Feel the joy: Great ideas for saving money this Christmas

Posted November 2020 by Melissa Abraham-Smith

christmas season on a budget

We're giving the gift of financial freedom this holiday season with these festive money saving tips...

Are you excited for Christmas, or dreading it a little? 

The pressure to spend money on gifts and food over the holidays can be a financial strain if you’re on a tight budget, trying to save or repay debt. Especially when times are tough.

Thankfully, the holidays don't have to be a stressful or expensive time to be fun. With some forward planning and a little creativity, they can be easy on your pocket and still deliver a whole lot of joy.

We’ve put together some tips to help you round off the year on a financial and yuletide high, including:

  • Consult your budget.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity. 
  • Get innovative with low or no-cost Christmas gifts.

Let’s get started with the most important step of all...

Check your budget

The first step in planning for Christmas is to review your budget.

What can you realistically afford? Have you been putting aside a little extra for Christmas expenses? Can you cut back now on other extras to save more?

Ideally, Christmas spending should be made from a budget pool, rather than raiding your December paycheck. Otherwise, you’ll be taking out loans or creeping into debt that could follow you into January and potentially the rest of the New Year. .

If there’s no room in your budget, we have ideas for enjoying Christmas that won’t cost a cent!

How to create new gift-giving traditions (on a budget)

wrapping a christmas gift

For many Kiwis, Christmas is about shopping up large for gifts.

In fact, TradeMe says Kiwi shoppers spend between $25 and $50 on each Christmas gift.

Think about the significance of Christmas for you personally; is it a time for holidays and relaxation? A time for giving and appreciation? Or an opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends?

It’s important to understand your motivation for giving presents.

  • If the feeling is motivated by obligation or marketing hype, perhaps it’s time to shift the focus from gifts to celebrating the things more important to you and your family.
  • If spending lots of money on gifts isn't financially viable because you need to divert those funds to pay down debt, save for a home deposit, or retirement, it’s time to be more creative!

There are great alternatives to giving without being a bah humbug. Here are just a few:

1. Introduce an environmentally (and financially) friendly gift theme

Encourage everyone to give a gift that’s not shop-bought. For example:

  • Give something from the garden. A bunch of flowers, perhaps, or a tray of seedlings or micro-greens. Children love sunflower or swan plants.
  • Handcraft a gift. Knit a skin exfoliator, make homemade soaps and cleaners, or bake festive cakes and biscuits.
  • Present a voucher offering your time, whether it’s washing the car or giving a massage.

2. Ban presents altogether

Spread the word you’d enjoy the ‘presence’ of friends and family rather than ‘presents' this year. This takes both the financial and the shopping pressure off everyone. Many families are struggling to pay bills, let alone buy presents, and they’ll appreciate the upfront gesture.

3. Give to others

If Christmas is truly about giving, then why not give to those who really need help? Instead of exchanging gifts, consider donating that money to a local charity, rest-home, or homeless shelter.

4. Focus on meaningful gifts, not quantity of gifts

Instead of buying gifts for everyone, buy a single useful present for one person:

  • First, set a spending limit.
  • Then ask everyone to think about a gift they’d appreciate that’s within the spending limit.
  • Along with their name, participants include their ideal gift on a piece of paper. Everyone’s name goes into a hat and like Secret Santa, each person chooses a name from the hat and is responsible for buying that person’s gift.

How to holiday for free (or close to it)

prepping for a christmas holiday

The Kiwi Christmas family holiday is a staple tradition, but they can be expensive. If you're stumped for ideas, here are some great ways to spend fun family time together without spending lots of money on travel, fuel, and accommodation:

1. A ‘Staycation’

Reinvent the staycation by truly staying at home this year!

Make it a fun experience by being creative. Pitch a tent in the backyard and cook your meals on the BBQ, as if you were staying in a campground, or explore your local town like a tourist and find out what free activities are available.

You may be surprised with what’s on your doorstep that you haven’t explored yet.

2. House-sit or House-swap

Join one of New Zealand's house-sitting websites and you’ll soon discover lots of Kiwis looking for someone to look after their house, pets, and garden while they’re on holiday over Christmas.

Housesitting is usually free in return for taking care of the place, which gives you the opportunity to have your own holiday and explore a different part of the country without paying for expensive accommodation.

There are also house-swapping sites where you can swap your home nationally or internationally. Check references and be sure to review your insurance policies to ensure it covers people entering your home with consent – just to be on the safe side.

3. Catch up with family, virtually

Even if you can’t be there in person over the Christmas holidays, there are loads of free video-calling options that enable you to catch up in real-time as if you were right there. These include Facebook, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

How to feast like royalty (on a pauper’s budget)

a cheap christmas dinner

Hosting Christmas meals can be nerve-wracking, time-intensive, and costly.

Before you hurl the turkey out the window, here are a few ways to reduce the strain:

1. Organise potluck dinners

Share the load - and the expense - by making Christmas dinner a potluck affair.

Take the ‘luck’ out of the equation by assigning guests a designated food option to bring along (e.g. dessert or snacks) and make it BYO.

2. Reuse leftovers

If there are leftovers from Christmas dinner, search online for recipes so you can use them in other meals or freeze food for later to save on your January grocery bill.

3. Consider cheaper alternatives

Replace the roast ham with roast chicken, asparagus with peas, and so on.

4. Maximise supermarket loyalty cards and coupons

Save up your loyalty points or dollars throughout the year and put those rewards earned toward the ‘extras’ you buy over Christmas. That way you can enjoy some luxuries without dipping into your food budget. Both Countdown and New World offer loyalty schemes.

Don't forget to check for coupons, too!

5. Plan, plan, plan

If you’re providing meals for extra guests, plan your menus ahead of time and shop accordingly. Planning and shopping in advance saves you wasting money on surplus food, or running low on food on the day which could lead to last-minute panic buying. 

Wrapping up

With a little creativity, Christmas can be a time of joy without leaving you nursing a sore budget or a big bill one January rolls around. We think that's something well worth celebrating!

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