Christmas on a budget: how to save on gifts, decorations and food
The YourHomeStyle team share money-saving tips to enjoy Christmas without breaking the bank. From foliage decorations to pot-luck Christmas dinner, check out our ideas...
Christmas is the season of joy and goodwill - but if you're on a tight budget, it can also be a stressful time. And with the cost of living on the rise, this year most of us will be trying to keep our spending under control.
Luckily, there are so many ingenious ways to embrace the festive season without breaking the bank. In our guide to enjoying Christmas on a budget, we'll share tips on planning your Christmas spending, as well as ideas on how to save money on decorations, gifts and food without losing an ounce of sparkle. In fact, we think some of our budget-friendly ideas will only add to the magic, as they're not just about cutting costs - they're also about making special memories and having fun with loved ones.
How to make a Christmas budget
It helps to have things written down, so make some lists - one for the people you need to buy presents for, and another for the Christmas food and essentials. You can use classic pen and paper, a computer spreadsheet, or an app - whichever method works for you and makes you feel more in control.
To avoid the worry of overspending, work out how much money you can realistically spend on Christmas as a whole, then allocate some for food, décor and so on, then use the rest for gifts, setting a limit for each person. Budgeting apps will help you keep track.
If you're keen to get a head start on saving for next Christmas, consider opening a separate savings account just for Christmas, or joining a dedicated Christmas savings club - more on those below.
How do Christmas Savings Clubs work?
Christmas savings clubs are schemes that you pay regular amounts into throughout the year. The main savings clubs are Park Christmas Savings and Variety Christmas Savings Club for gift cards and vouchers, and BilCo Direct for hampers and toys.
At the end of the year, your money gets converted into gift cards and vouchers, which you can use to buy your presents. There’s a good range available, from Asda and Amazon to Primark, Marks & Spencer, JD Sports and more. You usually need to choose what stores you’d like to buy gift cards for when you sign up, so you’ll need a rough idea of what gifts you’re likely to buy to begin with.
Clubs usually let you choose how much and how often you pay as well as offering different ways to pay, including direct debit, standing order, online payment or via an app, as well as at your bank, at a post office, by post or at any PayPoint outlet.
The drawback is that you won’t earn any interest on the money you pay in, unlike with a bank or building society, and if the club goes bust you may not get anything back, as not all clubs are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Check the terms and conditions of each club for more information.
Also, be aware that if you decide to leave the club before the end of the scheme, you may have to pay a cancellation fee to get your money back. This will usually be a percentage of the total value you’ve paid in.
To get the most out of savings clubs it’s best to join up at the start of the year, so plan for January or February 2023 now. Some clubs will start signing up new members for Christmas 2023 in late November 2022.
Budget-friendly Christmas decoration ideas
'With a little imagination and some help from Mother Nature, you can decorate your home for Christmas so it looks magical without costing a fortune,' she says.
'On winter walks, start foraging for natural decorations that you can use for the festive season. For example, twigs can be tied together with twine and transformed into wooden stars, while branches look stylish when placed in a vase and adorned with baubles and tinsel. Pine cones can be hung on your Christmas tree like baubles or used as simple name place settings.
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'Alternatively, go bold by making a flower cloud from twigs and branches to go above your dining table, and then twist fairy lights around it to finish the look. Adding natural touches to your home is a chic but inexpensive way to bring the colours of the season into your Christmas décor.'
Four easy Christmas crafts using natural foliage
Preloved decorations are budget-friendly and kind to the planet, too. Visit local charity shops or check out Facebook Marketplace and Freecycle for bargains, and ask family and friends if they are looking to offload any of their older decorations.
And don't forget to make the most of what you do have. If you have a handful of spare baubles, for instance, you could tie them to a length of ribbon or yarn to create a gorgeous garland that will be an instant talking point.
Take it a step further by digging out leftover birthday party decorations, such as confetti, bunting and paper honeycomb baubles - you can reuse them to create a fun look, adding a seasonal touch with paint or glitter in festive colours if needed. You could even turn leftover lengths of wrapping paper into a stunning table runner.
And for long-term savings, consider swapping your artificial Christmas tree or felled fir for a potted Christmas tree. Relocate it outside when celebrations are over, then put it on display indoors for Christmases to come. Bonus points for being eco-friendly!
