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Student Budgeting

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.

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 major dent it puts in our bank balance.

Some people may think Christmas is all about spending thousands on amazing presents, decorations and food, but thanks to the older generation leaving us utterly financially crippled, young people and students are starting to buck 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, 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

    words help me I am poor written over image of woman on plane

    Credit: Universal Pictures

    There's a reason that this is our number one way to do Christmas on a budget – it might be painful, but take a good look at 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 (taking into consideration your usual expenses) and base your festive plans on that.

    If you're in need of some 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 too – 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 that features in your ideal festive fantasy. So, grab yourself a pen and paper and start thinking about what's really important to you this year.

    It's a sad fact of life that you won't be able to buy a present for everyone you know, or be able to afford to go to every Christmas night out you've been invited to, but once you've worked out exactly what you want to get at Christmas, you can start thinking about how to make it work.

  3. Beware of Christmas 'deals'

    With festive joy arriving in shedloads to shops everywhere, it can be tempting to get sucked in by "special offers" and "unmissable deals" that you have absolutely no use for whatsoever.

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

    That's not to say that there aren't some amazing deals out there, though – you can find some legit money savers over in our deals section.

  4. 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, and 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 but helpfully lets you enter the Amazon URL of a product and see how its price has changed over time on the site.

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

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

  5. Spend less on your Christmas dinner

    christmas dinner spread with turkey

    Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without a ridiculously excessive meal with foods that, for whatever reason, we don't allow ourselves to eat at any other time of the year (seriously, there's got to be a market for pigs in blankets beyond December?!).

    The only problem is, it's a little expensive to have turkey and all the trimmings... or is it? It turns out that it's possible to have the full Christmas spread for as little as £2 per head!

    You heard us right. That's turkey with potatoes, carrots, peas, Yorkshire puddings and gravy, for just a tad more than a takeaway coffee.

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

  6. 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). The key to ensuring you retain the festive spirit without launching into serious Christmas debt is to suggest doing Secret Santa instead.

    In case you've not come across Secret Santa before, it basically involves putting names into a hat and 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 is left bankrupt.

    If you're looking for the perfect, cheap Secret Santa present, have a look at this list of gift ideas that cost less than a fiver.

  7. Buy cheap gift cards on eBay

    gift card vouchers

    Credit: Tana888 – Shutterstock

    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. So, if you're a little stuck on what to buy someone, but know they get all their clothes from, say, ASOS, you can get them an ASOS gift card at a fraction of the price.

    In fact, 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.

  8. Make Christmas presents by hand

    From making your own snowglobes to curating a photo scrapbook, there are tonnes of homemade present ideas that'll cost you almost nothing.

    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 can kill a lot of birds with one stone by baking a huge tray of delicious [insert tasty treat here] and giving them to everyone on your list. If you're stuck for ideas, why not try our chocolate truffle recipe?

  9. 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, eh?

    Well, 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 the perfect price!

  10. Get cashback on your Christmas shopping

    This 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 off the product, and all you have to do is make sure you visit the cashback site first and go through them.

    Nowadays, Quidco even offer cashback at selected high street stores, meaning you don't have to stick to doing your Christmas shopping online to take advantage of this money-saving hack.

  11. Use loyalty points or supermarket savings schemes

    woman holding red card

    Credit: UfaBizPhoto – Shutterstock

    This tip only really works if you've been saving loyalty points for at least a few months. So, 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 whereby you save up money to spend at that specific shop and then, come 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 of time.

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

    Supermarket savings schemes

    • Asda (bonus of up to around 5%)
    • Co-op (bonus of up to around 4%)
    • Iceland (bonus of up to 5%)
    • Morrisons (bonus of up to 3%)
    • Tesco (bonus of up to 6%).
  12. 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, much worse off.

    Hopefully, you have most of the things you need in your life – and fingers crossed your friends do too. So, 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, and 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 allow you to buy something essential for those who really 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.

  13. Agree not to buy Christmas presents this year

    It sounds corny, but it's true: if your friends or family really 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), and 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.

    What better gift is there than one less thing to worry about?

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.


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