How to do Christmas on a budget (and make it great!)

Each year, the festive season seems to come around more and more quickly. No sooner have you packed away your summer holiday clothes, then it’s suddenly Halloween. Then bonfire night arrives and before you know it, it’s Christmas again!

I don't know about you, but here at Moneyboat, many of us embark on the festive season with good intentions. Whether we’re trying to spend less, help out charities, dedicate more time to family and friends or make greener choices, there’s always something that we feel we could be doing better.

So how can we all stop feeling so guilty at this time of year? We’ve put our heads together and have come up with some ways that could help us all to cut back, and give back, this festive season. Here goes!

Volunteer for a charity

We all know money is super tight at the moment. Each of us is having to cut back as costs rise and salaries struggle to keep up with inflation. That’s why giving to charities isn’t always possible. In fact, a much more valuable contribution is often your time.

Volunteering a few hours of your time to a charity this festive season could make an enormous difference to people's lives. Volunteering can be very enjoyable and rewarding and you may even make new friends or learn something about yourself!

If you are interested in giving some of your valuable time this Christmas, have a think about the type of contribution you can make. If you have specific skills, like cooking, IT expertise, accountancy/book-keeping or even painting and decorating, you could offer these services to charities that need experts to add value and help out. Here are some links to help you find the right volunteering opportunity to suit your skills, interests and availability over the coming months:

Donate stuff, not money

For many households in the UK right now, there’s just not enough spare cash around to be able to give money to charity. However, there are other things you can donate that will be as, or more, appreciated by those who are in need this winter.

The brilliant UK-based food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, accepts donations of food items, goods and cash from members of the public who want to play a part in helping those who are struggling to put food on the table over Christmas.

Many supermarkets also accept donations, and they will pass donations onto food banks. This means it can be as easy as buying a few extra bits when you’re shopping for Christmas goodies. Remember to bring some festive cheers to your donations, with treat items and bits and bobs that will excite kids. What about an advent calendar, a Christmas pudding, a nice bubble bath or some crackers, for example.

If you want to make a more practical contribution, there are a number of charities that accept gifts of toiletries, toys and other essential and non-essential items at this time of year. An example is The Samaritans shoebox campaign, which collects toys for children all over the world. In the UK, local charities, like Dignity Boxes accept donations of toiletries and other essential items to help those in need retain their dignity. And perhaps the easiest way to help, is to hand over unwanted or extra toiletries to the Hygiene Bank, which has collection points in many Boots stores nationwide.

Make this Christmas your greenest yet

We all want to minimise our impact on the environment over the festive season and there are so many ways to achieve this. Here’s our top list:

Pare down your gift list

One of the best ways to consume less over Christmas is to agree on a pared-down gift list with your nearest and dearest. Auntie Sue doesn’t need any more handkerchiefs and Grandad’s sock drawer is fit to burst!

Secret Santa arrangements, where everyone buys for just one other person, is a great way to ‘streamline’ gift-giving. Other ideas include just buying for under-18s or agreeing that everyone will gift a ‘green’ product.

Get creative

Making gifts is actually really fun. If you have the time. Our top tip is to position your epic crafting session as a Christmas activity in its own right. Get some mulled wine on the stove and some Christmas songs on Spotify and get crafting! Here are some ideas of great homemade gifts that people will actually be happy to receive:

  • Flavoured gin/vodka

  • Hand-printed tea towels/aprons

  • Handmade biscuits/chocolate

  • Handmade paper

  • Handmade Christmas tree decorations

Source your Christmas food sustainably

Some quick tricks for improving the sustainability of your Christmas food include buying only free-range meat and organic, locally grown vegetables. Although this might not be affordable all year round, it might be something worth stretching to at this time of year - it'll taste better too!

You don’t have to spend spend spend

Particularly for families with children, the pressure to spend big on ‘unforgettable’ Christmas ‘experiences’ has reached crazy new levels. People are reserving spaces months in advance for Santa’s grotto visits, booking holidays to Lapland like it’s a weekend in Brighton and paying through the nose for the latest festive lights trail at their local park or National Trust. Prices keep going up and up and there are always folk who can afford to play along.

For the rest of us, however, these ‘experiences’ are simply not an option. But Christmas isn't about paid-for experiences. It’s about creating magic at home, with friends and family and in the great outdoors, where you can enjoy Christmas lights or country walks for absolutely nothing!

Top tips for cutting festive spending (and most of these will help reduce your environmental impact too!)

  • Set a budget for Christmas that includes EVERYTHING, from gifts, the tree and days out, to the crackers, the turkey and the mince pies. Keep a close eye on it and rein in spending if you start to exceed your budget.

  • Manage your kids’ expectations. Explain that they may not receive everything on their list and suggest some free or inexpensive activities for the Christmas holidays.

  • Buy a reusable tree and Christmas decorations.

  • Stop buying presents for adult friends and family (even small presents are often non-needed and can be wasteful).

  • Send digital Christmas cards.

  • Use brown packing paper for wrapping.

  • Shop early - preferably in the sales.

We know, there are SO MANY other sources of guilt over Christmas. Are you spending enough time with the in-laws? Can you get the afternoon off work for the Christmas carol concert? Have you done the Elf of the Shelf!? Argh!

We hope that this guide has, at least, given you some food for thought about what can and can’t be trimmed down. At the very least, we hope it’s reminded you that Christmas isn't about how much you spend, but how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

Moneyboat's service is rated Excellent

Blog Disclaimer

We do all we can to bring you interesting, practical and valuable information. However, please understand the following:

  • are in no way connected or affiliated with the application or affiliate links mentioned in this or any article. We do not receive any commission and are not responsible for any charges that may result from any free trials or paid subscriptions.
  • does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, seek medical advice immediately or dial 999.
  • Information and data on this blog are for information purposes only. While we work hard to ensure it is accurate, we cannot accept responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information provided on the blog. We will not be liable for any errors, omissions, losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided with no warranties and confers no rights.

If you feel that any of the information published on our blog is not accurate, please notify us via email at

Representative Example: Borrow £400 for 4 months, 4 monthly repayments of £149.37. Total repayment £597.48, interest rate p.a. (fixed) 255.5%. Representative APR 939.5%.Compare Moneyboat loans.

Warning: Late repayments can cause you serious money problems. For help, go to