating a photo scrapbook, there are tonnes 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?
Do IOUs and buy gifts in the Boxing Day 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.
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.
Use loyalty points or supermarket savings schemes
This tip only works if you've been saving loyalty points for at least a few months. Unless you're already signed up to 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
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.