Selfridge’s may have opened its Christmas shop in July, but most of us are only just starting to think seriously about the festive season. Hot on the heels of working out how you plan to spend Christmas comes the realisation of how much you plan to spend. Presents, food and trips out swiftly add up.
Of course, there are lots of ways to celebrate that do not require a big outlay. But if there are things you know you want to do or buy, and your budget is not limitless, some quick-fix savings will help.
Plan your supermarket shop
For many people, the biggest expense is food. Amy Sheppard, a food writer who shares tips and recipes on Instagram at @amysheppardfood, says her top tip for reducing the cost of eating is meal-planning. “So many people go to the supermarket with no idea what they are going to cook, and they end up spending more as a result,” she says. She plans seven to 10 meals in advance, and says this allows her to better plan how to use leftovers.
Sheppard schedules one or two of these store-cupboard meals a week. “When you’re doing your meal-planning it doesn’t have to be elaborate dinners every day. If you plan to have a tin of soup, or a jacket potato, you will save a lot of money.”
Include planning for lunch and snacks – grabbing food on the go is more expensive than taking in provisions. A packet of six apples at Tesco costs £1.20, while some sandwich shops will charge 50p just for one. Multipacks of Walkers crisps cost £1.50 for six packs versus 65p for a single bag. The multipack bags are smaller than those sold individually, so better for you, and much cheaper at £1 per 100g versus £2.
Jasmine Birtles, founder of the MoneyMagpie website, suggests going through your cupboards and using up the things you have been stashing at the back. “Every now and then, I only buy perishables that will go with what I have in the kitchen cupboard or the freezer.
Shop around for food
The website MySupermarket allows you to search for items on your list and compare prices at all of the major grocery shops. It also tells you how much you could save by switching to a different product in each store. A list of 16 items including Andrex toilet roll, own-brand beef mince and jam, Yorkshire Tea bags and Fairy washing-up liquid came to £41.23 in Waitrose, but £37.02 in Tesco – a saving of 10%. But swapping to the alternatives suggested by the site offered savings of around £20 in each store.
Achieving this saving will usually mean switching to the shop’s basics version, but if you are used to buying the premium version you may well notice the difference. Sheppard suggests that instead of moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, she says “wherever you are on that scale, if you just drop one level you probably won’t notice the difference in quality and you will save some money”.
If you do shop online, you should steel yourself before you check out: supermarkets are increasingly adding “flash sales” and prompts suggesting you may have forgotten some of your favourites, or missed out on a multibuy offer. But if it wasn’t on your list, resist adding it to your basket.
The online bank Thinkmoney claims that Brits spend £645 on meat each year as part of their food shopping, so there are savings to be made by eating less of it. You won’t often achieve savings by switching to meat alternatives – veggie sausages and burgers can cost more than meat versions. Instead, you need to move to plant-based meals, which may mean investing more time in the kitchen. You can find lots of great recipes at the guardian.com/food/vegetarian.
Spend loyalty points and giftcards
“Use your loyalty vouchers,” says Birtles. A survey by Esso earlier this year found that people were sitting on £47 of unused loyalty points and gift vouchers. Instead of hoarding your points for an unspecified treat some time in the future, spend them this month and keep your cash in your pocket.
Some, such as those given out by Boots, can be spent at any time, as long as the whole cost of the item is covered, so you can use them for anything you need to get in the shop. With others – for example, Sainsbury’s Nectar points – you need to accumulate a certain number before you can use them.
Also, hunt out any giftcards or vouchers you may have squirrelled away, perhaps even from last Christmas. It has been estimated that £300m sits unclaimed on giftcards, and some of this will disappear completely if the card has an expiry date and you don’t get to the shop first.
Cut the cost of fun
Seasoned theatre- and gig-goer Rupert Jones, deputy editor of the Guardian’s Money section, is a fan of the below-the-radar clubs that discreetly dish out free and heavily reduced tickets to plays, concerts and other events that haven’t yet sold out.
