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Counting the cost – ways to save money during an unusual Christmas

10 December 2020

The end of the year is traditionally a time when we sit and reflect on the year that’s been, and whether it met our expectationsHowever, few could have predicted the huge societal changes that have occurred in 2020. With this backdrop in mind, we’ve put together a few useful tips for families to help them manage this costly season, in the face of a year that has already presented significant challenges in terms of our finances, freedoms and family relationships.  

Remember that it’s not about money

Last year in our article on managing children’s expectations we discussed how our services had worked with families to discuss what Christmas represents to them – and unsurprisingly they shared that what families valued most is spending time together. So don’t feel too bad if you haven’t got a big budget for Christmas, and remember that you already have the most important elements you need as long as you focus on each other.

Keep costs low 

However, even considering the above point, many families will have already felt the financial sting of unemployment or reduced wages this year, as a result of the furlough scheme and reduced hours. What is perhaps more daunting to consider as the year comes to a close is that, even with the prospect of a Vaccine on the horizon, we may still have to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 in 2020. 

Therefore, try and ensure that you budget for a tight year ahead, and don’t be tempted to spend money you don’t have on presents and food, even though you understandably might want to treat family you’re not seeing or children who’ve had a difficult year.  

You’re not alone 

Although there’s a lot that can be done to manage costs at Christmas for some families the burden to provide for their children at Christmas may still be more than they can meet alone.  Thankfully there are ways you can access food hampers and toys if you are struggling to make ends meet.  Many reputable charities, including ourselves and the Salvation Army, run Christmas Toy Appeals and food banks are also available for those who require a little support to fill the cupboards at Christmas. Find your nearest food bank using this handy tracker.

These are usually linked to local churches, children’s centres and schools across the UK, so if you think this is support that would help you this year explore what’s available in your local community.   We also run our Food on Our Doorstep (FOOD) programme in several locations across the country, which provides cheap access to food on a subscription basis, and might be useful for families who are trying to make ends meet. 

experts tell us that what children crave is the attention of their parents, so time is really the far more valuable commodity”

Time is money? 

The well-worn phrase is that time is money but, truthfully, our experts tell us that what children crave is the attention of their parents, so time is really the far more valuable commodity. In the rush to make Christmas special don’t forget to put some time aside to play with younger children, or spend some time with older ones…. There’s a reason board games are staple presents going back generations! On that note consumer and lifestyle magazine T2 has some great suggestions for lesser-known board games you can try out this Christmas.

Bargain birds

One thing noted by the farming industry is that, with Christmas dinners likely taking place among smaller groups, there won’t be the demand for large turkeys there’s been in the past. Of course, the turkeys themselves will have been raised months in advance, so expect to get a bargain both at the till as unwanted stock is flogged off at bargain prices, and also in the days ahead where you can feed your family several times over on the leftovers. Of course, for vegetarian and vegan readers, the same rules are likely to apply to all Christmas food as family dinners are reduced in scale, so if you can afford to wait you might also find some bargains. So, on that note, our many projects supporting families with food across the country have written some great advice about reducing waste and using leftovers which should help you get creative in the kitchen this Christmas. 

Second hand isn’t half as good! 

If you’re on a budget you should consider buying some presents second hand. Although you’re unlikely to find a car boot sale or flea market during COVID-19, charity shops still need your custom, and online auction sites remain open for business. What’s more, we’ve had nearly an entire years’ worth of families having to spend a huge amount of time at home, and sales of goods such as toys and computer games have seen huge growth this year, which means they are far more likely to turn up second hand at bargain prices. As families will be trying to raise money for their own Christmas presents you might very well find that it works to your mutual advantage to buy and sell between people, and not businesses.  

Order your presents early 

For many years newspapers have spoken about the death of high street shopping, and particularly at Christmas time. How true this will be in future is still in question, but there is little doubt that this year many of us will feel uncomfortable visiting city centres or retail parks to purchase our gifts, even if they’re much less busy than before. However, it’s unlikely that the retail sector is fully prepared for the mass shift from shopping in-person to online shopping, so it’s probably a good idea to purchase your gifts early, particularly if you then need to post them onward. Mum Janet agrees, and says “Start shopping now! I find it’s good to break it up into chunks – buy something every week in the lead up to avoid feeling like it all creeps up on you at the last minute”.

Make sure you post your gifts in good time 

We don’t know how much extra post the shift to online shopping will generate but posting gifts early to family and friends in other cities/counties is not only a good idea to ensure they get there – it will also save you money in postage as you can send your parcels second class.  

One Santa, one present 

Mum Lucy says she has a good, simple rule for parents who think they need to have a massive pile of presents from Father Christmas. She said: “The way I’ve done it is to make it clear that there’s just one present from Father Christmas and the rest is from family members. That way even if I can’t afford to buy lots there’s always one from Father Christmas so each child feels special. It just takes a lot of pressure off… Plus they know you’ve worked really hard to do the rest. Why let Father Christmas take all the credit?” 

Get more stories, ideas, and inspiration to make your Christmas magic, or contact our FamilyLine for information, guidance, and support on an issue affecting your family.