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Tips for a (Slightly) Cheaper Christmas!

Cathy is a writer/broadcaster based in Jersey, Channel Islands (Great Britain). Author (so far) of four books & a radio presenter/producer!

At this time of the year the shops of full of things to entice us - but can we afford them, and do we need them?

At this time of the year the shops of full of things to entice us - but can we afford them, and do we need them?

Christmas! It might be months away, but if the thought of how much it's going to cost is already making you anxious, there are ways that you can keep down the cost.

While many of us try to keep Christmas simple—after all, the true meaning of the season is the birth of Christ story, peace, love and goodwill to all men—there’s no doubting that we also like to keep certain traditions, give nice gifts, spoil our families and make our celebrations special. And that can all amount to huge bills!

I’m no Grinch. I’m certainly not suggesting scrapping Christmas or making it so meagre that the family will hardly recognise that the season has come and gone. But I'd suggest there are a few things we can do to help ease the pain of what can be a tremendously expensive and stressful time of year so that the festive period really is one of peace and love, and not pain and anguish.

So here are a few tips for a (slightly) cheaper Christmas, some of which you may already employ and others which are simply ideas for ensuring a more thrifty festive season. There are a few which, on the surface, might appear a little silly and even obsessive, but I hope they might raise a smile as you consider your credit card bill!

Christmas Cheer and those gifts around the tree can come at a cost. Don't leave your shopping until the Christmas trees appear!

Christmas Cheer and those gifts around the tree can come at a cost. Don't leave your shopping until the Christmas trees appear!

Tip # 1: Start Early

One of the problems about the festive season is that the cost is focused around a couple of months of the year.

Come October or November (in the UK it's even earlier—Christmas cards have been spotted in August!) the shops start to fill up with Christmas fare, commercials on the TV promise the kids all kinds of (costly) goodies, the pressure mounts and we get swept up in the 'magic' that is Christmas buying and selling.

And no matter how well we think we have prepared, how many of us rush out to the shops in a mad Christmas Eve panic, emptying our pocketbooks on a few (usually very expensive) 'essentials'? I’m not saying we should completely abandon the thrill of Christmas shopping, but buying early can certainly help relieve the stress on the bank balance.

Spread the Cost

Why not spread out the cost of Christmas gifts and items across the year?

If I see something for sale in March which I think will be a perfect gift for Christmas, I buy it. Even better if it’s ‘on sale’. You do have to remember what you've bought, for whom, and where you've stored the gifts, but with a little organisation, you'll find that comes easy.

Christmas markets are great fun ... but probably not the best place to do your bulk festive and last minute shopping. However, they are fantastic for lovely 'extras' to make Christmas special!

Christmas markets are great fun ... but probably not the best place to do your bulk festive and last minute shopping. However, they are fantastic for lovely 'extras' to make Christmas special!

Get Organised

  • Store the gifts somewhere safe but obvious, so you're not rummaging through cupboards the first week of December, desperately trying to find the presents you know you bought in the January sales but can't quite put your finger on.
  • Empty out an old suitcase or trunk, or a bottom drawer of a bureau and store the items carefully.
  • If you know the gift will be perfect for a particular person, as soon as you get it home, pin or stick a note on it with the name of the person it’s intended for. Or, even better, keep a list and ensure you keep the list in the safe storage space along with the presents.
  • Keep adding to your personal 'gift store' throughout the year and you’ll be surprised how many gifts you have come mid-December. This is great for the little ‘stocking fillers’ which many of us like to give. Sometimes lots of little items are as much fun as one big gift!

An added benefit to this organised forethought is that you also have a store of gifts available should you suddenly find you've forgotten someone's birthday at another time of year. I usually review the gift store around the end of October, just to see what I have and what I’ve still to buy. This means I still have an opportunity to get gifts before the Christmas rush.

Note: If you are buying gift items like watches or electronic goods early, be aware that any 'guarantees' will run from the day of purchase. So if you buy someone a watch with a year's guarantee in April, by December the warranty won't have long to run. My suggestion: ensure the warranty or guarantee runs for at least 2 years!

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A lovely friend made me a fantastic Christmas cake last year - what a very special gift!

A lovely friend made me a fantastic Christmas cake last year - what a very special gift!

A basketful of homemade mini muffins, or sweets, or preserves makes a perfect gift anytime of year...for Christmas versions line the basket/hamper with Christmas themed tissue paper! Add bows! Have fun!

