Life

Cheap gifts for a frugal Christmas

By Francesca Librae

As Christmas looms, our minds and our pockets are burdened with the reality of yet another costly Christmas. Children, grandchildren, siblings, colleagues – all those presents to buy that whittle away your hard-earned money.

But how can we make Christmas more affordable? With the recession biting a hole in our budgets, finding affordable ways to fill stockings can seem more unlikely than winning the lottery. (A lottery ticket is a great stocking-filler by the way, just make sure you agree to split the winnings if they hit the jackpot.)

Budget

Firstly, set a budget. Make a list of all the names you need to buy for and how much you want to spend on each person. If buying for children, make sure you keep it even or arguments will ensue. For kids it’s probably best to budget around £20 – £30 each. You will be surprised what you can buy with that amount. For mum and dad or Aunty Mary and Uncle Bob – try and get them a joint gift for about the same price – this works out much cheaper than individual presents. If you can’t stop penny pinching into your own pockets then banks often offer Christmas savings plans with good rates to help you plan ahead for the following year. It’s also worth checking out GMTV’s money-man Martin Lewis’ financial advice on www.gm.tv/money.

Imagination is key

There is always that certain someone who is just impossible to buy for, but there are plenty of fun and creative ideas that won’t break the bank. Get creative this Christmas and explore thrifty and resourceful ways to celebrate without sacrificing style.

Last year I bought two chef’s hats online and got my parents’ names embroidered on the front at my local market. The whole gift cost £25. If you fancy spending a little more, you can always throw in a nice cook-book. Most high street book shops have great sales over the Christmas period. www.bhs.co.uk have lots of great deals for the Christmas period. A book-light is just £6, which you can throw in with a nice book for grandma; they also have portable iPod speakers for just £10.

Another great gift idea is a magazine subscription. I once bought my dad a Top Gear subscription that he loved (and we know how hard dads are to buy for). www.magazine-group.co.uk has loads of great Christmas deals on many top selling titles. An ‘Elle’ subscription currently has 44% reduction from £42.99 to £24.99 for 12 issues and ‘Good Housekeeping’ for the same price. ‘FHM’ is also on offer for a very reasonable £16.00 a year. Have a search online for the magazine you want and give someone a great gift they can look forward to all year round.

Remember, there are endless budget friendly Christmas bargains on offer, it’s just a matter of finding them. Don’t shy away from major department stores in fear of costly gifts. Harvey Nichols are offering a dinner package of mulled wine, three-course dinner and half a bottle of wine – all for just £29 per person. If you fancy something a bit more unique for your siblings or friends, they also have cocktail master classes for £25 each.

If you’re looking for gifts for a colleague or acquaintance – there is no need to budget more that £10. Buy someone a voucher for iTunes, or check out the Harvey Nichols Foodmarket. They have a gorgeous Little Bloomers Collection – the mini-gifts are tree decorations made from 100% recycled paper that contain seeds. Plant them in the ground after Christmas and grow wild flowers or clovers. These eco-friendly gifts start from just £4.50. They also have a 100% fair trade plush chocolate decorative range for just £5.95. A friend of mine once bought me a strawberry plant as a gift, which I (although apprehensive at first) managed to grow and harvest. Bonzai trees are also great gifts – you can snatch them up from stalls at the Christmas market from just £10.00.

Stocking-fillers

There is nothing more enjoyable than opening a pile of presents. For the youngsters, ripping open masses of wrapping paper is a gift in itself. Fill their stockings with a few affordable gifts and let the mess begin (make sure you stock up on bags). Remember, the younger they are the less they are going to concern themselves with the value of your gifts. Thetoyshop.com has a range of stocking-fillers, plus great sales for larger presents such as a Hello Kitty Market Stall reduced from £30 to £15 and a Power Tour Electric Guitar reduced from £69.99 to £19.99. My partner once gave me a packet of rolos with just his last one left – a cheap yet thoughtful addition for a spouse. Another funny gift is a hotel reception bell; write down ‘bing once for tea, twice for coffee’ in the card and stick it in your lounge for everyone to enjoy. www.quickdrawsupplies.com sell them for just £2.00.

www.game.co.uk have a big Christmas sale on most consoles and games – you can snatch up the new Hannah Montana Nintendo DS game reduced from £29.99 to £12.99 and the brand new Beatles – Rock Band game for the Wii at just £15.99 reduced from £39.99. For a more mature gift try www.fragrancedirect.co.uk for good perfume deals or www.pharmacyfirst.co.uk who have an additional 10% off the sale prices on most perfumes with the ‘XMASFRAG’ discount code when you pay. 

It’s all very well getting things on the cheap – but you’d be surprised how many gifts you can get for free. Try getting tickets to a TV taping at www.applausestore.com. It’s a great website for finding the right tickets for the right person. Get your brother or uncle some tickets to see a taping of Top Gear, or tell your mum she has tickets to watch the next X-Factor launch night. These tickets are free, but if you want to push the boat out, perhaps book a night in a hotel.

If you’re looking for something exciting and fun for the little ones over Christmas, give them a parcel to open filled with loads of cheap arts and crafts materials and tell them they are going to create 12 exciting pictures for a calendar. Or better yet, collect fancy dress items from friends and thrift stores, let them dress up in silly outfits and take pictures as a special calendar present for the family. That way you make the kids happy and offer gifts that other family members can cherish.

It’s the thought that counts

Well, maybe it does. Cast your mind back to those special moments where someone has devoted their time and thoughts to you. Whether it’s your child running home from school to show you the painting they did for Mum or the photo album you created filled with memories for that special someone. Homemade gifts are a great way of including the whole family in a fun, thoughtful and inexpensive Christmas. Check out www.oldenglishcrackers.com, which will teach you how to make your own Christmas crackers. You can also come up with other exciting ways to make decorations for your tree; use small props such as matchboxes wrapped up like gifts or even bake some homemade biscuits and hang them on the tree – make sure you pierce a hole in the top.

Before you hit the high streets make sure to check out for discount vouchers. www.moneyoffvouchercodes.co.uk offer hundreds of discount coupons for most major high street stores including HMV, Marks & Spencer and Argos. If you’ve got a few young stockings to fill, why not buy one bigger gift that they can all get enjoyment out of. Argos are offering a high quality darts set for just £14.99, table football game or mini pool tables at just £29.99 reduced from £59.99.

Make Christmas an experience

What if you didn’t have to bother with shopping at all? Many families choose to make memories over Christmas rather than buying gifts. A day at the zoo or a trip to the museum is a great way to entertain the kids and in most cases is totally free. For a more mature experience try thegiftexperience.co.uk. They offer fun, affordable days out for families to enjoy over the Christmas period. Offers include paintballing for eight for just £20 and health club day passes for two at a wide range of top spas for the same price. Spinningfields ice rink also offer reasonable rates at just £20 for a family of four.

If everyone agrees, it may just be worth waiting until after Christmas to do your shopping. Boxing day usually opens the doors to hundreds of high streets sales. Make a deal with your family to open presents after the New Year and make up for it with double the amount!

Christmas is a magical time of year for family and friends to enjoy. If you plan ahead, budget well and do your research, there is no reason why the credit crunch should take a bite out of your Christmas. Enjoy.

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