One of the sites he uses is ShowFilmFirst, which – despite its name – also covers theatre shows, gigs, and comedy nights, predominantly in London. He says: “Because of the way these sites work – you are usually sworn to secrecy – I can’t tell you what gigs and shows are currently on offer on ShowFilmFirst, or have previously been featured. But, assuming you are accepted (it is free to apply for membership), you will typically receive several emails a week.”
The free concerts can range from pub gigs to concerts at huge venues, and it is a similar story with the theatre shows. There are also some film screenings and previews. But you will need to be quick, says Jones. “Sometimes, by the time I’ve clicked on the link, all the freebies have been snapped up – and often the deals are very short notice.”
If you have bought insurance from Comparethemarket.com in the past year, make sure you have downloaded the Meerkat Movies app. This gets you two-for-one on cinema tickets. Tesco Clubcard vouchers can also be turned into trips to the flicks – 50p worth of vouchers can be converted to £1.50 to spend at Cineworld and you can get hold of the voucher in just 30 minutes.
Instead of getting a full-price takeway you could try Too Good to Go, an app that lets you find food that cafes and restaurants have left over at the end of the day. The Guardian writer Donna Ferguson wrote about how she had paid £3.49 for food that was originally priced at £10.60. The downside is that you pick the outlet but not the food, so be prepared for a pot-luck dinner.
An expense shared is often an expense halved, so it is well worth seeing if any of your friends are also up for some money saving.
If you are a driver and planning a trip this month, you could save on petrol money by getting a passenger to contribute. The websites Liftshare and BlaBlaCar let you advertise a journey you are doing, or find a lift.
Buying some items in bulk can save you money in the long-term, but in the short-term you will need to team up and share the cost if you want to see the cash. Find a friend with a Costco membership (or sign up and split the £15-a-year cost) and you can currently get five packs of nine Cushelle toilet rolls for £2.40 each, rather than the £4 they sell at in other supermarkets, or 10 packs of Huggies babywipes for £5.74.
Signing up to a Library of Things, if there is one in your area, will help you save on the types of items you use only occasionally. The Crystal Palace library is offering an £80 Bosch sander for hire for £7 a day, plus the £1 joining fee, and a Black & Decker wallpaper stripper for £3. In Oxford, you can borrow an extendable ladder for £10, or a camping bedding roll for £1 – handy if you have a guest staying.
In other areas, neighbourhood Facebook and Nextdoor.co.uk pages and independent forums carry ads for freebies and loans. Before buying anything you may need only briefly, take a look or post a call-out. If you don’t ask …
Organise a swap shop
You will need to agree a few rules in advance. For instance, will people exchange items for good, or is it just a loan? Will unclaimed items be taken back by the person who brought them, or will one of you go to the charity shop afterwards? Is it first come, first served, or will you draw lots if two people want the same thing?
Kitchen or homeware items – vases, picture frames, or even Christmas decorations – could also go into the mix. And even time. If your skill is baking, you might be able to land some free babysitting in exchange for promising to make a birthday cake in the new year. “Childcare is expensive. If you can share babysitting, or volunteer for each other, that’s a big saving,” says Birtles.
Check for forgotten spending
Naomi Willis, co-founder of the money-saving blog SkintDad.co.uk, says you should take a look at your bank statement. “Take a long hard look at your bank account and see what you’re paying out for, going through direct debits and standing orders,” she says. “Smaller bills may go unnoticed through the year, whether it be a gym membership, TV subscription, or a subscription box. Cancelling what you don’t need can add up and save you money fast.”
If you have ever signed up for the premium version of a bank account, or added family members to free travel insurance offered with your account, check that you still qualify for – and want – the extras you are paying for.
Resist starting your Christmas shopping
Sheppard recommends that you walk past the displays of crackers and nuts that are already filling the supermarkets. “So many people think: ‘I’m going to start shopping early and spread the cost’, and they get in crisps, savoury crackers and the like, but I think that’s a mistake,” she says. “Either the Christmas food gets eaten before its needed, or often it gets wasted.”
Sheppard says if you hold out and do a single big shop just before Christmas, you are likely to buy far less overall.
The same goes for gifts, and often there is nothing to be gained any more from buying early, says Birtles. “I buy presents throughout the year and it used to be that people like me did best, but over the past few years I have been irritated by how good the sales have been in December.”