Yes, she’s using the C-word again

christmas prep in october save money

Hello. I’ve held off for a while, but it’s high time we all had a little chat about Christmas again. The festive season, including the party season, is a time of year that I tend to really enjoy, but I also think it can be a huge source of money problems and various types of pressure and stress, so here is my annual reminder: please, please don’t feel that you have to go overboard or spend more than you can afford. On top of all the usual downsides, we currently have no idea what’s going to happen to the UK economy next year and so far it isn’t looking at all good. Now is not the time to be getting into debt, if you can help it.

There’s nothing wrong with having a budget-friendly or super-simple Christmas. It’s only for one day anyway, so why overspend in the short term and then suffer a financial hangover for months afterwards? This year, my mantra is K.I.S.S. – which stands for Keep it Simple, Santa.

There is quite simply too much pressure for Brits to overspend at this time of year, it gets worse every year that goes by, and it’s very, very hard to resist. You need so many resources at your fingertips now: expectation management, ninja gift sourcing skills, craft and cooking resources, social juggling abilities, and, let’s face it, a whole lot of moral support from your nearest and dearest (that not all of us are fortunate to get).

Here are some of my top tips for staying sane and within budget this Christmas, in case you need a few reminders or a confidence boost:

1. Spread the cost

I definitely don’t mean put it on a credit card here. I just mean do a bit each month, rather than try to do the whole thing in a panic at the last minute when you tend to have fewer options and are also more tired and prone to making bad decisions. For example, if you know you’re travelling during the festive season, October is usually the best time to pick up cheaper train tickets, so maybe buy those now. Make a gift list if you haven’t already, and try to pick up one or two items over the weekend while shops have offers.

2. Choose your style & budget

Don’t be scared to say ‘we’re having a homemade / arty / traditional / eco / simple / quiet / budget Christmas this year’ (delete as appropriate), or ‘let’s just focus on the kids in the family’, etc. Pick your festive style, and work out a sensible budget. Decide how many social events you want to attend and set an approximate price cap, because this is often where it all runs away with itself and the hidden expenses come in.

3. Manage expectations

Start doing this as soon as you’ve decided on your basic plans. If you’re buying cheaper gifts or spending less in total on people this year, warn them as far ahead of time as possible so they don’t spend more on you. Rather than it being awkward, it might even be a relief to them to get the chance to de-escalate. For example, ‘Just to let you know, we’re doing a £10 price cap on gifts for adults this year’, ‘we’re only giving homemade food & drink presents for 2018’, or ‘we’re doing Secret Santa so each grown up gets one gift to open on Christmas Day, do you want to join in?’ might work, depending on your circumstances.

State your intentions calmly and clearly, repeating if necessary. Say ‘no’ in a polite and friendly way to people, or perhaps offer up a less pricey alternative. ‘Sorry, the budget doesn’t stretch to an all expenses paid trip to Lapland this year, would you like to go out to see a show instead?’

4. Set some boundaries

If you’re hosting Christmas then it should mostly be ‘my house, my rules’ – other relatives shouldn’t get to freely dictate everything that goes on in your home, especially if there’s a past history of you ending up run ragged and most likely broke as well. If they’re nice people who chip in to help then there’s more room for making plans together, but it can still be good to give them a rough idea of what you’re cooking, and a very approximate schedule of activities to look forward to (even if it’s just a fish supper or carol singing on Christmas Eve, or a games or movie marathon on Boxing Day).

Let people know how long they can stay for too (come on, we all have a freeloading uncle or whatever who announces they’re staying for a week before you get the chance to invite them for…the two days you actually have spare around your other commitments).

5. Prep ahead to save £ & time

While it can be truly useful to buy a showstopper or two here and there, don’t get drawn into the damaging idea that you have to buy all your food and drink from designer brands, or the supermarket premium ranges. Your grocery bills can go through the roof, and the high prices definitely don’t guarantee great taste [I’ll be doing some fancy food and drinks picks soon that won’t disappoint, so come back here in a few days for the real bargains]. Buy some shelf-stable items now, especially if they’re on offer: cheese biscuits, baking ingredients, tins of sweets, wine, soft drinks and so on.

Don’t feel obliged to buy everything fresh in late December either – frozen turkeys often win blind taste tests, and so on. Plan your menus ahead of time, and cook up a few things from scratch to stick in the freezer this month and next month, such as pastry, sponge cakes, Christmas pudding, soup, vegetarian or vegan alternatives, party food or whatever else you like. Infuse flavoured oils or spirits for gifts, bottle fruit in syrup or brandy, or make chutney or mincemeat now or next month if you’re using recipes that need to mature.

6. Keep it in perspective

Christmas is just one day of the year. A standard Christmas dinner is just a big roast. You aren’t going to ruin someone’s life if you don’t spend £500+ on gifts for them. Small children usually like playing with the wrapping paper more than they like playing with their new toys. Older kids understand that Santa only has a certain amount of room on the sleigh for presents.

It’s fine to have a nice, simple relaxing day with people you care about if that’s what you want. It’s okay to have a budget Christmas this year instead of getting into long term debt. Who gives a monkey’s about what so and so is up to on Instagram, or trying to make it all look Pinterest perfect? Other people show you their not-so-perfect lives through heavy filters and careful editing, and real life is messy so try not to compare. People are more important than things.


K. I. S. S. Keep it simple, Santa.

What are you going to do to avoid festive overspend this month? Please share your tips to help other people who might be stressed or struggling.


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  1. Wise and wonderful woman!
    I am sure I’m not the only reader that finished the article with a big sigh of relief and resolute confidence.
    Once Halloween’s over, £ shops have room for festive “bits” and I’ll be on the search for stocking fillers. Have already got your idea from last year, hot choc sachet with mallows, that went down very well! Many thanks, Penny.

  2. Hi Su – thank you so much for your kind words, it means a lot to know that you’re finding this blog helpful. Love your tip about pound shops after Halloween, that’s a good tip to put in the Xmas Prep diary. Penny x

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