Secret Santa and DIY crackers: readers’ festive money-saving tips

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From secret Santa to adapting your Christmas meal’s centrepiece, there are many ways to make celebrating the holiday more affordable as budgets are squeezed.

Here, six readers in the UK share their tips on how they’ll be keeping costs down this year while still getting into the festive spirit.

Christmas potluck: ‘Relieves financial pressure from the host’

“Everybody is going to bring something to eat; either to be cooked or already made. This way costs are kept down, and the host will not feel as though they are under a great deal of pressure financially to put on an over-the-top meal. There’s 18 of us in total – it’s always the grandmother of the family who hosts as she has the biggest house and she gets a great deal of joy from it.

“I normally end up bringing smoked salmon but I’m awaiting my final instructions. It’s a traditional menu. One year someone made figgy pudding; other people buy the turkey. People contribute whatever they can; those who have young children do nibbles.” Ruth Kosminsky, 68, London, retired

Homemade presents: ‘I’ve made coffee tables out of tree trunk wedges’

View image in fullscreenIan made a coffee table out of a tree the council had chopped down. Photograph: Ian Cheney

“My partner’s family have done handmade presents for a number of years now. We try to keep it to a limit of £10 to £15, there’s less plastic junk and it’s that little bit more special.

“We’ve done all sorts over the years: homemade kimchi, homemade Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce, reusable face wipes, wooden coasters, hand warmers! [My partner] has been on a few pottery courses recently, which has allowed her to finesse some espresso cups and milk jugs for this year.

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“The local council were cutting down a tree in front of the house so I managed to blag some wedges of tree trunks and have made coffee tables! The legs were £12 for a set.” Ian Cheney, 42, train conductor, Solihull

Secondhand: ‘eBay is our best friend’

“EBay is our best friend in the lead-up to Christmas. We buy all the kids’ toys on [there]. Many people keep the original boxes and the kids know it’s better not to produce more plastic. Duplo, Playmobil, all the big names are on eBay and we must have saved hundreds over the years.

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“Many people complain about Christmas being in shops from October, but it allows those of us on a budget to stock up gradually rather than become indebted by the middle of December. I often buy extended family’s presents and decorations in the January sales, and have the stockings done and dusted by October.” Jess, 35, teacher, Kidlington

DIY decorations: ‘Christmas crackers made out of loo roll tubes’

View image in fullscreenLaura collects wrapping paper. Photograph: LauraView image in fullscreenLaura’s Christmas wreath. Photograph: Laura

“I’ve been keeping hold of any nice paper, wrapping [and] patterned cloth, for several months and I almost have enough to wrap the presents this year. We’ve also got a drawer in the bathroom for loo roll tubes, and my nine-year-old son is already thinking up the jokes he’ll write to go in the homemade crackers we’ll make out of them.

“We’ll also be spending a Saturday afternoon collecting holly and laurel for the wreath we make each year. I refuse to do it the proper way with a frame – I just wrestle bits of holly into a circle. They’re never fancy and frequently lop-sided, but I still prefer it to the shop-bought ones anyway.”

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“We also like to indulge ourselves with jolabokaflod, the Icelandic practice of gifting books on Christmas Eve. The kids love opening something on Christmas Eve. This year we’ve made a pact to only buy books from charity shops. If anything, this makes the secret challenge of finding something special that little bit more fun!” Laura, 38, designer, Devon

Secret Santa: ‘Max £25 each’

“As a family we all converge on one house on Christmas Day, taking turns to host. We made changes a few years ago when the grandchildren started to arrive and the cost of presents as well as the logistics were getting unmanageable. Last year it was nine adults and six children.

“For the adults we do a secret Santa – max £25 and everyone has to put on the family WhatsApp group the gift they’d like (or risk getting a surprise). We just decided to cut the cost – it [also] cuts down that horrible sense of overindulgence. It’s simplified Christmas no end and everyone gets the gift they want. There’s something about having a gift you want but didn’t buy, and doing it this way adds some fun. The children obviously enjoy the fact that Santa brings a gift for everyone.”
Barbara Daykin, 63, Manchester, retired

Plan ahead: ‘I asked my family for Christmas ideas in September’

“Start writing your Christmas list out now and spread the cost out over the next four weeks. I did this for the first time this year and started working it out from September, asking my family for ideas. I’m an organised person but I’ve never been that organised. Sticking to the list means you won’t be tempted by the shops’ offers!

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“I’m vegan and this year we won’t be cooking a meat option. Normally I do a meat option but this year I said [eating vegan] will be good for all. Meat takes a long time to cook, much longer than veg. It’s a great way to save money, both not needing to buy expensive meat and with less oven time needed!”
Sarah, 37, teacher, Tadcaster

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