24 top tips for a non-commercial Christmas

Mince pies in the shops in September, festive ads hitting our screens in early November – Christmas is starting earlier every year.

With all that pressure to buy sooner and buy more for that perfect Christmas, the real spirit of the occasion can get a bit lost. And when we’re all more cost-conscious these days, what we also don’t need is to find ourselves with a big financial hangover in January.

Luckily, there are lots of ways to avoid all this overly commercial Christmas nonsense and still have a wonderful time!

So here’s our x24 ‘advent calendar’ list of tips for reducing or cutting out much of the waste that Christmas can bring these days – as well as saving you some money.

1. Shop smart on the festive food

It’s easy to get carried away with the Christmas food shop but cut down on the expense and the waste by remembering two key things. Firstly, supermarkets are only closed on Christmas Day – so plan your meals, don’t panic buy, and don’t be swayed by offers for things you don’t need or really like. Supermarket shelves are full of tempting nibbles at this time of year and their ads make them look very appealing – but do you really want them? There are only so many cheese platters and Christmas tree-shaped vol-au-vonts you can eat! And secondly, whatever you do, absolutely don’t do the food shop when you’re hungry!

2. Start a new Christmas decoration tradition

There’s a limit to how many baubles one tree can hold. Before you put another set in your trolley, take a look at what you already have to identify the gaps. Why not build up a really special collection instead by starting a new tradition of buying just one or two really nice decorations a year until you have a set you look forward to getting out each year? Less plastic, less waste, and more memories.

3. Make your own Christmas wreath

Lots of us love a Christmas wreath on our doors but a new one can be expensive. It’s not difficult to make your own though and with a little effort it can be as nice – if not nicer – than shop-bought ones. Holly and ivy are traditional at this time of year and they’re also in lot of gardens and hedgerows. Take a look in yours, or when you go out for walk. You won’t need much – just a couple of sprigs of each, and you can pair them with a bit of conifer greenery. You could also add some small fir cones – see what you can find!

4. Agree on a gift spend limit

The pressure to buy the best, the biggest, the funniest presents can be heavy. Why not talk to family and friends about implementing a spend limit? This way the cost won’t stack up so much. Get more for your money too by looking for good quality second hand items.

5. Make a present list

It’s worth thinking ahead and coming up with ideas for people before you head to the shops. Making a list will help you avoid all those only-at-Christmas gifts that hit the shelves at this time of year. Mini puzzles, games, and toiletry sets are some of the most frequently given away gifts after Christmas. You may also be better off buying one quality gift for someone rather than lots of little items.

6. Visit independent shops

Independents are great at any time of the year and have a lot to offer at Christmas. They’re packed full of local artists’ and producers’ items that are much more individual than anything you’re likely to get in the supermarket or on a big online site. You’ll also be making their Christmas as well as that of the recipient!

7. Cut down on parking charges

If you’re going to a town or city centre for Christmas shopping, consider planning a trip with some friends and splitting the parking costs. It will also be more fun! Alternatively, because parking in the busy run up to Christmas can be stressful, why not get the bus or train instead?

8. Don’t get caught out with online shopping

If you are shopping online, be strong and resist those irresistible offers! Online giants use all kinds of tactics to get you to buy now, buy more, and pay later. Check out the likes of Etsy, charity online stores, and eBay for more individual or second-hand gifts, and if you’re looking for books, Bookshop.org can be a good alternative to Amazon and supports independent booksellers.

9. Pick thoughtful stocking fillers

Once upon a time you could fill a stocking with items costing no more than 50p each. Now even stocking fillers can be a fiver or more, which all adds up, and a lot of them end up never being used. Avoid novelty items and think about what you could include that would mean something. A smaller amount of presents they’ll actually use and keep is a better idea than a lot of little things that will get thrown or given away. Perhaps a nice bar of chocolate, a pen, a notebook, or some wildflower seeds – think about what the recipient likes and choose the items accordingly.

10. Create your own presents

Why not make your own? People genuinely do appreciate homemade goods – jars of jam or chutney, homemade crackers, cookies or chocolates… there are plenty of recipes out there to try. All you then need are some jam jars, and something nice to tie around them, or a cute label. Or if you’re good at knitting or crochet, why not make a scarf or hat for someone special?

11. Really plan ahead

Okay, so we’ve already said Christmas starts earlier every year, but if you really want to escape the shopping madness, shop REALLY early. Make a list of the people you plan to buy presents for at the start of the year (and this works just as well for birthdays), and get into the habit of buying things you know they’d like when you see them. Just make sure you keep them all in the same place and that you remember where this is. There’s nothing worse than knowing you bought your mum a great present months ago, and not being able to find it!

