It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For good food, spending time with family and friends and general merriment and cheer, the holiday period hits all the marks. However, it’s not so great on the old bank balance.
Christmas is a notoriously spendy time, and as a student with limited finances, it can be especially tough. So we’ve put together this little guide on how you can have a holly-jolly Christmas without spending a fortune.
1. Manage gift-giving
Presents are undoubtedly one of the things that will burn the biggest hole in your student budget during the festive period. One way to instantly cut down the cost is to cut down the number of people you buy for. While giving gifts is a wonderful thing and you want to treat all the special people in your life, really consider who you give gifts to and whether you still have a close relationship with them. If not, it might be time to relegate them to the card-only list.
Another easy and obvious choice is Secret Santa. It’s an easy and fun way to manage the number of people that you are buying a present for.
So if you are purchasing presents for people, follow the age-old advice and shop around for the best deals. Search for discount codes online, use your student discount card or see if you can find the item second-hand or pre-loved. Websites such as eBay, musicmagpie, depop and gumtree are all great places to pick up bargains. If you are looking for an experience rather than an object, try groupon or Virgin experiences.
2. Food shop
Another essential part of the Christmas celebrations, and one that can easily see the pennies rack up, is the food. The first thing to do is to split the cost with your friends who will share your Christmas dinner. Check how much each person is willing spend and then draw up a budget based on how much each person can contribute.
Then make a list of all the food you want to buy and stick to it. And be smart about your purchases. If only one person in the group likes sprouts, then it probably isn’t worth buying them. If no one likes turkey, perhaps it’s better getting a chicken instead (it’s certainly cheaper). And if many of you are vegetarian/vegan, how about making a nut roast?
The next step is to then shop around, again searching for discount codes online. Have a look to see which supermarkets are providing the best deals for food. Using an app such as MySupermarket can help you quickly compare prices across all major supermarkets. Visiting a food market or farmers’ shop can lead to some savings on big bags of vegetables and herbs. Or consider picking up frozen veg, Yorkshire puddings and pigs in blankets from the supermarket. This can shrink the cost and the cooking time, as well as possibly leaving you some frozen trimmings you can use later.
Christmas decorations are key to invoking holiday cheer, so get creative. Head to the budget stores and see what you can find in the way of tinsel, paper, card and glitter – then get crafty.
Make snowflakes out of white card, bunting out of coloured paper and paint some cheap baubles to customise them.
Additionally, you could use things that you no doubt have lying around the house. If you’ve got a bunch of empty bottles/cans/ juice or milk cartons, paint them to look like Christmas trees, reindeer or Santa.
If, like many students, you plan to return to the family home for Christmas, be sure to consider the cost of travel in your holiday budget.
If you are travelling within the UK, you’ll most likely be using the train. Train companies tend to release their tickets about 12 weeks in advance, so as soon as you know the date that you want to travel, book that ticket. The earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets will be.
If you haven’t been able to book tickets in advance, don’t worry. There are still ways to cut down the costs of your train journey.
The first is to split your tickets. This means instead of booking tickets for your whole trip, book for sections of your journey. For example, if you have booked a London Paddington train to Bristol Temple Meads, which calls at Reading, then you may be able to cut costs by booking from Bristol to Reading, and then Reading to London. Most of the time, you won’t even have to change seats because you will probably end up booking the same train. Don’t worry, this is totally legit as long as the train calls at the stations that you have booked for.
Another way that you can potentially save is to book two singles instead of a return. You are usually shown the price of single and return tickets when you book online, so it’s worth checking the difference between the two and seeing which is better value. Alternatively, check out coach prices for your destination. The trip may take longer, but it could be up to a third cheaper than taking the train.
If you are travelling abroad, remember that flights can get quite expensive in December. Book them as early as possible, and set up an alert so that you know when the tickets are on sale and when the price fluctuates. Book using a private browser so your computer doesn’t remember that you’ve searched this journey before and increase the price.
Quick Christmas budgeting hacks
1. Instead of buying presents for Christmas Day, give your recipients an IOU and then pick up their presents in the January sales. It’s one way to brighten up an otherwise bleak January.
2. Sell some old university textbooks that you no longer use (or anything that you no longer use) for a little extra cash.
3. Have one or two leftover recipes up your sleeve just in case. Cook up a big curry with leftover meat; make a bubble and squeak with leftover veg – there are endless options.
4. If you’re an international student or have a lot of friends who are international students, why not mix up the traditional Christmas dinner with food from other countries?
5. Before the holidays, put aside a little money every week, whatever you can afford, to create a small fund to dip into when Christmas rolls around.
6. While sending and receiving Christmas cards is one of life’s simpler pleasures, they can end up costing a lot. Sending around a festive Whatsapp message will show that you are still thinking of that person on Christmas Day.
7. If you are buying presents, spread out your shopping. Buy a couple of gifts per week to help spread the cost and not feel like a massive amount of money has left your bank account in one go.
8. If you have a gym membership or a direct debit that you could live without over Christmas (think Netflix or Spotify, rather than your phone or electricity bill), see if you can pause it for a month or so for a little extra spending money.