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How to spread the cost of christmas

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Christmas presents

The cost of living crisis is already having an impact on household spending. With energy prices set to rise again in October - this time by a whopping 80 per cent - here's our guide on how to spread the cost of Christmas without using any credit.

If you are worried that the festive season could be all but cancelled this year, with any spare cash going towards spiralling food and heating costs, this guide is for you!

It is estimated that almost half of all adults in the UK go into debt at this time of year. Don't be one of them.

To help you make the most of our top tips, we will be sharing big deals on Christmas gifts every day on our social media channels. The emphasis will be on gift ideas under £10.

The crux of this hassle-free plan is to start your shopping early, preferably at the beginning of September - and to get the bulk of it done and dusted before the first week of November when the cost of heating your home is likely to start to really bite.

Christmas list

1. Write a list of all the people you want to buy presents for

You can do this in a notebook or on a piece of paper, or type it in an email and save it to Drafts. I use email because it is private - with no surprises spoiled. Each time I update the list, I simply re-save it back to Drafts. Beside each person's name, make a note of the type of present you would like to buy them - pamper set, men's razors, jumper, jewellery, etc. Make a further note every time you buy a gift.

If you are concerned that your finances won't stretch, go over your list and try to determine if there is anyone on it that you don't have to treat at Christmas. For example, if you normally exchange presents with someone (i.e. a friend, distant relative, or work colleague) and they have expressed concern about the cost of living, why not ask if both sides could give it a miss this year? They may be relieved. You can try this approach even with people who haven't mentioned rising prices. Use this method to whittle down your list and make it more do-able.

Consider how much you would like to spend on each recipient and then ask yourself if you can comfortably afford it. If not, lower that figure. Make a note of your gift budget next to each person's name, alongside your present idea. Do not worry about putting what looks like a very small sum next to a name. With savvy shopping, they will think you spent a whole lot more!

Christmas budget

2. Set a weekly budget to spend on gifts

Because life can get in the way of even the best-laid plans, accept that this sum is flexible. Some weeks you may spend less while, at other times, you might spend a little more - depending on what you can realistically afford. The important thing is to ensure you don't leave yourself short on essentials. If you have got a total of 15 people to buy presents for, you may want to set a weekly budget of £30 (less if you can't stretch to that and more if you are able to) - with, perhaps, a more expensive gift purchased when you can best afford it.

3. Start with gifts for friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews

This group can be the hardest to buy for. Often left until the last minute, the cost of even small gifts can mount up and become a worry. So, get them out of the way.

4. Choose gifts carefully to reduce the cost of Christmas

What you want to achieve is a haul of presents that look gift-worthy but don't cost a lot. You may want to angle this year's shopping on more practical, but still attractive, gifts that will help the recipient save money. Here are some examples:

  • Men: Razor sets (bought when on special offer)

  • Women: Bath-time / pamper treats

  • Teens: Deodorant / body mist sets

Tip: Go for presents in attractive packaging - it will make them more appealing to the recipient.

Ideas for the hard-to-buy-for:

  • Bookmark: some of the ones currently available are beautiful. Metal feather and leaf designs with charms start at under £5 and come gift boxed. Something that an avid reader will appreciate and cherish.

  • Bath scrubber set: I've seen one with an exfoliating mitt, back scrubber and bubble bag for under £4.50 (and it doesn't look cheap). This is the type of thing most people need but don't get around to buying.

  • Personalised poster, fridge magnet, mouse mat, or small canvas: you would be surprised how cheap these products can be when on offer. Remember to order this type of present early. They typically take up to 10 working days to arrive and you need to factor in P&P costs and delays caused by strikes at Royal Mail. A great keepsake, when you use an image that has sentimental value.

Look out for limited-time and three-for-two deals, and bulk buy if you spot a really good one. For example, last year one major online platform was selling HUGE men's NIVEA skincare sets for under £10. I bought four and ticked off a brother-in-law, nephew and friend's husband, with the last one going towards my other half's gifts. My brother-in-law loved his set so much it spawned an interest in male grooming products. My other half is still happily using his NIVEA goodies nine months later!

Another example is as recent as two weeks ago (yes, I started my Christmas shopping in the summer holidays!). I purchased two travel spa sets (beautiful carry case with handle and compartments, shower gel, body lotion, body scrub, soap, plus a collection of empty travel bottles) for £5.99 each and ticked off a friend's daughter and a niece. Normally, this product is around £20!

Christmas stockings

5. Don't buy pre-filled stockings

What you get in them is often not worth the cost. Buy stocking fillers regularly, so you don't notice the outlay. Bargain shops are the best place to stock up. Limit your spend per item to no more than £1.50. Save up loose change to pay for these, if you can.