Where to find cheap Christmas gifts
Once kids, grandchildren and uncles and aunts starting coming into the equation, the number of presents to buy can become overwhelming. A Secret Santa for the adults in your family is a great way to lighten the load, saving both time and money. You can assign Secret Santas using an app, website, or simply the old-fashioned 'names in a hat' method. Make sure you agree on a present budget beforehand - we've got a round-up of secret santa gifts under £10, and our YourHomeStyle Christmas gift guide is sorted into handy price ranges, with gifts from as little as £7.99.
You could also add a novelty element such as only gifting handmade items, or restricting your gifts to charity shop finds - people love to get competitive to find the perfect bargain buy!
If you'll be shopping online this year, cut down on costs by looking for shops that offer free home delivery or collection in-store. Here are a few to get you started (all correct at the time of writing):
Online shops offering free Click & Collect or free delivery
- Matalan - free Click & Collect on all orders, and free home delivery for orders over £40
- John Lewis - free Click & Collect on orders over £30 (otherwise £2). Free home delivery on orders over £50.
- Dunelm - free Click & Collect (same day available)
- George Home - free Click & Collect on all orders
- M&S - free Click & Collect on home, beauty and clothing. Free home delivery on orders over £50
- Amazon - free Click & Collect on eligible items, pick up from Amazon Lockers or particpating stores.
- Urban Outfitters - free Click & Collect on all orders. Free home delivery on orders over £35.
- Anthropologie - free Click & Collect
- IKEA - free Click & Collect on all orders.
- Next - free Click & Collect, same or next-day available.
If you have the time and inclination, handmade gifts can be cost-effective as well as therapeutic to make. If your gift list is long, choose something you can make in bulk and wrap in a pretty way, such as clay tree decorations, scented candles, or a foodie gift like chocolate truffles or chutney. Why not check out our Craft section, where you'll find simple step-by-step tutorials for a range of cute makes.
Christmas dinner on a budget
By planning ahead and buying non-perishable goods in advance, you can space out your festive food spending and avoid a single big, expensive shop - plus, you'll be spared the crowds and empty shelves of supermarkets right before Christmas! Make a list of cupboard essentials and festive extras you know you’ll need. If you have freezer space, you might want to order your turkey now, too. And remember - offers can seem tempting, but if you're on a tight budget, only look for deals on items that are already on your shopping list.
When it comes to cooking Christmas dinner, we're all guilty of buying more than we need, but with these helpful tips you can avoid having to eat leftovers for weeks - and have a bit more money left in your pocket:
- As a rough guide, allow 150g-200g of meat for each guest. Budget 200g for big eaters or if you want some leftovers for Boxing Day. A 2-2.5kg turkey crown or 3-4.5kg bird will be enough for six. Having extended family over too? A 6-6.5kg turkey will feed 12-15 people.
- When it comes to trimmings, allow a few pigs in blankets per person and a couple of stuffing balls (you can adjust depending on your guests' preferences). When you're buying veg, keep in mind you'll want around 80g each of carrots, parsnips and sprouts per person. Allow around 120ml of gravy per person and for the all-important roasties, prepare about 225g-250g potatoes for each guest.
- Don’t forget to take children into account – allow roughly two-thirds of an adult portion for kids aged between five and 10.
- It’s better to buy fewer types of cheese, but larger pieces – this will prevent them drying out and make them last longer. Aim to have three to four types of cheese: a hard cheese, such as Cheddar; a soft option, perhaps brie; a blue cheese – for example, Stilton; and then add a show-stopper if you want something a little bit special. Allow around 100g-150g of cheese per person.
When you're hosting the whole family or a big group of friends, Christmas dinner costs can quickly multiply. Why not have everyone bring a dish to contribute, instead? For instance, one guest could provide a tray of pigs in blankets, others could bring a couple of pudding options - not only will a "pot luck" style meal cut your costs, it's also fun to get everybody involved.
Alcohol can be another significant expense - don't be afraid to have a BYOB policy for drinks as well. You could even have a cocktail theme, where everyone brings the ingredients to make a festive punch to share - check out some of our favourite Christmas cocktail recipes for ideas.
Feeling inspired? Don't forget to take a look at our pick of the best Christmas trends for 2022, so you can get ahead of the decorating curve and impress your loved ones.
Poppy Benner is a Bristol-based freelance writer and production editor, specialising in interiors.