Your Money

Scale back Christmas without feeling like a Grinch

- December 8, 2021 4 MIN READ
Scale back Christmas with these tips

You want to embrace the festive season and all the joy it brings, but you don’t want debt weighing your new year down. Here’s how to scale back Christmas and still have a jolly, holly time.

The parties, the food, the cocktails, the presents – so many, many presents. Christmas is a brilliant time of year in every way except the budget way. It’s way too easy to spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars more than you planned for.

There are plenty of ways to scale back Christmas without turning green (both the Grinch and jealous kind). You can have a beautiful table, fabulous food, perfect presents and kick-ass parties without going into debt. Here’s how.

1. Embrace Secret Santa

Who doesn’t want to give Santa a hug? But that’s not the kind of embracing I’m talking about here.

Rather, introduce the ‘workplace’ concept of Secret Santa (or Kris Kringle) to all your friends and family. Instead of buying gifts for everyone, you put names into a hat and draw out one person to spoil. You can set a budget to really rein everyone in, or keep it open and spend what you feel. Either way, it’s an easy way to really scale back Christmas without anyone missing out.

2. Cut down on booze

Now, now, hear me out. I’m not saying you don’t get to drink at Christmas (it is the silly season after all!), just cut down.

Alternate an expensive boozy bev with a free glass of water each round at the pub drinks. Drink wine at home only one or two nights a week instead of daily.

The surprising thing is that when you cut back, you learn to appreciate and savour the drinks you do have – and that feels really good. It’s an excellent plan for your health, your pocket and especially good for your wellbeing.

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3. Give handmade gifts

Relax, I’m also not a particularly ‘handy’ person, but I recently potted up some succulents to say thanks to six dear friends and it cost me $50 total. Buying those succulents ready-made a my local nursery was going to set me back $149.70.

You can see how easy it is to embrace the DIY gift.

Here are a few simple ideas for the not-particularly-handy among us. I figure if you’re the handy crafty type, you’re probably already making your gifts already. If you are, then you’ll know that people love receiving something you took the time to make yourself. I know I do. Like, really, really appreciate it.

  • Potted plants: For the succulents, all I did was buy some pretty pots, a large succulent and some potting mix. Break the large succulent into as many pieces as you need and pot them up. Succulents are that easy because they grow on love. The proof is that all six of my friends still have a thriving potted succulent and it’s been four months. Herbs are a good one to pot up for this too. Or give the pot, some potting mix and a packet of seeds for a DIY experience gift.
  • Baked goods: Make some budget bliss balls, put them in a recycled jar, tie a ribbon around the lid and print out a label to glue in place. You can also bake your friend a cake, a slice or a pie.
  • Sweets: Staying with the foodie theme, do the exact same jar thing, but fill the jar with shop-bought sweets like musk sticks or freckles. No baking required!
  • Interest journal: You can buy a hardcovered notebook from Kmart for $4, print out a few articles, recipes or how-tos in the area of their interest, stick them inside the first few pages. Leave the rest blank for your friend’s ongoing journaling journey.
  • Second hand book pack: It’s easy to dismiss giving a stack of preloved books you’ve carefully collected from your local Vinnies. But wouldn’t you like to get one from a friend yourself? Thought so! Make a stack of at least five books and tie it up with an extravagant velvet ribbon – sweet!
  • Seasoning: You can mix up a taco seasoning, spice rub or garam masala, add it to small jars and give it as per the baked goods above.
  • Time: Give your time instead of your money. Offer to babysit, garden, clean the windows, run errands, be the taxi – whatever you’ve got to give.

4. Try the four gift rule

Kids are massive money suckers at Christmas (in the nicest possible way, of course). I found that the best way to keep the present buying from getting out of control was to use the ‘four gift rule’. Basically, you set a little poem and the kids can make their Santa list based on the four categories. The options are endless, but here are a two suggestions:

  • Something you want, something to wear, something to read and something to share.
  • Something you need, something to eat, something to play and some kind of treat.

5. Bring a plate

The best way to scale back Christmas is to not host. But if it’s definitely you’re turn to have the clan to yours, don’t be shy to allocate dishes to those attending. Nobody minds. I mean, would you mind if you were asked to bring a salad for the Christmas table? Me neither. These are our nearest and dearest people (and, if they’re not, why are they there?) and they are only too happy to make hosting ‘easier’ for you (no need to mention ‘cheaper’!).

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Of course, keep the offering asks to side dishes and nibbles only. It’s hardly fair to host and then expect your guests to bring dinner. Keep the ham/turkey/main and dessert to make yourself.

6. Wrap creatively

Gift wrap and cards can add up to a lot. This year, print out free cards or gift tags and make your wrapping part of the gift you’re giving. ‘Wrap’ in a pretty tea towel ($1.50 at good old Kmart) or drawstring bag ($3). Brown paper tied up with string is a classic that doesn’t cost much. If you’re feeling crafty (see above, it’s no compulsory), you can make a Christmas tree potato stamp and add some personality to your brown paper with little fuss.

7. Do all the free stuff

While going out for dinner or drinks is lovely, it’s also expensive. One easy way to scale back Christmas is to find as many free activities as you can and hit those instead. Go for a stroll through the neighbourhood with all the lights (every suburb has one), throw down a blanket at the carols at the park, head to the city and look at the lights and window displays. There will be something happening local to you and it’s all completely free to enjoy.