6. Save money on bigger, more expensive presents

Christmas is the time of year when parents, in particular, come under huge pressure to buy very costly gifts. The latest technology and fashion trends don't come cheap - a massive worry. Nobody wants to let their child down, especially at Christmas. But, if you can't afford what a child wants - DON'T BUY IT, and don't take out credit to get it either. Be honest about your finances with your children so they understand what you can and can't afford. Here are some workarounds that should keep everyone happy:

Buy secondhand / reconditioned - this is a good idea for electronic goods, such as laptops and computers. Look on platforms that offer a money-back guarantee. Shop around for a product that appears as-new and has the right spec. For clothing, take a look at apps like Vinted or check out what's on eBay.

Choose a cheaper make. Go for a product that looks similar to the more expensive make and has great reviews. You can save a fortune when it comes to tablets, smartphones and trainers.

Still want to make that big purchase? Set money aside over several weeks or months. You have to be disciplined to do this. The end of November is a good time to make a big purchase - during Black Friday, which falls on November 25 this year. It is often followed by Cyber Monday. If you have already finished the bulk of your gift shopping, it will make it much easier. Hence, the earlier you start your Christmas shopping the better. It is always worth keeping an eye on prices for a specific product - so you can be sure you really are getting a bargain during big sale events and three-for-two offers.

Paid monthly? Don't make a big purchase out of a single wage packet - you could end up struggling until the next payday. Save towards this purchase.

Black Friday

7. Buy festive treats when they are on offer

Don't pay more than you have to for the likes of After Eights and tins of sweets. Start buying them now whenever you see an offer and slowly build a 'Christmas station' - don't forget to check best before dates. Buy an item during your regular shop and pay for it by swapping some of your branded purchases with cheaper alternatives. If you already only buy Saver brands, cut out a non-essential or unhealthy item to cover the cost. Store items in one place, preferably out of the way so the temptation isn't there to eat them before December 25. I used to store my goodies on top of my kitchen cupboards, but it was surprising how many of them used to disappear. One year, I was on my fourth tin of Quality Street before Christmas Day! Now I hide them and never buy an item more than once.

Don't go over the top. Only buy enough treats to see you through Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

8. Spread the cost of buying for children

Everyone wants to make Christmas magical. There's is nothing quite like seeing a child's face light up with excitement when they wake up and see a mound of presents under the Christmas tree. But there is no need to buy all those little gifts in one go. This is how I budget for smaller presents for a child while still buying presents for others:

Weekly gift budget: £30

  • Best friend: Feather and Down Sleep Set - £6 (on offer)

  • Aunt: Silver feather bookmark with charm, gift boxed - £5

  • Niece: Travel spa set in carry case - £5.99 (on offer)

  • Uncle: Bath scrubber set - £4.50 (on offer)

  • Child Aged 9 - Fart - The Explosive Card Game - £5

  • Girl Aged 9 - Bubble bath - £1

  • Girl Aged 9 - Hair accessories - £2.50

So, in one week, I can tick off four adults while still buying three smaller gifts towards a child's Christmas presents.

You can adjust your budget according to your means. If you really have very little cash to spare, you could even consider a budget of £1 per adult. Think you can't get much for that? Take a look at some of the small faux succulent plants in places like Poundland and you may just change your mind! Think along the lines of chocolates, pretty notebooks, mugs, and ornaments.

If you find yourself with some extra cash one week, you can always top up an inexpensive gift with a second small present.

DIY Christmas gifts

9. Make your own gifts

This is a really savvy thing to do - but only if you have everything you need already. Sometimes, the cost of materials can make a homemade gift more expensive than something you could have bought off the shelf. And what if that thing you make doesn't quite come out as you hoped for? You will have wasted money.


  • Last year, I made all my relatives either a necklace or keyring using resin. I finished off the presents with silver charms and gift boxes. I was able to do this because I had everything I needed already.

  • This year, I want to have a go at coaster-making - also with resin. However, I've had to buy a mould (£3.99) and I am not sure how much resin I've got left. Resin can be very expensive, so I will limit the number I make to the amount of resin and inks I've currently got. Instead of giving relatives a whole set of coasters, I will just give them one each. If I make eight, taking into account the cost of the mould, the gifts will have involved an outlay amounting to around 50p each. Great, if they turn out OK.

10. Your wellbeing is more important than material things

Christmas is a time to get together and celebrate as a family. It is about sharing the spirit of the festive season. It should not be about gifts. Nobody should put pressure on someone to buy something they can't afford. Know your limits and don't exceed them this year. It's better to be warm and well-fed than left with a cold, empty feeling once Christmas Day is over. After all, it is just one day.

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Where to get help:

Debt - StepChange

Money-saving tips: Martin Lewis

Freebies: REGIME beauty magazine - tips, how-to guides and gift ideas

Don't forget... We offer a completely free gift finder service, geared to your budget. Contact us with your requirements.

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