10 ways to cut costs at Christmas

Christmas is a time of joy and making merry. Unfortunately, joy is rarely free and, to be frank, making Auntie Muriel merry can be downright expensive.

So, how can you enjoy the festivities this year without landing yourself with a debt pile that would make Greece blush?

Here are our 10 top tips for an affordable Christmas.

1. Make a budget

The first step to sticking to a budget is to make one. So sit down with a pen and paper or a spreadsheet and work out what you can afford. It's simple really, work out how much money you have to spend then write a list of everything you need to spend money on: decorations; turkey; presents.

Then once you know everything you need to buy, split how much money you have into each category and assign an amount to each.

This might not be a quick job as it will need some tinkering. You might assign £200 for presents and then realise you've only got £10 left for Christmas dinner, but with a bit of juggling you'll end up knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend on each category.

2. Plan any shopping trips

Heading out to the shops for a spot of Christmas shopping? Just hoping to spot something suitable for the people on your Christmas list? Get back in the house, you are not ready to shop. Shopping with no idea what you are looking for is almost guaranteed to make you bust your budget.

For instance, picture yourself stood in the middle of Boots, being blasted with Last Christmas for the 42nd time and shunted around by other shoppers. It would be difficult to keep hold of your sanity, nevermind your budget.

Instead, decide roughly what you want to get before you head out. That way you can make sure the things you've picked won't break the budget, and avoid buying granddad yet another woolly scarf in a panic purchase just to escape the crowds.

3. Get online to find the best price

Before you hit the shops get online and find out where you can get the best price for what you're buying.

A word of caution though, if a website you've never heard of is offering to sell you something at a price far below any other website, it's probably a scam. See if you can find some reviews of the website before you buy anything, and if you are unsure, pay a little extra and get the item from a site you trust or have used before.

To make sure you get the absolute best price from a trusted website, try flubit.com. Tell the site what you want to buy and the best price you've found, and it goes direct to the retailer to negotiate a better deal. It claims to help 98% of its customers save 15% on average.

Also try out shopbots such as kelkoo.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk, which scour the market for the best online deals.

4. Cull your christmas card list

If you would rather not spend as much as you did last year, consider culling your Christmas list a bit.

If you haven't gone through it for a few years, it may be worth doing so now and questioning if you want to spend money on a card and postage for the couple you lived next to 15 years ago and haven't seen since they helped put the yukka plant in the removal van.

You needn't spend a fortune on cards either. The supermarkets have some great deals. Asda, for example, sells multipacks of 30 assorted cards for just £2.

Watch out for so-called charity cards, though. Many of the high-street stores will be selling expensive packs of Christmas cards and advertising their charitable credentials. Last year, John Lewis donated just 6% of its Shelter card revenue to the charity.

Instead, head to a charity shop or charity card sale - such as cardaid.co.uk - and buy the cards that are actually produced by the charities. They're cheaper and a lot more of your money goes to charity, up to 60% of the price.

5. Make the most of vouchers

While you are on the internet trying to find the best price, check whether there are any vouchers that could cut your shopping bill too. Websites such as vouchercodes.co.uk, vouchercloud.com, myvouchercodes.co.uk and hotukdeals.com all offer voucher codes and deals that could cut the cost of your festive trimmings.

For example, at the time of writing, Vouchercodes had a coupon for £10 off when you spend more than £50 at Gap - that could help reduce the bill for this year's winter woollies. And when you are shopping online make the most of cashback websites.

By making your purchases via sites such as quidco.com you can actually earn money while you spend.

6. Have a secret santa

While a Christmas card cull may be easy, stopping buying presents for some people may be harder. But the spirit of Christmas is lost if you are spending money you can't afford on gifts for people who don't care if you get them something or not.

Obviously, telling grandma she didn't make the cut this year may lead to a frosty Christmas dinner, but sitting down with your friends and discussing whether you all need to buy each other gifts could be a cost-saving exercise.

One great idea is to have a Secret Santa where you pull a name out of a hat and only buy a gift for that person.

7. Avoid last-minute costs

It might sound obvious, but leaving things until the last minute will not only make for a stressful yuletide but it could also make Christmas even more expensive.

Take travel, for example. If you're planning to take the train to celebrate the festive period at your Auntie Muriel's abode in the country, it is vital to book as early as possible - ideally 12 weeks in advance as that's when the cheapest fares can be found.

While that would have been back in September, you can still avoid paying through the nose by booking now - the sooner the better as train fares during the festive period can cost up to 13 times more than during the rest of the year, according to The Telegraph.

Also, avoid the last-minute rush if you're buying your Christmas shopping online or if you're posting any Christmas presents. Not only will you make sure your gifts arrive in time, but you'll also avoid having to pay for express delivery. For instance, while John Lewis's standard delivery is free of charge for orders of more than £50, you'll pay £3 for anything below that and £6.95 for next day UK delivery.

8. Cut invisible corners

Another way to cut the cost of Christmas is to make cutbacks on the things nobody notices. Napkins, wrapping paper, wreaths on the door - all these things are hardly noticed by most people, nevermind pored over and assessed for quality. You can cut the cost of these a great deal and no one will know the difference.

So don't bother with a wreath this year or buy new decorations. Spend a bit on a good Christmas tree and reuse last year's decorations. The only people who will know the difference are you and your family, and you'll appreciate the saving.

9. Save on food

The quality of your Christmas dinner is more down to the cooking of it than the price of the ingredients.

Economise on the cost of your trimmings, and even consider planning ahead and buying a much cheaper frozen turkey. For example, the best fresh turkey Waitrose has to offer will cost you £50 while its same-sized frozen turkey costs just £24.99. That's a big saving and you can still boast you're serving a posh turkey.

And you don't have to sacrifice on taste either. Aldi's £7.99 Christmas pudding has beaten Fortnum & Mason's £24.95 version in a taste test.

You can also tap in your festive grocery list at mysupermarket.com and find out which of the big four supermarkets would be cheapest to purchase it from.

And don't forget, if you're having a lot of people over for the Christmas dinner a good way to keep the costs down is to ask everyone to bring a dish - that way you'll save hours of slaving in the kitchen, too.

10. Plan for next year

Right, that's Christmas 2012 sorted. But before you sit back and drink the remains of the Baileys, spare a thought for next Christmas. A little bit of forward planning could leave you in a much better position next December.

Consider opening a savings account and setting aside a little bit of money each month so you have a bit more to spend on the festivities in 2013.

Also, if you've got the space to store it all, make the most of the January sales and stock up on cards, wrapping paper and decorations. They cost a fraction of the price in January and will save you a job next December.

And if all this cost cutting has left you with the festive blues, sit back and watch It's a Wonderful Life and remind yourself what Christmas is all about.

Your Comments

You mean people buy new decorations every year? I have decorations that have loving been put on my tree for 35 years, and some which were put on my mothers tree for the previous 30. If they get broken or begin to look tired, yes i buy a couple of replacements, but if you when you put them away after Christmas they are carefully wrapped and stored they will literally last a lifetime, your grandchildren will remember them being on 'grannies' tree', and it will be a memoryof times past every time they come out of the box, when you are gone [ and its cheap]