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How to survive Christmas on a tight budget - without being a Grinch

Worried you'll go into debt these holidays? Fear not, here's how you can make it through without breaking the bank.

It’s the most wonderful time of year, but also the most expensive.

We talk about Christmas being a time to come together with loved ones but when you add on all the presents for family and friends plus the endless get-togethers, all of a sudden you're wondering how on Earth you'll afford it all.

If you're anything like me, you'll want a few nice, new outfits to wear to all those events too.

A person at a desk crunching numbers for a Christmas spending with a calculator and money expert Téa Angelos
Money expert Téa Angelos says it's important to stick to a budget this Christmas, especially in a cost-of-living crisis. (Source: Getty/Supplied) (picture alliance via Getty Image)

You get a gift, and YOU get a gift...

For those of us who are single, with nieces and nephews and a few Christmas parties to attend, trying to put together a festive season budget can be daunting.

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I have seven nieces and nephews to buy for, plus I feel the need to at least buy or make something small for the team I work in. I can already see the small amount I've set aside for presents won't be enough.

The conversation recently came up while I was having dinner with a few friends. I spoke about feeling guilty that I may have to cull how much I spend on each niece and nephew this year, while they spoke about culling what they usually buy for their partner or kids.

Some said they'd try to work extra hours for more money, others wanted to look at second-hand items for their kids who were too young to know the difference, while others were looking to skip buying a gift for their partner this year and make up for it when they had some extra cash again.

I decided to reach out to money expert Téa Angelos, who's the CEO of Smart Women Society, to get some tips on how to reduce the anxiety around the dreaded Christmas present bill in 2023. Here's what she taught me.

Determine your overall budget

Before you start shopping, determine how much you can afford to spend without incurring debt or compromising your financial stability. This will be your total Christmas shopping budget. Remember to budget not only for gifts, but also food and drink for holiday parties, new outfits for social events, and even transport and accommodation.

Make a list of all the events you have and estimate how much money each will cost. Always include a buffer for unexpected gifts too, just in case you forget someone or decide last minute to buy another gift you hadn't planned on.

Make a list (and check it twice)

Write down the names of everyone you plan to buy for. Next to each name, jot down gift ideas and a specific amount you're willing to spend on that person. This not only helps you stay organised, but it also ensures you don't overspend on impulse purchases.

When shopping, take this list with you and get creative on how to stretch this amount as far as possible. Using a spending diary is also a great way to keep track of your holiday spending and reflect on your purchases.

Gift your time

Experiences are a great idea to create memories with loved ones that you will cherish forever, especially for that friend or family member who is notoriously hard to buy for.

Instead of agonising for hours over the perfect gift idea, offer a helping hand or promise a night of babysitting or an afternoon of gardening instead.

Alternatively, there are also hundreds of thoughtful, inexpensive homemade gift ideas on Pinterest, from baked goods to personalised photo albums.

Don't be afraid to say no

It's beneficial for people to be open and honest with family or friends about their financial struggles, including difficulties affording gifts. Communicating openly with loved ones will help foster understanding, relieve stress and prevent overspending or going into debt.

Remember, it's important to approach this topic with sensitivity. Everyone's comfort level with discussing financial matters varies, and it's crucial to communicate in a way that feels right for the individual and the relationship.

The most polite way to tell your friends that you can't afford to give or exchange Christmas gifts this year is to be honest and direct with them. You could say something like, "I wanted to let you know that I am not in the financial position to exchange gifts this Christmas. I hope you understand and I hope we can still enjoy the holidays and spend quality time together."

Take advantage of Black Friday sales

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up at the end of November and there is no better time to get ahead on your Christmas shopping and snag massive bargains.

Brands offer their best and biggest discounts during this sales event, so it's a great opportunity to tick items off your list without overspending.

Do your research

While you may be tempted to just click the first result on Google, spend some time doing your research and compare a variety of stores to see who offers the best deal on the item you're after. It's important to not only look at the price of the item, but also compare shipping costs, delivery times and returns policies.

Use discount codes

Before clicking "Buy Now" on an item, always search for a discount code first. Many brands offer an introductory discount for first-time purchasers. Additionally, check the brand's email newsletters, social media accounts and tagged photos to see if there are any discount codes or promotions on offer.

You can also simply Google "brand + discount codes" as there are many websites that collate active discounts. Or install a plug-in like Honey to scour for codes as you shop online.

Get cash back

Cashback websites like Cashrewards and ShopBack are an amazing way to save extra money on purchases you're already making. You simply find the store you want to shop at on the platform's website, click through, shop as usual and you'll receive a percentage of your purchase back as actual cash that you can transfer into your bank account. Saving money doesn't get much easier than that.

Suggest a Secret Santa

Instead of buying every person in your friend group or family a gift, have each person draw a name from a hat and buy a gift for their selected recipient only. You can also set a price limit so the gifts are relatively equal and to keep spending in check.

Build Christmas fund without trying

This one will come in handy next year. Set up a new savings account called "Christmas" at the start of January and set up an automatic transfer to this account on the day you get paid. This means the saving is happening without you having to worry about it and before you get the chance to spend it on something else.

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