With household budgets squeezed, many families are worried about covering the cost of Christmas this year, and don’t want to take a debt hangover into the new year, writes Rebecca Choules. According to a recent survey from Morrisons, the average family spends an extra £165 in December. But it is possible to cut the expense without cutting out the fun. Follow the tips below to have a festive and frugal Christmas.
1. Pare your present list
Now is the time to sit down with family and friends and broach the subject of presents. Agree with certain friends that you won’t exchange gifts this year, or set a price limit for family presents, particularly those for adults. Alternatively, have a “children only” rule, or set up a Secret Santa. Here you draw names out of a hat so that everyone has to buy only one gift (and then guess who it is from). If a maximum price is set in advance, this can be an effective way of keeping costs.
2. Make the most of vouchers
Hunt around the home for any elusive gift vouchers. According to the Gift Cards & Vouchers Association, 6pc of all gift vouchers go unspent, with £240m a year left languishing in drawers. Make the most of any reward points you’ve earned on loyalty cards, such as Tesco Clubcard, Boots Advantage or Sainsbury’s Nectar. These schemes can be far better value if you convert points into vouchers, rather than cash them in at the till. And most retailers run special promotions in the run-up to Christmas to bump up your points.
3. Switch your supermarket …
Buying the festive food can be an expensive business, so make the most of discount supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl. As well as cut-price party food, these German supermarkets will stock good-quality festive delicacies such as gingerbread treats and stollen. It’s also worth noting that the stores’ Christmas puddings have fared well in taste tests, sometimes beating more expensive brands.
4. … but don’t buy too much
Most hosts will want to put on a plentiful spread, but it’s easy to overestimate the amount that people will tuck away. If you don’t want to waste food – or the money you’ve spent buying it – look at lovefoodhatewaste.com, which has a portion calculator. If you’re catering for a party that’s going to last two hours, it calculates that you’ll need seven party food nibbles per person. It gives examples too, which means you’ll be able to jot down the ingredients on your shopping list easily.
5. Cut the drinks bill
Alcohol often flows freely over the festive period and costs can quickly mount. A good cost comparison website for wine deals is Quaffers’ Offers (quaffersoffers.co.uk). Here you can search through the current offers at supermarkets throughout the country, including specialist wine sellers.
6. Get on eBay
No, not to buy presents – to make room for them! If you’re worried about where you’re going to put your haul, it could be time to decide what has to go. Selling your old things could generate quite a bit of money for the Christmas kitty, but it will require some effort, as you’ll have to photograph the item, list it and ship it. If this sounds like hard work, there are alternatives. Amazon is probably the best choice if you want to sell books; even though there are fees, the profit can add up if you’re selling lots of titles. Local internet forums are worth a look too, as many let you list items for nothing and the chances are that someone in the local area won’t mind coming to pick them up.
7. Get paid to shop
For those who prefer to do their Christmas shopping at home, there are ways to earn cashback from your online purchases. Using a cashback website such as Quidco.com or Topcashback.co.uk is easy: just create an account and use the site to access high street and online retailers. When you buy your gifts you will receive a percentage of the value of your shopping and the cashback will be paid directly into your account.
8. Get designer brands at discount prices
If you know where to look, you don’t have to compromise on your favourite brands when you’re trying to save money. For those who prefer shopping online, there are outlet and clearance stores, often owned by big names such as Marks & Spencer and Next, where you can buy their products but pay a lot less. If you prefer mooching around the shops yourself, outlet villages such as Bicester Village (above) offer more than 100 different designer stores. The products are often available for a fraction of the usual price, although this is usually because they are last season’s stock.
9. Cut postage costs
Father Christmas might have his elves to cut delivery costs, but we mere mortals can also make savings. Discount couriers can be cheaper than Royal Mail, particularly if you are sending larger or heavier items. What’s more, many will pick up from your home so you don’t have to queue at the post office. Interparcel.com typically books delivery slots with companies such as DHL or UPS and sells them on to the public. In many cases you can opt for next-day delivery, ideal for last-minute or urgent parcels. However, this usually isn’t a cost-effective method for packages weighing less than 2kg.
10. Save money on Twitter
Social networking sites are good for keeping in touch with friends, but they can also be used to save money. Type in “money saving” or another frugal term and connect with those who share their cost-cutting tips. Ones to watch are @pennygolightly and @moneymagpie for sales hints and money-saving tips. It’s also worth following big retailers – Amazon, eBay and Debenhams to name a few – as they tweet about the latest deals available on their website or in store.