Christmas can make us feel both financially stretched and obliged to spend, meaning the festive season is often more stressful than restful.
But help is hand with this bumper Christmas edition of FTThrift, our regular money-saving column.
Here, we present our 12 Saves of Christmas, selected from the best suggestions by FT staff, Money Mentor Lindsay Cook and our readers and Twitter followers. Happy holidays.
1 Bag extra online bargains and double discounts
When shopping online — especially for wine — leave items in the basket overnight. You will often find an emailed offer of a cheaper price or free delivery from the retailer the following morning to “nudge” you into completing your purchase. And offers can be doubled up. The White Company issues different vouchers that can be used together. You can combine a £10 off voucher with a separate 20 per cent off one, and get a £50 item for £30. At Marks and Spencer, customers can get a £25 bottle of champagne for £10 if they buy a “Dine In” package at the weekend. Combined with five other bottles of wine, they get another 25 per cent off, making the champagne £7.50.
2 Thrifty books
Publishers love Christmas. It is the time of year when hardback versions of their hottest new launches appear at high prices, in the hope that publicity, hype and last-minute panic will persuade us to pay £20 or more for one title. It is savvier to buy previous years’ big launches. For example, Jamie Oliver’s super-thrifty Save With Jamie recipe book can be bought online for £5.20. When it was launched in 2013, it cost £26. The Book People website is a good source of cheap books.
3 Snap happy
Children are expensive, but here is a cheap gift idea for doting grandparents. Before Christmas, select several good pictures of your brood (preferably including some with the gift recipient). Print them out in colour at Boots, at 25p each for 6inch x 4inch photos, which will fit most frames. Find a multi-picture frame on eBay, or in a charity shop. Or use Sticky9, a website that lets you choose the best snaps from your smartphone, which it will turn into a set of nine fridge magnets for a current price of £7.49 (including delivery).
4 The clothes off your back
Well, not the clothes exactly. But you know the ribbons that dangle somewhat pointlessly from the inside shoulders of ladies’ blouses? Cut them all off, and use them as ties for gift tags on presents (kudos to Simoney Kyriakou of Financial Adviser for this tip!)
5 Tea-lights amid the winter’s snow
Baby food jars make good Christmas ornaments. Find 20, clean them, fill with tea lights and use some wire to create a basket-type handle. Tie them to trees to make the garden twinkle, or put them around staircases or on mantelpieces. You could adorn with a holly leaf or a ribbon (see above).
6 Every Lidl helps
Follow the weekly and daily deals on budget retailer’s websites for cut-price items that can be purchased in advance. At the time of writing, Lidl was offering a 70cm potted Christmas tree for £6.99, for example, compared to £19.99 for a 50cm model from Waitrose. Do not take it for granted that Aldi and Lidl are always cheaper, however. The big four supermarkets try to match them on prices of Christmas meats, but then charge a lot for trimmings such as stuffing. Biscuits are also often better to buy from the discounters.
7 Bargain bubbles
Buy early and buy enough. Supermarkets run cheap alcohol deals as loss-leaders from November, although these can change daily, so keep your eyes peeled. As an example, at the time of writing, Tesco is offering a non-vintage Pol Aimé (an award-winning fizz) for £13. For the more label-conscious, Majestic Wines is selling a six-bottle case of Laurent Perrier for £24.98 per bottle, compared to about £38 individually.
8 Scavenger Santa
For stocking fillers, this is a fun variant on Secret Santa, but you must spend nothing or have a £1 limit. Frequent business travellers can re-gift toiletries, manicure sets and slippers from airlines or hotels. You can gift goody bag items from industry events or cash in loyalty points from supermarkets for restaurant or cinema vouchers. If you have neglected to use such schemes so far, get signed up for next year. Boots Advantage scheme, for example, offers extra points for new parents and the over-60s. Introduce a friend to your hairdresser, beauty salon or spa in exchange for a half-price treatment in January for them.
9 Rocking around the Christmas credit cards
Use separate credit cards for different shopping periods. If one has a statement day of 3rd of the month and the other is the 16th, use each card just after the statement to get the maximum interest-free period before you have to pay.
10 Grab some free Christmas cash
Sign up for a fixed-rate mortgage or a fixed-rate energy tariff. Sign up for a new current account and get £100 or £100 of vouchers.
And finally . . . the two top tips from our readers.
11 Grow-your-own savings
FT Money reader Angus Redpath writes: Buy cheap wooden boxes/containers and fill attractively with home-grown plants or bulbs for a lovely gift. By making these yourself they cost a fraction of what they would in a good garden centre, but for maximum good looks don’t forget to add sphagnum moss (£5 for a large bag online) to the top of the soil — that really does make all the difference.
12 And next year, start shopping early
FT Money reader Ebonn Hixon writes: Shop for your family in the sales right after the previous Christmas, and continue to seek deals throughout the year. By the time Christmas comes around the next year, you can mark most family members off the shopping list and you have no cash flow crunch.
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