By Jack Sheppard - Last updated:
The adverts are starting, the songs are being played on the radio and the lights are being switched on- it's clear that Christmas is just around the corner! Whilst for many, this is a time for joy, it can also be a nightmarish season when you think about the effect it will have on your January bank balance. Christmas doesn't have to be a painful experience though, and by following the money saving tips below, you can ensure that you have a cheap, stress-free and most importantly, enjoyable Christmas!
Before doing anything, you need to think about how much you actually have to spend. The average cost of Christmas per family varies between £500 and £1000, including food, presents, travel and decorations etc. The best way to ensure you can afford what you need to spend over Christmas is to save a little every month.
Many online budget planners allow you to input your yearly income and expenditures, and will work out how much you can afford to save each month. If this is the first time you’ve thought about Christmas this year though, it’s obviously too late for that.
Nevertheless you should still write down everything you need to spend money on over the festive season, how much you are willing to spend on them, and ensure you don’t go over budget. Then by following some of these other cost-cutting tips, your Christmas will not just be on, but possibly even under-budget!
Presents are obviously one of the best bits about Christmas; however, they can also be one of the most expensive. Instead of buying presents for every friend and family member, no matter how well you know them or how often you see them, you could only buy presents for your immediate family and then make arrangements with others to skip the gift giving this year.
Alternatively, you can arrange to do a Secret Santa. That way everyone gets a present, but you’re still massively cutting costs by only buying one present instead of several. If someone you know does insist on getting a present for everyone, however, you could always make something yourself. There are hundreds of instructions online for homemade cards, candles, soap and even glassware, at just a fraction of their in store prices, and it can be a great activity to get your kids involved with too!
Rail operators usually release train tickets up to 12 weeks before the date of travel, and they often get more expensive every day in the final weeks before Christmas, so if you plan to travel by train over the holiday season, you should buy your ticket as soon as possible! If you missed out on cheap tickets, however, there are many other ways to get money off your travel, like splitting your ticket.
For example, the cheapest London-Durham return ticket cost is £301, however, all trains on that route stop at York, so if you split your ticket into singles, from London-York and then York-Durham, the cost is reduced to £82, saving £219! It's unlikely that travelling by train will be the cheaper option, however, and although it may not be as comfortable, travelling by coach is often better value for money! The same return journey on National Express costs just £50 when booked in advance, giving you an additional saving of £32!
During a recent TV survey, over half of people asked said they preferred a cheaper turkey over a more expensive one when taking part in a blind taste test. Although it can be tempting to go all out over Christmas and constantly get the more expensive food, this survey shows that it’s unlikely to taste much better, and you’re only paying for the name on the packet.
Likewise, you should also pay attention to where you shop. Everyone knows that discount chains like Aldi and Lidl are a lot cheaper than their competitors, but they also often come on top in supermarket taste tests, as they shy away from selling named brands, but still sell high-quality produce.
Another way to ensure you get the best deal is to shop around and buy your food from multiple places. Last year, a family managed to feed eight people for £2.66 per person, by shopping around for the cheapest food. Obviously no one’s going to go racing between shops to find the best deal, but you don’t need to! Mysupermarket.co.uk compares the prices of the UK’s top 15 supermarkets, and you’ll be surprised by the amount you could save!
Another big problem at Christmas is overbuying and then wasting food, however, this doesn’t have to be a big issue. Lovefoodhatewaste.com has a portion calculator which will work out how much food you’ll need to buy per person. Although it’s better to be without leftovers, if there are any, ensure to reuse them- there are hundreds of recipe ideas online for your Christmas leftovers!
If you sign up to cashback sites, such as Quidco.com, and then click through and buy something from another website, the cash back service get paid for your traffic and will, in turn, transfer some of the money directly into your bank account. Many High Street and online retailers can be accessed via these sites. However, don’t let these sites decide what you buy, hunt for the cheapest deal and then see if cashback is available.
If you’re sending Christmas cards or parcels via Royal Mail, ensure you send them before the last posting date. Those dates for Christmas 2017 are 20th December for second class, 21st December for first class, and the 22nd December for Special Delivery post.
If you’re sending a parcel that weighs more than 2kg, you could be better off sending it using a discount courier. These couriers will often pick up your parcel directly from your home, and they also often offer next day delivery for last minute or urgent packages. However, it's unlikely to be cost effective for anything weighing less than 2kg.
Online retailers won’t always be the cheapest, however, there are many things you can do while shopping online to ensure that you get the best deals. Online comparisons sites, such as Pricerunner.co.uk compare the prices of goods across hundreds of different websites, and camelcamelcamel.com shows the price history of an item on Amazon, allowing you to see if a product is being sold at its cheapest price.
Although they don’t advertise it, Amazon also regularly discounts their products. To find out which products have been discounted, choose a particular department on Amazon.co.uk, and then search by percentage discounted. Elsewhere on the web, you can often find discount codes to get money off your purchases.
Simply Google “discount codes” and you’ll find hundreds of different sites with various offers on some of the best online and High Street retailers. If you use Google Chrome, you can also download the add-in “Honey” which will scan the web for discounts on whatever website you are looking at.
If you’re a bit strapped for cash, you could also consider selling things you no longer want on eBay. This does require some effort as you need to photograph, list and ship it, but there other sites, such as Gumtree, which allows for more flexibility when it comes to selling. Amazon is also often better if you wish to sell books or other less expensive items, despite the fact that there are fees involved.
There are also tonnes of other options when it comes to selling online, and it’s never been easier to do- there are many online forums that allow you to sell your goods, and Facebook is quickly becoming one of the most popular places to advertise and sell online.
Black Friday has been a tradition in this country for several years now, and this year it falls on the 24th November. Although the shops will be packed all day, it could be worth it if you’re considering buying high priced items like TVs and tablets, as many stores will reduce these items by as much as 70%.
Many retailers will often put their offers online too, so you won’t need to brave the crowds; however, they’re often very limited in number, so you’ll need to be quick to ensure you get the best deals. As ever though, make sure you don’t get caught up in the hype of the sales by planning what you’re going to buy beforehand and ensuring that you don’t get seduced by the prices!
One of the biggest expenses over Christmas can be trying to keep your kids entertained and happy during the two weeks they’re off school. The “Hoop” app, on the iTunes and Android stores list a number of free activities available in your local area that should keep the kids happy for a few hours.
Your children can also send their Christmas lists to Santa and get a free reply by sending their letters to Father Christmas/Santa’s Grotto/Reindeerland/ XM4 5HQ. Letters need to be sent by the 8th December to ensure a reply from Santa! You can also make Christmas Eve a little more exciting for your kids for free by going onto noradsanta.org and tracking Santa’s progress as he delivers presents around the world.
This piece of advice obviously comes too late for this Christmas; however, to ensure that next Christmas remains as stress free as possible, shopping during the January Sales is one of the best ways to save money! After Christmas, things like declarations, cards, and gift wrap are sold off at just a fraction of their retail price.
Although thinking about next Christmas is probably the last thing you want to do after the big day, a recent survey shows that 63% of people stock up for Christmas during the sales. You could also buy clothing and other presents in the January sales, or at other times of the year, to save yourself a last minute gift-buying panic!