How to Afford Christmas Without Compromising on Fun

Take some of the worry out of preparing for Christmas by taking control.

Stacks of gold and silver coins dressed in Santa's hats

Celebrating Christmas is an expensive proposition. Apart from the extra food and drink, Christmas involves a host of other spending such as gifts, wrapping, decorations, and seasonal entertainment. But it is possible to reduce your spending without dampening the holiday spirit. You can fill your home with Christmas cheer without having to spend more than you can afford, by using a few clever tips.

Budget

The first and most important thing is to make a budget that is realistic and won't store up post holiday financial troubles. To do that, first calculate the maximum sum you can afford for Christmas. Then break that down across the various sorts of spending associated with the holidays. Have a shopping list of what you need and stick to it, don't be led astray by tempting extras! If your Christmas budget is going to struggle to encompass everything you want to do then try some of these suggestions to make it stretch further.

Decorations

These are the key to creating a festive ambiance in your home, with a tree as the usual centerpiece. But there are some funky and fun alternatives to the baubles in the shops. If you live near, or can get to, a suitable area, collect some acorns, pine-cones and nuts. Spray these silver or gold to make natural decorations to hang from the tree. Candles create a great atmosphere and you can easily make your own Christmas themed holders. When you entertain guests, bake some small cakes or cookies and use those as supplementary decorations which can be taken down to nibble on. That way you'll have the smell of fresh baking as a bonus side effect when your guests arrive.

Christmas trees can be very expensive, but there are a couple of ways to reduce the cost. If you are getting a traditional tree, it's worth investing in a living one (ie. one growing in a pot). As well as being environmentally friendlier it can be reused for several years. After Christmas put it outside and look after it like any ordinary plant. Cut trees are priced by size so if you're getting one of those, get a smaller one and put it on a table covered with a white sheet to give it the impression of height.

If your space is limited but you still want a live tree, ask for scrap branches from a tree seller (they may even let you have them for free). Put the branches in a large vase with other seasonal plants such as mistletoe. Spruce up the vase with a few ribbons and hang your decorations from the branches Ivy is another low priced festive plant that can be used for decorating try it as part of a table setting.

Gifts

Gifts are usually the biggest expense at Christmas, especially for anyone with a large family or circle of friends. But there are ways to keep the cost under control here as well. If you and your friends have children, why not agree that you will each buy presents for your own children on behalf of the other. That way each of you only spends what you can afford (there's no element of having to guess what the other will spend and match it) and you can get your children what they really want/need. Otherwise try to agree a price limit with friends and family.

Consider whether creative homemade gifts would be suitable for some recipients instead of purchasing a gift. Gift baskets are fun, easy to put together inexpensively and can have a personalized touch which a shop bought present lacks. Grandparents, uncles and aunts will love gifts made from your children's artwork.

For smaller kids a dressing-up box makes a great low-cost present which will encourage them in imaginative play. You can stock one from your old clothes, shoes and hats etc (try and include a few items which lend themselves to exotic roles such as pirates and princesses). If you are expecting your kids to end up with some electric toys, buy some rechargeable batteries and a charger. It'll be more cost-efficient in the long run and will spare you those cries of “my new car isn't working any more!” the next day.

A great idea is to give your own “gift certificates” for chores and other activities which friends or relatives can call on later. Kids can give certificates for things such as a car wash or an hour's gardening; parents can offer vouchers for a trip to the beach or other desirable location, or an hour spent in an activity of a child's choice; adults can provide things like a back-rub, home cooked dinner of the recipient's choice, or an hour of help around the home.

Catering

Don't do the Christmas food shopping when you're hungry. You'll want to get everything on offer when your stomach is demanding "feed me!", and you'll end up buying much more than you need. If the family is coming to you for the main Christmas meal, ask everyone to do their bit by bringing something along. It needn't be main dishes, but perhaps some of the snacks and side dishes. Mulled wine is a great traditional Christmas party drink. It also happens to be economical in that you can use inexpensive wine and mix it with apple juice or even water to stretch the quantities.

Other Tips

  • Keep your credit card out of sight and pay by cash wherever possible. There's nothing like parting with real notes to make you think twice about unnecessary purchases.
  • Last-minute shopping is a gamble, but it can pay off because many shops drop prices dramatically just before they close for the holiday. Don't do it if you don't want to take a risk though.
  • You'll spend more money than you expect on stamps and fancy wrapping . You can cut costs by:
  • Being selective about the cards you send. Prune your Christmas list if it has become too lengthy.
  • Sending free E-Christmas cards
  • Reusing old Christmas cards as gift tags
  • Use less expensive paper for wrapping, such as that used to prepare packages for mailing. You (or the kids) can decorate the paper with sponges dipped in craft paints, rubber stamps, or potatoes cut in half and carved into Christmas shapes.

Finally although these suggestions are Christmas themed, many of them are equally applicable to other holidays and festivals and even birthdays.