Christmas is around the corner but you haven’t recovered from the budget blowout of Halloween. What to do? According to Forbes, the average American spends $1000 on Christmas if they celebrate the holiday season at home and $2000 if they travel. And that’s after the 2008 economy crash.
Despite the fancy parties you see on TV, celebrating Christmas need not be a costly affair. Let’s look at the 5 main areas of a Christmas celebration and how you can save.
Food can be a big expense during Christmas, especially if you’re planning to throw a party where you invite the whole extended family. But did you know that in the UK, 230,000 tonnes of festive food worth around 275 million pounds are wasted. Minimize waste alone and you can shave a good portion of your Christmas spending. Here are 3 tips on how to do that:
- Plan ahead and make your guests RSVP so you know how many people to cook for.
- Buy your food loose instead of pre-packaged so you don’t end up with more than you need.
- Christmas grocery shopping is more dangerous than everyday grocery shopping because you’re more prone to impulse purchase at this time. An extra bag of chocolate for the party? Sure, why not. Two more bottles of coke? Absolutely. Make a list and keep to it to prevent budget blow out.
- “Just in case” never happens. If you want a backup, get something frozen so you can keep it even if it never gets used.
If cutting out waste hasn’t do the job, here are more tips to consider:
- Buy raw ingredients only and cook the meals yourself – if you’re so inclined. Cooking together can be the great activity the whole family can enjoy. Plus, it will take the whole day so you don’t have to worry about extra activities!
- Buy generic instead of branded groceries. Studies have shown no difference in the quality of the product in most cases. In fact, most of them come from the same supplier anyway.
- Don’t be sucked into “special offers”. If you need only one pack, buy one pack for $2.50 instead of two packs for $4.00. You’d still have saved $1.50. $1.50 may not sound much but multiply them by the amount of food you buy and you get the idea.
Gifts is the single bigger expense in Christmas according the Forbes article. With good reason – most people expect expensive presents so they feel the need to give one too. But corny as it sounds, it’s the thought that counts. If you don’t want to appear as a cheapskate, here’s what you can do:
- Keep to what’s proven: secret Santa. Chances are your friends will also think it’s a good idea but dare not tell you about it. Instead of buying 10 gifts, now you only need to buy 1.
- Make an agreement among yourselves to stick to gifts a certain amount – say, $20 – or below.
- If you still can’t afford 10 $20 gifts, make an agreement that only handmade gifts count. Even today, 10 years later, I still have the wooden car my dad carved. If carpentry is not one of your skills, this is a good time for you to learn a new skill. Many skills can be learned online, for free – like baking or even book-binding (who doesn’t want a Frodo-style journal!)
Keep decorations modest – especially the tree. A real, average sized tree would set you back for about $41.50. That’s not including the lights, the trinkets and the little angle (or cross) at the top of the tree. And oh, the socks, the Santa suit you need to rent and the dancing elves.
Decorations can add up because in isolation, those items seem tacky. So most people decide to “go all out”.
If you insist on decorating the house, do it the Old Way – use natural elements. Pick wild flowers, use pine cones, scoop up snow and put it in a bowl, use branches. Even brown leaves make great decoration if you have access to them. Don’t forget the cards you received from your friends, families and children either because they all make great decoration if you stick them on a wall.
And if you want that “holiday” touch, tie everything in your house with a red bow and suddenly it’s Christmas.
In the beginning of the article I wrote that families who travel during Christmas spend almost twice those who stayed at home. It makes sense – it’s the peak season. Not only will you pay more, you’ll also have to suffer from long queues and congestion. Yet most people go through that anyway.
Yet the most memorable Christmas I’ve had is a camping trip with my family, not the trip to Egypt or Caribbean. We traded stories during the campfire, gazed up on the stars and feasted on BBQ delicacies. In the morning, I chopped wood with my dad and went hiking with my brother thereafter, while my sister helped my mother with preparing the food.
It didn’t cost much but it bought more than what money can.
This guest blog is written by Andrianes Pinantoan, who is part of the team that manages personal finance sites that feature tips on how to save money fast and budgeting planner. When not raising awareness to live a life of financial consciousness, he can be found exploring the seabed.