Paying for Christmas

Many of us stress about paying for Christmas. There’s a lot of pressure to get the right presents, make a special meal, and to make sure everyone has an enjoyable day. To help with this we suggest the following: 

  • Make a budget
  • Save up 
  • Buy presents early 
  • Avoid debt 
  • Talk to people 
  • Find free or cheap things to do 
  • Try not to worry

“Christmas really can come together, regardless of the make-up of your family, or how much money you have in your bank account.” 

– Aisling, single mum.  

Read her blog on managing anxieties about Christmas 

Make a budget 

The first step to taking control of Christmas is to plan out a budget. If you know what you’re working towards, everything gets that bit easier.  

To begin your budget, make a list of family and friends you will be buying presents for and work out an amount for each person. If you’re hosting dinner, then think about how many people will be coming and how much you will need to spend on food and drink. If money is tight, perhaps you could ask guests to bring a dish. Then try and think about any extra costs that might come up, like travel. 

You can use an online budget tool, like Money Helper’s budget planner, to help you with this. 

Once you have your budget make sure that you stick to it! This is the plan for how Christmas is going to work. If extra costs start coming up, then it might be time to start getting creative (see ‘Find free or cheap things to do’ below). 

Save up 

Now that you know how much money you are planning to spend, you need to start saving up for it.  Ideally you start this months in advance of Christmas but starting even a few weeks before can be a big help.  

Try to save a regular amount each week or month if you can. This works better than simply saying you’ll save whatever you have left over, becomes sometimes that won’t be anything. 

Try to be realistic. It’s better to commit to a manageable amount than aim too high and give up. If you’re not sure how much you can afford to save, try starting small and working up. Putting spare £1 coins in a jar each week can add up. 

You can use Money Helper’s savings calculator to help you work out how much you need to save regularly to meet your budget. 

Buy Presents Early 

Another way to make Christmas more affordable is the tried and tested method of buying gifts well in advance of Christmas. This is basically the same as saving up, just instead of putting the money away, you’re getting the gift you would buy now rather than later. It also helps to spread the costs out over the year.  

Ideally do this when you see something cheap in a sale. Your last big chance to do this is probably the Black Friday sales at the end of November, so keep a look out! 

Avoid Debt 

A lot of people get into debt during Christmas time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of borrowing money or using a credit card to pay for things in December and then worry about them next year. However, getting back out of that debt can get really expensive and can have a negative impact on your credit report. This is also the case with deferred payment schemes like Klarna.  

While Christmas is a special day, it is only one day. It’s better to have a simpler Christmas day than to be struggling to pay for things for months afterward.  

Talk to people 

When you’ve worked out how much you can afford to spend on presents, talk to the people you share Christmas with about how much you are planning on spending. This can feel awkward, but it helps to set expectations and will take the pressure off. Often, it’s a relief for others to hear as they will be in the same boat. You may be able to come up with some good cheap alternatives together, such as a potluck Christmas dinner, agree that you’ll only exchange simple homemade gifts, or maybe have a no-gift rule for the adults and just focus on the kids. 

Find free or cheap things to do   

There’s lots of fun things you can do at Christmas that don’t break the bank. The best of these are the ones that involve the kids, such as reading favourite Christmas stories, baking projects, or making homemade decorations. There’s often a lot of free things to go and see, such as night-time walks to see Christmas lights or carol services.  

Really there is no limit here, just your imagination to come up with things which your family would enjoy. For inspiration, MoneySavingExpert has a fun list of cheap things to do in the Christmas run-up. 

Try not to worry 

Obviously, this is easier said than done, but try to remember that Christmas isn’t about the best presents or a perfect dinner: it’s about being with people you love. Your family will care about being with you, not how much you spend. 

As one single mum told us: 

“Don’t try too hard or worry too much. My children are adults now and they talk fondly about what we did, not what they got, at Christmas. And that was mostly/nearly free – decorating the house, driving round town to see the lights and visiting the Christmas section of the local garden centre to each chose one new bauble.”

It's what you do

Don’t try too hard or worry too much. My children are adults now and they talk fondly about what we did, not what they got, at Christmas. And that was mostly/nearly free - decorating the house, driving round town to see the lights and visiting the Christmas section of the local garden centre to each choose a new bauble.

Mum, 2 children

Stay busy

Make plans in advance if your little one is with someone else. Don't sit at home alone, stay busy!

Mum, 1 child

Bring and share

Have a bring-and-share Christmas lunch. My family do this and works well. It can unburden you with the cost of the food.

Mum, 1 child

Go easy on yourself

The best advice I can give is to go easy on yourself. It’s just one day – try to forget what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself and your children.


Spending time together is what matters

Having my children’s laughter around me… well, that’s the gift that can never be bought!

Mum, 2 children

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