A basketful of homemade mini muffins, or sweets, or preserves makes a perfect gift anytime of year...for Christmas versions line the basket/hamper with Christmas themed tissue paper! Add bows! Have fun!

Tip # 2: Make or Grow Your Own

This might sound bizarre but you can grow things for Christmas. In the 'olden days' many people would grow their own fruit and vegetables, and make their own jams, preserves, and pickles. Again, this takes some planning.

Give Plants, Jam or Marmalade as Gifts

I know people who give plants for Christmas; if you're green fingered, you might want to grow your own plants, pot them up in pretty and inexpensive containers, wrap a big bow around the pot, and hey presto—a very special gift!

Imagine a lovely pot of homemade jelly as a gift for a friend! Or a selection of jams and marmalades in a beautifully decorated box or basket? These days, with freezers, you can store produce and make the jams and preserves near to Christmas, or make them earlier to get a head start.

Homemade preserves, cookies, or sweets make a lovely personal gift. And for older people who already have amassed a lifetime of socks and toiletries, such a gift will be very special. Long after the family have all returned home, they will spread their homemade jelly on their morning toast, and think of you and remember the good times spent over the festive period!

Grow Food for the Christmas Table

In warmer climates where the ground is not rock solid with ice and snow at Christmastime, there's an opportunity to grow your own vegetables for the Christmas meal. If you are a gardener living in colder climates and you have a veg patch, don't forget to freeze produce in the autumn for your Christmas table.

When I was a child growing up in rural Africa, we raised chickens and pigs for the Christmas table (and the rest of the year) although we had a disaster once with a turkey, because in the time it took to grow and fatten the bird, us kids (and I suspect my Dad) had fallen in love with it. It became a pet and died of old age and never did get eaten.

Raise Your Own Christmas Tree

As for Christmas trees, I've heard tell that some people grow their own. You can buy a tree with healthy roots, and then if you've potted and watered and cared for it carefully through the festive season and it's still alive after 12th Night, why not try to re-plant it in the garden? You may just find you can use it again the following year, and even the year after that. It could become a family tradition, until it gets too big to fit through the door! Sounds crazy? Perhaps!

Note: I'm horticulturally challenged and have no garden to speak of, so if you decide to try this and it works, please let me know!

Even when Christmas comes with ice and snow, produce from your garden which you've stored in the deep freeze in Fall can grace your Christmas table - and save you money

Even when Christmas comes with ice and snow, produce from your garden which you've stored in the deep freeze in Fall can grace your Christmas table - and save you money

Tip # 3: Save and Reuse

Okay, so this is where you might think I'm mad bonkers, but really, saving and reusing is a very good thing!

Save Wrapping Paper

How many times have you received a gift and just ripped off the gorgeous paper and bow which someone (or a store clerk) spent hours wrapping with love? How many times have you bought really expensive paper and bows only to throw them out with the rubbish on Christmas evening?

Have you ever thought about saving some of the larger sheets of paper, and 'recycling' them?

This does mean you can't just rip away with abandon, but have to carefully unstick the paper and then fold neatly. But especially for those smaller gifts next year, so long as the paper doesn't obviously look like it's been ripped off another present and doesn't have someone else's name on it, this can be a solution to excessive purchases of expensive wrapping paper.

I wouldn't suggest you impose this regulation on the whole family—it destroys the joy of seeing a young child ripping their gifts apart—but you can always save the paper and bows from your own presents. And if you really need to go through the Christmas discards before they reach the trashcan, make sure you do it quietly and unobserved!

Tip: If you've never ironed old wrapping paper, just a little warning—don't put the hot iron directly onto the paper but, rather, put a clean dry cloth over the paper before you press with a very cool iron. Additional warning: be extra careful when ironing metallic-type papers—you can end up with a nasty mess on the base of your iron!

Save Bows, Ribbon, and String

I love to gift wrap— it's part of the pleasure of present giving for me. Hours spent wrapping the gift, choosing the bows and coloured strings, selecting (or making) the gift tags.

Bows and ribbon just thrown in the trash is, for me, a travesty. Save them and re-use. Iron the ribbon and use it again, not only for your next gift wrapping experience (Christmas or otherwise) but also, if you are a 'crafty crafter', the odd bit of Christmas ribbon comes in handy for your projects.

