21 tips to save money and feel on top of your festive finances

We have already covered tips on how to feel less overwhelmed with the planning of Christmas, so let’s turn our attention to one of the biggest stresses at this time of year – money. Research has shown that the majority of us increase our spending by 29% during Christmas – and for many, that can be difficult.

During De-Stress December, our festive challenge, we’re looking at ways we can reduce the festive finance stress and become a bit more mindful with our money at this time of year. Here are some of our top tips including some cheap and free Christmas gift ideas too.

General tips for saving money at Christmas

Let’s start off with some general money-saving tips for the festive season that can help us feel a bit more on top of our finances.

1. Make a budget 

Before we get to saving or spending any money, let’s first think about how much we have to spend! When putting together your budget, be realistic about how much you can actually afford. There’s no point plucking a number out of thin air and hoping that’s affordable for you.

Look at your incomings and outgoings, whether you have any money already saved for Christmas, and whether you have any extras coming in at this time of year (such as Christmas bonuses).

Do the budget first! Don’t write out everything you are planning to buy and then work out how much it’s going to cost. Work out how much you have to spend first and then write your shopping lists.

2. Set expectations

Once you have your budget ready, you’ll know what you realistically have to spend. It’s okay if the purse strings need to be tightened this year (you’re definitely not alone) so make sure you set expectations from the outset.

If you need to cut back this Christmas, then it is worth having a frank and honest discussion with members of your family, your friends, or whoever else you usually buy presents for. Most people are in the same boat and will likely be relieved if you set expectations and/or a limit for gifts and other spending.

3. Ask for gift lists

Once you have laid your budget on the table, reach out and ask friends and family for gift lists that contain a few items within that price point. This gives you a couple of different options to pick from and still leaves the actual gift giving as a surprise!

Don’t get sucked into the mindset of, “Well, they sent over 3 ideas so I best buy all of them!” Remember those expectations you set and the limits you all discussed. You don’t want to be the one going over budget and buying everything on the list, when others have stuck to the budget.

Asking for gift lists also means that you’re not spending money on things people don’t really want and are likely to donate or put in the loft to be forgotten about indefinitely.

4. Reduce how many people you buy for

Are you the kind of person to buy gifts for everyone from the work colleague you met once through to the postman? I’m here to tell you that you can stop doing that! Whilst I’m sure those people appreciate the gifts, they’re definitely not expected.

Write a list of all the people close enough to you to receive presents (immediate family, closest friends) and stick to that list! If you’re going to be seeing lots of family members and friendship groups over the festive season then suggest a Secret Santa instead – more on that in a bit.

5. Mindful spending

Once you know who you’re buying for, what they want, and what your budget is, it’s likely time to go shopping. However, it’s important to remember that shops want you to part with your cash at this time of year so we need to be mindful of what we spend (and what we might be getting sucked into).

Whenever you go to make a purchase, ensure that it’s something on your list and not something you are buying for the sake of it. An example of this is when it comes to special offers that give you money off or free gifts if you spend a certain amount.

Were you going to spend that anyway? Are you filling up your basket just to make the most of the offer? Really think about those offers and whether you’d be spending more than you usually would just to get a free gift. Does it work out more cost effective to not do the offer?

6. Reuse what you can from previous years

If you usually go out and buy all new decorations, table cloths and everything else during the festive season, then don’t! Not only are you wasting money if you already have these sitting in the loft, but it’s no good for the planet either.

I’m also going to let you into a controversial secret – it’s okay to regift (eek). If you received presents from previous years that you’re just not going to use, it’s absolutely fine to wrap them up and gift them to someone else. Just make sure you don’t give them back to whoever gave them to you in the first place!

7. Borrow what you can

Not got enough of something you need? Or perhaps you don’t have any decorations you can use from last year? Ask to borrow what you can instead! Once again, this will both save money and help the planet too.

If you’re hosting Christmas dinner but don’t have enough plates, then ask people to bring a couple with them. If you’re running low on wrapping paper, ask if anyone in your area has any you can use. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need; most people buy in excess at this time of year anyway.

8. DIY what you can

Can’t borrow or reuse? How about getting crafty and making some things yourself! Of course, not everyone has the time (or the crafty skills) to make use of this tip – but if you do, then you’re onto a winner.

Swap tinsel for paper bunting, paint a plain white table cloth to be more festive, forage in the woods for branches you can turn into decorations, make wrapping paper out of scrap cloth, and so much more. 

