The festive season gets expensive very quickly, and if you're living on a tight budget, it can feel impossible to do all the things you want to do. Sometimes, you just have to put on the breaks and say no. But there are plenty of ways to stretch your cash to make it go as far as possible. If you're looking to reduce your festive spend, start with these easy tricks.
1. Change Where You Shop For Food
If you have a little time to research, you can make big savings by splitting your food shop across different stores. Multibuy deals, offers, and so on can help to reduce your weekly shopping bill, but you can make even bigger savings if you switch supermarkets entirely. Aldi and Lidl are particularly brilliant during the festive season, when they stock all kinds of brilliant continental treats at low prices (hello, Lebkuchen and Stroopwafels!) as well as cheap own-brand versions of pricey essentials like washing powder and dishwasher tablets. If you simply must buy recognisable brands, Asda will pay you back the difference if your shop would be cheaper at Sainsbury's or Tesco.
2. Use Your Loyalty Points Carefully
A lot of people save up their loyalty card points for festive food shopping trips, and while it is amazing to watch the cost of your shopping drop, you can often make those points go even further if you're clever. Nectar often runs its Double Up deal in the run-up to Christmas, when you can exchange your points for vouchers worth twice the usual value to spend in certain departments. This includes toys, homeware, electricals, entertainment, clothing, seasonal items, and Taste the Difference wine and spirits. So whether you want to buy gifts, decorate the tree, or stock up the drinks cabinet, do it during this time and you'll get twice the value. Tesco Clubcard has a "clubcard boost" program, offering extra value when you use points at partners like Cineworld, Figleaves, and Pizza Express.
3. Set a Present Budget With Friends and Family
Gift-giving does not have to be a game of financial one-upmanship. The best gifts are the most thoughtful, not the most expensive. So agree to set a limit with people you buy for each year, and stick to it. For as little as £5 or £10, you can find (or DIY) some really lovely gifts. Or, even better, just agree to forego gifts entirely this year.
4. Reduce Your Christmas Card List
Some people really enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards, and it's important to show them that you care. You can also help charities by purchasing their cards each year. But if money is tight, buying, writing, and posting dozens (if not hundreds) of cards is something to consider cutting down on, especially as most of them just end up in the recycling bin once we hit January. Firing off an e-card or Facebook message isn't quite so festive, but for many people it's just as effective. If you're tech-minded, try building a Christmas website filled with news and photos from the year for your friends and family to see. If you are seeing people over Christmas (or if they live within walking distance), wish them a Merry Christmas in person instead. Surely a hug is just as good as a piece of cardboard?
5. Cut Down on Unnecessary Festive Food and Drink
We've heard tales of people who cook Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day even though nobody in the family eats them, of families who buy cranberry sauce but never open the jar . . . and how many of us have a half-empty and out-of-date bottle of Baileys or Tia Maria lurking in the back of a cupboard from last Christmas? Wasting food is not only expensive but also incredibly bad for the environment. Don't feel obliged to follow every tradition just because it's Christmas. If everyone in the family thinks chicken is better than turkey, why buy an expensive bird you won't enjoy? Do you really need that second tin of Quality Street just because it's on offer? We're all guilty of overeating during the festive season, and it's all part of the fun, but don't let all those deals, offers, and traditions encourage you into buying stuff you don't need. If you do accidentally buy anything you don't need, donate it to a food bank as soon as you can to help those who're truly struggling this Christmas.
6. Start Stocking Up Now
Shops and supermarkets will do anything to get your custom, and that includes all manner of great deals during November and the first weeks of December. This is prime time for online vouchers, friends-and-family discounts, coupons, and discount codes. Sign up for every email newsletter you can, and make sure you have reward cards for all your favourite shops. Perishable items will obviously have to wait until the days before Christmas Eve, but everything else can be purchased ahead of time (just make sure to find a good hiding place if you have kids). Ideally, you can then spread your festive buys over multiple paychecks, and you can take advantage of great deals on clothes, toys, drinks, and long-life food items that can be stored away until needed. As well as many offers and sales, two particularly big events happen ahead of Christmas: "Singles Day" on 11 Nov. (a great time to buy from Chinese retailers) and Black Friday and cyber weekend, at the end of the month.
7. Never Underestimate the Power of the Pound Shop
If you're smart about it, you can decorate your Christmas tree for about £10 by shopping for decorations at Poundland or the 99p Store. During the festive season, these shops are a goldmine of great decorations, affordable gifts, beauty buys, and even food and drink. "Pound shop hampers" are a great gift for people who're tricky to buy for.
If you have siblings, cousins, colleagues, or friends and you're all buying for the same person, consider going in on one gift instead of all buying small things. Not only will you save money, but you can also probably buy the recipient something a bit more special, even if you're all limited when it comes to funds. Encourage people to do the same for you, too, so this becomes a habit over the years.
9. Don't Be Afraid to Say No
The festive season often means lots of social events, and all those dinners, drinks, and nights out can get very expensive. While you want to honour your friendships and catch up with people, it's important to remember that you don't have to end up in credit card debt to do it. Chances are most people are in a similar boat as you, so don't be afraid to suggest catching up in a more frugal way. Instead of a night at the pub, try a coffee or a walk in the park. Instead of a dinner out, how about a pot-luck buffet at someone's house? Good friends will understand that you don't have the cash to buy endless rounds or three-course dinners.
10. Celebrate Late
OK, this one's extreme, but if you're really trying to save money and you're not religious, try celebrating later than usual. Push your big Christmas dinner back a few days and you can take advantage of all kinds of reduced food and drink items, plus you can buy gifts in the Boxing Day sales. On top of this, if you work a job where people are required to work on 25 Dec., you can be the one to make double or triple pay. Needless to say, this is perhaps an idea for adult-only households (unless you have very understanding kids)!