12. Wrap presents economically

There are a number of alternatives to the traditional Christmas wrapping paper. You could save wrapping paper to use again, or simply buy a roll of brown paper and decorate it yourself – perhaps with a Christmas ink stamp, or stickers, or by drawing something yourself like a sprig of holly. Re-useable bags, or squares of material like sari silk are also an increasingly popular option. These work especially well with presents you’re giving your nearest and dearest at home, as you can simply collect them back in and use them again next year!

13. Consider your card choices

If you like sending physical cards, it can be expensive, especially if you’ve got loads of relatives or multiple people in the house with long lists of friends to give them to. Supermarkets all offer larger, more cost-effective packs but if you’re looking for something less commercial, charity cards are a nice option. Check out though how much actually goes to the cause – because it can be a very small percentage. Or buy some blank cards and make them yourself!

14. Make your Christmas card messages count

It’s so easy just to write the basic message in Christmas cards, especially when you have a lot to write, but it only takes an extra sentence or so to really make them count. For tips on how to write better, more meaningful messages, check out our blog here.

15. Cut the cost of stamps

The price of stamps keeps on rising – now £1.25 for 1st class. A 2nd class stamp though is much less at 75p, which is something to bear in mind! On average, UK households send 68 Christmas cards each – costing a whopping £85 in 1st class postage or £51 2nd class. Even if you’ve just got 20 to send, that’s still £25 1st class, compared to a still substantial but much cheaper £15 if you use 2nd class. Be prepared and post early so you can take advantage of this price difference. Last year saw huge delays with deliveries though, so get writing them now!

16. Eat out – but don’t get caught out

Restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs are all keen to pack out venues and rightly so, Christmas is a time to celebrate. But it’s also an expensive time to go out. One way of keeping costs down is to go for lunch rather than dinner, and to look for places with set lunch menus. The options will be limited in number but they offer two or three courses at a reasonable price. If you and some of the people you’re going out with are wine drinkers, check out the bottle price – it can be a lot more cost-effective to go down the shared route rather than buying separate glasses – and don’t forget to look at the house wines. Check out too whether you or anyone else in the party has any vouchers, coupons or special offers for restaurants near you.

17. Go to the Christmas movies – at home

You don’t need to head out to go to the movies at Christmas, or take out more subscriptions to streaming channels. Check out the free channels – they are guaranteed to be showing some old favourites, and some festive specials. You could also head on down to CeX (Computer Exchange) or your local charity shop and get a few DVDs for a quid or two each. Not only will this save you money but also the endless scrolling through the TV options...

18. Share the load

If you’re hosting this Christmas, take the load off by asking your guests to bring something. You could split the courses by asking someone to bring a starter, and someone else a dessert. Or, ask everyone to bring their favourite Christmas tipple or snack to share.

19. Put on your own entertainment

Rather than buying new games, stage a return to the favourite party games of everyone’s childhood, like Charades, and Who Am I?, that only require pen and paper and a bit of imagination.

20. Forget fine china

On the higher end of the scale of Christmas purchases is the fancy dining set. If you’re fretting about what people will think of your ramekins and whether you need new crystal glassware, you can still make your table look great without buying a brand-new set. Mismatched and vintage is popular, so one tip is to check out your local charity shops and see what you can find. Another idea is to stick with what you have, and decorate the table instead with candles, holly, and the traditional Christmas Poinsettia.

21. Invite the neighbours round for a mince pie

Spread the Christmas spirit by inviting your neighbours over for a festive mince pie (or whatever you fancy). You could even make them! It’s a great way of getting to know people better and halting loneliness in its tracks at what can be a difficult time of year for many.

22. Do something different

Who says Christmas has to be traditional? Instead of the usual Christmas lunch or dinner, you could pack a Christmassy picnic and take off for a scenic walk at one of your favourite places. The seaside is still lovely in the winter, woods are atmospheric, and on a clear, crisp day, hilltop views will be magnificent!

23. Volunteer your services

There’s always a need for volunteers at Christmas, whether it’s preparing lunches at a homeless shelter, or helping out a charity supporting older people over the Christmas period, such as visiting those who would otherwise be on their own, or providing transport to their Christmas lunch. If you’d like to help others enjoy the festive period, why not check out charities near you to see what they need?

24. Do something else charitable

Last but not least, if you’ve managed to make some savings this year, what better way to end the year on a high note than to give to a cause. There are lots of ways to give to charities online at Christmas: for example you could hang a virtual bauble for someone, buy a virtual charity gift that helps someone in need, or donate the cost of cards and stamps and send e-cards instead of cards.

And that’s a wrap! We hope our 24 ideas help to make the festive season a little easier, and a lot less costly and commercial! Merry Christmas!

Posted by Melanie May, November 2023

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