Pinterest has plenty of wonderful ideas for a DIY Christmas. This also doubles up as a lovely mindful activity you can rope friends and family members in with too.

9. Track all expenses

Being more mindful with your money also means tracking everything you spend, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant it might be. You can download and print our budget tracker here to keep an eye on all the pennies being spent – and I mean all!

Make a note of every single thing you spend money on during the festive season and you’ll feel more on top of your festive finances. Need to run out and buy cranberry sauce at the last minute? Write it down. This will help you keep on top of your budget and avoid getting sucked into any purchases you don’t need.

Christmas dinner on a budget

Are you the one in charge of the Christmas dinner this year? I know just how expensive it can get when you’re the designated chef for the day, so here are some quick ways to bring the costs down:

1. Ask everyone to bring a dish 

Just make sure to coordinate who brings what, so you don’t end up with 500 sprouts on the day. You can ask for specific dishes or ask everyone to bring something off the food shopping list (eg, one person is in charge of vegetables). This can help with both the cost and the stress of Christmas food shopping.

2. Take it back to the basics  

Do you need 14 different sides with Christmas dinner? Probably not! Stick to the basics, whatever that looks like for your family, and don’t go OTT which only really creates food waste anyway. 

3. Use leftovers 

In charge of Boxing Day too? Opt for a bigger version of your main centrepiece (whether that be turkey or a nut roast) and use the leftovers for Boxing Day without cooking a whole new meal that day.

4. Shop around and online

Head to budget supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl to bring the costs down, and keep an eye out for their special offers on festive foods such as vegetables. Just remember to check that the deal really is a deal before filling your basket.

If you can get a slot, try doing your food shop online so you don’t get tempted by the aisles of things you probably don’t need at the supermarket.

5. Go frozen

Frozen vegetables are generally much cheaper than fresh – and normally just as good too! Cut down costs where you can by opting to buy frozen where you can, as long as you have the freezer space.

Save money on Christmas gifts

Now we’ve worked out how to get on top of our festive finances, let’s take a look at some cheap or free gift ideas to help save even more pennies.

1. Use cashback sites

Cashback sites, like TopCashBack and Quidco, are an amazing way to save money on Christmas presents – or even save money for Christmas presents. I use cashback sites whenever I buy anything online over the year, and then withdraw all my earnings to spend on Christmas presents.

However, if you are just getting started with cashback sites then make sure you use them whenever you order something online. Some credit and debit cards also have their own cashback offers when you spend in store.

2. Make gifts

Once again, if you’re feeling crafty then you can always give handmade gifts instead! Pinterest is a great place to look for inspiration and there are nearly 100 different ideas in this article too.

I love giving handmade Christmas gifts as they just feel that much more special. Taking part in De-Stress December? Why not bake some festive soda bread and give that as a gift (I can confirm it’s delicious). 

3. Buy in Boxing Day sales

If you’re not seeing certain friends and family until after Christmas Day, consider buying their gifts in the Boxing Day and January sales instead. Not only will it save you some money, but it means you can spread the cost (and the shopping trips) a little.

Some people even like to buy presents for the next year in Boxing Day and January sales. If you have somewhere safe to store them and they’re non-perishable, this can also really help keep the costs (and stress) down.

4. Secret Santa

This is a go-to way to save money on Christmas presents with my in-laws, as there are just so many family members to buy for otherwise! Instead of buying everyone a present, agree to do a Secret Santa.

Set a budget, use a Secret Santa app to draw the names, and then ask everyone to share their gift lists. In my case, this means buying one present for my Secret Santa instead of 15+! 

6. Charity gifts

Want to save some money and do something good for someone else? Have a look at your favourite charity and see what gift options they have available this year. Most will give you a token gift, such as a pin badge, if you donate.

A lot of people like to do this instead of buying Christmas cards for people too.

7. Homemade vouchers 

Really tight on money this year, but still want to treat people? Why not make some homemade vouchers promising something from you, such as babysitting services or coming round to cook a nice dinner.

As long as you’re not going to overstretch yourself with all your promises, I think this is a really nice (and free) way to give the gift of time over the festive season.

There are so many ways to save some money over the festive season; I would have been here until next Christmas listing them all! However, I hope that these tips have given you some inspiration and have helped ease some of those festive finance stresses.

Remember, the most important part of this time of year is spending time with the people you love… Not money on them.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

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