No money for Christmas? Here’s your survival guide

Christmas this year will be much different from what we’re used to. We might not be able to meet up with all family and friends. But there is one upside to that: less spending.  

Take the pressure off of Christmas

It should also be acknowledged that this year has created financial difficulties for many. If you can’t afford Christmas this year, this is nothing to be ashamed about.  

Furthermore, many people you are close to – who presumably you would be buying presents for – will understand if this is a lean year. They will not be insulted by fewer, cheaper or no gifts at all.  

Even children can be made to understand this. Have an honest conversation with them. You can then make crafty presents together and let them help with baking and cooking. This will be meaningful holiday time together that creates memories they will appreciate. 

And, crucially, do not let social media and adverts bother you, and do your best not to compare yourself to others. Doing so has no upside.  

No money for Christmas – the affordable feast

Follow government’s Christmas Bubble rules, only three households can meet between 23 and 27 December.  

Three households can still be a lot of mouths to feed. If you are hosting, and hoping to do Christmas on a budget, it is absolutely acceptable to ask everyone in the family to contribute a dish of their own making (or purchase). Announce that it will be a potluck Christmas. You can coordinate by assigning starters, side dishes and desserts, or simply ask someone to pick up a variety of breakfast ingredients to cook up on Christmas morning.  

For your part, watch out for supermarket deals. Items go on sale all the time, and you may benefit from 2 for 1 deals when you need a certain ingredient in bulk. Often, you can buy meat products fresh a day or two before expiry at a discount.  

No money for Christmas – gift ideas to keep it cheap or free 

Christmas spending on a budget centres on one main rule: ban unnecessary presents. So agree with family, friends and colleagues in advance not to exchange presents this year.  

For the family and friends you can’t meet up with during the Christmas period, agree as soon as possible not to post presents. Instead, if you want, plan a video call on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  

For those that you do plan to buy for, shop around first and look out for deals.  

To make it cheaper, combine presents for couples and families like board games or lawn games set. You can also give something for their home, like a plant, a vase or a set of wine or beer glasses.  

You may also want to do a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange so you only have to buy one gift no matter the size of the group. These arrangements can be a lot of fun. You can also set a strict spending limit for a gift exchange that is low — such as £5 — that forces everyone to be a bit more creative and can be quite funny. 

There are also free options: a book exchange, game exchange or movie exchange. You can also set up personalised playlist exchanges. 

You may even be able to re-gift items you have that are unused or been out of sight of the intended gift receiver.  

You can also get creative with presents: DIY Christmas gifts, homemade baked goods and chutneys are always a good idea. You can also make decorations, print out and cheaply frame your favourite photos with friends and families. Knit with cheap yarn you can pick up at haberdasheries and charity shops. 

If you are good at something, for example, drawing, giving massages, gardening photography, propagating house plants, home repairs, and so on, you can give your services as a gift. 

Go easy on the wrapping

Here’s a surprising tip: go easy on the wrapping. It all ends up in the bin anyway, so there’s no need to take it seriously. 

You really do not need to spend money on expensive gift bags, gift wrap and boxes. Nobody will notice or care if they are cheap or repurposed. 

Use cheaper wrapping paper or alternatives. My family often uses tinfoil for fun and the effect is fantastic and requires no tape. 

Another tip is to save up tissue paper to use as wrapping. Repurpose pretty shopping bags and boxes that you accrue throughout the year. If you have kids, ask them to draw holiday pictures on the boxes. 

A fun idea is to use a big box and fill it with random packaging materials, with your smaller gift taped to the bottom of the box – it creates a fun experience during the unwrapping.  

Set a budget

Many people don’t realise how much they increase their credit cards spending and bill around this time of year. The tragedy of this is that many will then start the next year in debt, struggling to pay it off.  

To get an idea of how much money you have for gifts, you can use the Spending Plan feature in Money Dashboard Neon to show you how much you will have left after all the bills and subscriptions come out of your account. Use that ‘left to spend’ amount to help planning your Christmas budget.  

Then set up a Christmas budget in the app so you can track your spending on gifts, food and decorations. 

Prepare for Christmas next year

Hopefully next year will be very different from this pandemic-filled festive season. When it does come around, you want to be prepared.

There’s no way to be sure what your budget will be next year but you can start putting modest amounts of money aside during the year for gifts and festivities. You can use a savings account or cash envelopes, or whatever approach works best for you.

Start buying presents early and spread it across a few months. If travel opens up again it’s a good idea to buy interesting gifts from abroad and only give them to your family and friends at Christmas.

And buy Christmas decorations, gift wrapping and seasonal themed gifts directly after Christmas — when they are cheapest — and store them for Christmas next year. 

Whatever you choose to do, keep track of your purchases in Money Dashboard. This way you will always know how much you’ve spent on presents during the year.

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All content is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as "advice". Money Dashboard Ltd make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or any damages arising from its display or use.

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