I also save all the little ribbons which sometimes garland the Christmas crackers which we put on our Christmas table. I re-use them for my card making throughout the year. My family think it's hilarious but usually all chip in to ensure that I go away with a handful or two of lovely (short) ribbons! It's become something of a Christmas tradition. Everyone laughs but ....who cares? I'm laughing all the way to the bank!

An exquisite little china cup - found in a charity shop - may be the perfect gift for someone who collects porcelain. This mug features a nursery rhyme theme and might also be ideal for a unique Christening gift!

An exquisite little china cup - found in a charity shop - may be the perfect gift for someone who collects porcelain. This mug features a nursery rhyme theme and might also be ideal for a unique Christening gift!

Tip # 4: Thrift Stores Rule!

Christmas bargains galore are available at thrift stores and charity shops! If you think these shops are full of old tat then think again. One person's 'junk' is another person's treasure. You might have to rummage a bit but there are gems to be found in charity shops and reclamation stores.

Unwanted Christmas Gifts

Okay, hands up anyone who's never received a gift and thought 'What on Earth.....?'

What do you do with those gifts...? Thank the giver, of course. Smile, naturally. Then put them away, store them in the attic and never think of them again until you're having your Spring Clean or you move into your retirement home?

Believe it or not, some people give those unused/unwanted Christmas gifts to thrift stores and charity shops. Most people won't get rid of a Christmas gift immediately but if they really don't want it, this 'spare' present is likely to be on the thrift store shelf by the time they've done their spring clearout. So the message is—be eagle eyed in the months after Christmas.

I've picked up toiletries this way—still packed and perfect, unsealed and unused. They go in my 'gifts trunk'! (see Tip # 1) I've found brand new jewelry, scarves, little ornaments and even new books.

Do I have any qualms about giving someone a gift I found in a charity shop? Absolutely not! It's the thought that counts. So long as the item is in perfect condition I'm happy to give it as a gift. In the meantime, I'm donating to charity so I'm also helping someone else, all in the one purchase. Perfect!

In addition, your rummaging through thrift stores and old book shops can be done across the year and in your travels you may also find some excellent 'antique' gifts for those of your loved ones and friends who you know love 'old stuff'.

It might be an old copy of a book which you know your Grandpa loves, or a beautiful porcelain cup and saucer for your Aunt who loves old china. Gifts like these show that you've not only thought about the gift, but gone out of your way to seek out something special. They won't care if you've found it in a flea market - so long as it doesn't have fleas.

Might 'You Know Who'  decide that gifts from a Thrift Store/online shop will do just as well in a little stocking?

Might 'You Know Who' decide that gifts from a Thrift Store/online shop will do just as well in a little stocking?

Tip #5 Buy Online

This is a no brainer, isn't it?

There are so many sales sites online, in many instances you can find goods cheaper on the internet than in many stores. And, of course, you can 'shop' from the comfort of your armchair, without spending money on petrol/gas, parking fees and all the other 'extras' that might drain your purse when you venture out to the Mall - unexpected purchases, lunch and numerous cups of refreshing coffee!

Shopping Online

Many stores have website sales, and there are also those sites which only sell online or have 'web catalogues'. These purchases can be made across the year, and the gifts added to your Christmas stash/hoard.

Buying online can be a little risky, especially if you are one of those people (like me) who likes to touch and feel their purchases before they hand over hard-earned cash. So ensure the website concerned has a 'refunds' or 'returns' policy - just in case, when you receive the item in the mail, it isn't quite what you had hoped for.

In addition, ensure to factor in the cost of package and postage. These additional costs might negate the savings you make by purchasing online.

Buy/Sell Sites

Many people reguarly use sites like e-Bay not only to sell items (like unwanted Christmas gifts - see Tip #4) but also to buy. Why not purchase some of your Christmas gifts from such sites?

But again, be aware of the returns options and package and postage costs.

Shopping Channels

Some of the TV shopping channels offer great deals across the year—buying early is my suggestion. Beware not to get sucked into the vortex of 'Christmas shopping specials' which start around July. Only buy if you know you're getting a good bargain, you can return the item if it's not what you want or expected, and you know what you're going to do with it.

Don't end up with a drawer full of random pieces of jewelry, or porcelain dolls, or vases and homeware which looked great in the early hours of a Saturday morning in May but are just hideous and not even fit for the shelves of your local charity shop!