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toddler enjoying christmas dinner, wearing a paper crown

Christmas on a shoestring

The cost-of-living crisis has hit many of us hard in the pocket, but it’s still possible to have a joyful festive season without spending too much.

We’ve put together some tips to help you save money this Christmas. 

Cut the cost of gifts

Christmas presents can make a huge dent in your budget, especially if you have a large family. Here are some money-saving ideas:

  • Make a ‘no present pact’ with adult relatives and friends. Finding the perfect gift for everyone can be stressful and time consuming, so you may find they’ll be relieved rather than think you’re a scrooge.

  • Organise a family Secret Santa. Agree a spending amount that suits everyone and each draw a name from a hat, so you only buy for one person.

  • Buy nearly new. Search auction-based/secondhand retailers and online community groups for lightly used toys and gadgets rather than forking out for brand new.

  • Give a gift of your time. Make a ‘voucher’ for a few hours of gardening, ironing, or dog walking that they can cash in whenever they want.

  • Make your own presents. You can personalise gifts, and recipients will appreciate the time and thought you’ve put into them. You can find lots of ideas online but here are a few to get you started…

DIY Christmas present ideas

  • Put together a yummy food hamper by covering a box with festive wrapping paper and filling it with their favourite treats. Why not include some home-made festive biscuits. You can find lots of Christmas biscuit recipes on the BBC Good Food website, and kids will love helping to decorate them.

  • Microwavable hand warmers are simple to make with some colourful fabric scraps. Use 100% cotton as it can be unsafe to put synthetic fabrics in the microwave. Cut fabric into 12cm squares, turn them inside out and sew round the edges, leaving the last 3cm or so open. Turn it the right way out and use a funnel to fill it around three quarters full with dried rice, then sew it closed. The hand warmers need to be microwaved for about 20 seconds.

  • Make a colouring book with these free printable colouring pages. There are lots of different themes to choose from.

  • A family photo in a lovely frame usually goes down well with grandparents and other older relatives.

Alternative cards and wrapping paper

The cost of stamps soon adds up so you could send e-cards instead. You can find lots of free versions online or send a set number of charity e-cards for a small donation. Of course, kids love making Christmas cards, and if you’ve saved cards or wrapping paper from last year, they can cut them up to make new ones.

How many times have you written ‘must catch up soon’ on a Christmas card? Perhaps you could surprise that person with a phone call instead. 

For wrapping, you could buy a role of recyclable brown paper or white craft paper and make it Christmassy with potato prints. Cut a potato in half and carve a simple Christmas shape, such as a tree or star. It’s a lot easier if you have a set of small, festive cookie cutters – just press the cutter into the potato and remove the excess so the pattern stands out. Paint your stamp and press it on the paper.

‘Furoshiki’, or traditional Japanese fabric wrapping, is on trend this year and cloth wraps are reusable so are eco-friendly. You can use fabric offcuts or cut up old sheets and print them with potatoes as above. Then just wrap your present and tie the fabric in a bow. For awkward-shaped presents, it’s a lot easier than using paper.

DIY Christmas decorations

You can find lots of natural items, such as pinecones, seed heads and dry leaves, that make stunning Christmas decorations. All you need to do is let them dry indoors for a few days and give them a spray of gold or silver paint and perhaps sprinkle them with glitter.

Make paper chains by cutting coloured paper into strips measuring around 15cm by 2.5cm. Join the ends of one strip with glue, then loop the next one through it and glue. Keep adding links until you have the required length. You could make them out of old sheet music for a traditional touch, or magazines to add a splash of colour.

Make your own Christmas wreath. You can buy a cheap wire frame from florists, or you could even make your own with a wire coat hanger. Collect pinecones, sprigs of holly, cuttings from evergreen plants in your garden and from the bottom of your Christmas tree, as well as spare baubles and bits of ribbon. Then attach them to the frame using thin wire. You can find lots of tutorials online.

Festive food on a budget

Planning your menu for the whole of the Christmas period can help save money and avoid waste.

Try a turkey crown as a cheaper alternative, and if you order it from a local butcher it might be even more affordable. Chicken is also a cheaper option and you can save more by buying frozen. You could even try a budget-friendly vegan option, stocked in most major supermarkets (including budget ones). Shop early so there’s more choice and you can find one that’s the right size for your family.

Loose vegetables are cheaper than packaged, and you can get exactly the amount you need. Or you could buy frozen, so you won’t be throwing any away.

If you do end up with excess food, don’t let it go to waste. Get creative with these Christmas leftover recipes.

Magical Christmas experiences for free

Finally, it’s often the Christmas experiences rather than the presents that stick in children’s minds, and there are lots of ways you can create precious memories.

See the lights. You’re bound to have some neighbours who go over the top in decking out their house with lights. Ask around to find out where the best ones are and plan a walking tour.

Go on a winter walk in your nearest woods and see how many Christmassy things you can spot, such as a robin, lichen that looks like Santa’s beard, a holly bush with some red berries, or some fallen pine cones. Cones and sprigs of holly make great natural decorations, but remember the birds depend on berries for food in winter so don’t take too much.

Most importantly, remember to plant some evidence that Santa has visited! This could be a big dent in the sofa where he’s had a rest, or a chewed carrot or sleigh bell in the garden. If it’s a clear night, you might be able to spot Santa’s sleigh (otherwise known as the International Space Station) traversing the sky.

Don't forget to look after your physical health and mental wellbeing during the festive season. Browse our Be Healthy blog for articles on how to boost your immune system this winter and tips on beating the winter blues.