How I saved money at Christmas

How to save money this Christmas: “I culled my gift-giving list”

Budgeting money is a challenge, but when Christmas rolls around we may feel the pressure to dip into our savings. After feeling this obligation for many years, one writer decided to take a different approach to gift-giving.

I am guilty of feeling the pressure when Christmas rolls around to buy a gift for everyone, and I know I’m not alone in this. Whether it’s shopping for people I hardly know or for friends who are more like acquaintances but who will definitely get me a gift, I feel the need to not let anyone down, no matter how costly.

This year, however, I made a conscious effort to kick this habit by writing a list of everyone I usually buy gifts for and then ruthlessly scribbling out the names of those who wouldn’t be getting anything from me. It was tough, and I left the culling feeling very guilty for my choices, but inevitably, it will save me money. My family was an obvious keep-on-the-list decision for me, but friends I hadn’t met up with in a while were gone. This form of budgeting felt almost freeing and immediately worked to save me money that I would’ve spent unnecessarily.

Christmas is usually the time for extravagance and presents spilling out from under the tree and cascading across the living room floor. But this year, like last year, a lot of us have been feeling the pinch due to Covid. Moreover, with the new Omicron variant present and seemingly spreading fast, the uncertainty many of us felt last year is back, including regarding our finances.

I graduated from university this year and my income consists solely of the money I make freelancing after being unsuccessful on the job hunt. It’s also the main reason why I’m culling my gift list, as freelance income can be unpredictable. Plus, as an ex-frivolous spender, I have come to the harsh realisation that I need to reign things in to save for my future plans.

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Many factors influenced my scribbling decisions, the first being: “Does this person like the gifts I choose for them?”. Then after I’d tackled the first hurdle, I began to ask myself other questions: “Did this person give me a gift last year? How much was this person there for me this year?”. It may seem shallow, but once you’ve re-evaluated your list, it’s incredible how you begin to see who is important in your life.

“I am a huge advocate of having those conversations with all of those family members that you don’t ‘need’ to buy presents for,” says personal finance expert Lynn Beattie. “Be open and honest, say that money is a bit tight this year, can we not exchange gifts. You’re likely just exchanging smellies or vouchers anyway!”

Beattie also recommends talking to the people you are going to exchange gifts with about setting a budget beforehand to help minimise your costs. “Or do [a themed] Secret Santa and buy a present each,” she says.

In 2019, Beattie did a Secret Santa with her family and says it was “so much fun”. She also suggests abiding by the four-gift rule: “Choose something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.”

Meanwhile, Peter Kimpton, a personal finance expert at Family Money, recommends taking a hard look at your finances before you even start shopping. “Firstly, work out what your budget is. You can’t decide who you can spend on and what you can spend until you know exactly how much you have to spend.

“Be realistic, not idealistic about it,” he continues. At the end of the day, you should never “feel pressured into spending more than you can afford”. 

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