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So you want to have a frugal Christmas. Maybe you’re short on funds, you’ve recently watched Marie Kondo or are simply fed up with the Consumerist Christmas.

Here’s how to relieve the pressure and stress of gift-giving, and escape the feeling of obligation at Christmas time.

A Frugal Budget

Rule #1. Set a budget. Be realistic about how much you can afford, and how much you’re willing to pay for gifts, food and whatever else. As we’ll find out later, this budget might not even be monetary! If you’re making gifts yourself, the limit can be time-bound, for example ‘No longer than 1 hour per person.’

Rule #2. Stick to it! To limit yourself, it’s a smart idea to take cash when you go shopping, and leave the cards at home.

Rule #3. Stick to it.

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Frugal Gifts

There are a few elements to frugal gift-giving (and -receiving) at Christmas.

Handmade or Homemade

Food is a great Christmas gift, because it shows you’ve invested time and effort to create something for someone, and once it’s eaten, it’s gone and won’t linger gathering dust on a shelf.

You could either buy an expensive, plastic-wrapped box of Christmas-themed shortbread, or you could decorate a batch of gingerbread with your kid’s favourite Avengers characters, or make mini-versions of your co-workers for a thoughtful, edible present.

Or, you could spice up something you’re already really good at! If your banana bread brings the boys to the yard, you could deviate from the recipe and add some raspberry and coconut for your coco-lover friend.

Making your own Christmas cards is another cost-effective and personalised way to a frugal Christmas. It saves a few bucks per card, and shows more thoughtfulness than a tacky festive pun. Who doesn’t love getting a handmade card? For these, you could either borrow your kids’ textas and go crazy, or if you really can’t draw to save your life, try making a unique collage from all the Christmas decor in magazines.

Experiences > Things

The second element to a frugal Christmas is getting away from the “Buy buy buy!” mentality around the season, and instead focusing on creating meaningful and special experiences.

If you can’t bake, you might know a few chords on guitar or piano and can write a song for someone, or those succulents you’ve been nursing could be propagated as small tokens of affection or appreciation.

For memory-making experiences, you could take the kids to high ropes or Luna Park. It’s still a surprise, and it’s still an extra-ordinary experience.

If you must have something under the tree for your tinker to unwrap, a new snorkel mask or a pair of fins you found at Vinnies could be your family’s summer-long memory-maker.

Something really lovely you could do with your kids is going through their toys to see if there are some that haven’t received much love in a while, and that is still in good condition, that can be given to kids that don’t have many toys. This can be a great way to teach your kids about the true value of giving, and of what they have. To make it more rewarding, you could make a rule that for every 5 or 10 toys your kids send to a new home, they can write one new toy on their Christmas list for Santa. (But maybe you can steer them towards long-lasting, non-plastic toys like Lego, a new game for an existing console, or a set of textas).

For the whole family

Another great idea is getting a gift as a family, for the family. Something like a mini veggie patch or garden can produce fresh and healthy food for everyday use, and bring you closer together with a unifying project. If the parents fork out for the soil and pots, the kids can express their individuality by picking one or two plants from a local nursery or Bunnings. Homegrown food (and caring for their plants) is so rewarding, both physically and mentally, and are long-lasting investments that are eco-friendly, cost-effective, and beautiful.

Receiving gifts

Rather than wait for random gifts from coworkers in Secret Santa or presents unwittingly given back to you by someone you gave it to last year, write up and be vocal about your own Christmas Wish List. You could send an email to everyone in the Secret Santa, or put a little post-it note around your desk somewhere, so that nervous Gary who joined the team this year isn’t stressing and buying a useless gift for you. Think of something you really need, or especially want, that will last. This is extra helpful for your kids who may be struggling to think of something to get you and too nervous to ask, but still want to show how much you mean to them. Something as broad as a ‘pot plant’ gives a kid both reasonable parameters and space to pick a unique gift for you.

Frugal Food

Here’s the big one. Being frugal is all about being smart and economical with your money and food. Hosting Christmas dinner can easily be the most stressful night of the year, which is entirely beside the point at Christmas. If you happen to be the unlucky family chosen to host the Christmas feast this year, we have some tips to make your meal merrier.

BYO

If the friends and family invited to the Christmas do aren’t already bringing their own bubbly, invite them to do so. This relaxes your budget and allows your mates to bring the drinks they enjoy most.

Potluck

If everyone coming can commit to one dish, whether this is a side of mashed sweet potato, a summer salad, or a festive dessert, then your job as Top Chef becomes a whole lot easier. It’s important to organise who will bring what beforehand, so you don’t end up with seven desserts and one roast turkey!

Use what you have

If you’ve found a great recipe for a Christmas dish but it calls for some outlandish, bougie ingredients like ‘apple cider vinegar’ or ‘artisanal cranberries’, see what you can substitute from your pantry.

Time

Time is the most precious commodity. Everybody covets time, and no one has enough of it. When your kid says they want a new bike for Christmas, what they might mean is they’d love to take the (rusty but roadworthy) bikes to the lake or park and go riding with you. Chuck in an ice-cream or hot choccy afterward and you’re the best parent ever. Instead of buying a thing for someone, giving them a piece of yourself is a much more meaningful and valuable gift, and is easily achieved by swapping out presents for presence.

Essentially, to succeed in a frugal Christmas, your mindset needs to shift from Things to Experiences and People. Do you remember what you got last Christmas? I don’t, but I do remember who I was with, and what we did, and therein lies the real gift of Christmas.

What are your top tips for a frugal festive season? Tell us in the comments below.

  • Don’t get into debt for Christmas. Save even a little throughout the year, and put it aside. Also most adults have all they need, or just buy what they want. The urge to give everyone a small something actually turns into a much bigger expense, as it adds up. Try to catch up with people in your life prior to Christmas as it’s you they want to see and it will put less pressure on you to feel you much reciprocate with a gift.

    Reply

  • We made sure there were no leftovers this year. We had a seafood menu and apportioned how many scallops, prawns, pre dinner nibbles per person and didn’t buy more than what we thought everyone would eat. Then they could fill up on cheese and crackers and fresh fruit from our own trees on the table.
    And the best thing was our guests – they people who were on their own for whatever reason, but we could all enjoy each others company and will do so many more times throughout the year.

    Reply

  • I like the bring a plate idea. We do this for our family Christmas

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  • I’d like to be more organised and budget well.

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  • I don’t like to have a budget for Christmas

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  • Some great tips, very handy

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  • Help each other out, bring a plate etc.

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  • My biggest mistake is that I never set a budget. I just have a rough idea of what I should spend on everyone.

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  • Pretty good tips! I used to budget for everyone but I found I failed at sticking to it so now I kinds just dont anymore. Also it was hard to keep track when buying gifts throughout the year. Then this year they had Black Friday sales and Harvey Norman has had 2 epic sales the past two months, which have give us fantastic bargains but I’m sure the budget would have been blown away LONG before then!

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  • Great advices

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  • Great suggestions. In regards to gifts I’m always too generous and struggle to stay on budget.

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  • Shop sales and in advance

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  • Fantastic article and right on the money.

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  • Such a useful article. Its so easy to go silly and get carried away at Christmas time, but you have to think clearly and keep track of everything

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  • I think moderation is really helpful – dont go overboard with anything.


    • True ! My old neighbour was a great example to me. She would not spend more then $10 for each of her children and all her gift to her friends & family were thoughtful but cheap.

    Reply

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