18 December 2023

Summer $avings: Turn your Christmas spending upside down and save on gifts and decorating

| Jen White
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Upside-down Christmas tree in a decorated room.

You can decorate your home without turning your budget upside down this Christmas. Photo: Shutterstock.

It’s natural to want to spoil your nearest and dearest with flashy Christmas gifts, but if it breaks your budget or sends you further into debt, that feeling of joy may soon turn to despair.

But if you’re prepared to spend time rather than money, it is possible to give beautiful gifts without the huge price tag.

You can do the same with decorating your home inside and out.

Here are some handy hints to help you keep the ‘happy’ in Happy Christmas.

Buy for fewer people
Instead of buying gifts for every member of your extended family, opt for Secret Santa and set a limit to how much you are going to spend. Or the family may decide to only buy presents for children under a certain age. For friends, decide in advance that you’re not going to swap gifts.

Limit gifts for kids
It’s easy to go overboard and buy lots of gifts for your kids. Some parents swear by the “four gifts rule” – give your kids something they need, something they want, something they read and something they wear.

Save money buying online
If you’re buying gifts online, look for a coupon code or sign up for the retailer’s VIP customer program. Often, you’ll be rewarded with a percentage off. Just make sure that you’re buying from a reputable website. A friend managed to save half price on the family calendars she makes through an online photo company just by using a coupon code.

Make personalised gifts
Speaking of photo calendars, there are so many options for personalised gifts that you can find something to suit everyone. Think mugs, stubby coolers, T-shirts, candles, glassware, even good-looking cheese serving boards. A personalised gift really says “you’re special”. Try not to leave it till the last minute as you may find paying for express postage costs more than the gift.

Make homemade gifts
Consider making gifts instead of buying them. You can create heartwarming gifts like beautiful succulents, fresh herbs, baking mixes, DIY gift baskets, homemade soap and bath salts, homemade jams and sauces. Some of these take a bit more planning, so next year, start earlier in the year and stock up on craft items while they’re on sale. Here are some ideas:

  • Unusual or coloured bottles, teapots and vases make great plant holders, or use them to propagate plant clippings. Using water rather than soil is less messy and if you use attractive containers they can make design statements in their own right. Indoor plants including devil’s ivy, coleus and pilea can be propagated this way, as well as many succulents, figs, hydrangea, and soft herbs like mint or basil.
  • A pasta server with bottled pasta sauce and some fancy pasta.
  • Spa basket: a headband and face washer to complement bath salts, creams or lotions.
  • Gardening basket: a potted plant, gardening gloves, tools, pots.
  • Gourmet food: check out your local supermarket for speciality teas, coffees, chocolates, biscuits, oils or dressings that are nice to eat but are not necessarily something a person would buy in the weekly shop.

Op shops
There are many charity op shops throughout the Illawarra – Vinnies, Salvos, Lifeline and Anglicare where you can pick up some fabulous gifts for next to nothing, especially if you’re after a Secret Santa gift. Even better, every dollar you spend is helping a charity and you’re being kind to the environment by shopping sustainably. Younger kids don’t know or care if a gift is used, although you will often find new books and toys. Some suggestions include:

  • For kids: A big box of cooking utensils and pans makes for a great pretend kitchen. Or create a dress-up box with (washed) clothes, jewellery items, bags, wallets, hats and shoes.
  • Hampers: pick up a hamper or basket and fill it to suit the recipient – a tea hamper could include a vintage cup and saucer with a choice of supermarket teas, or a wine hamper could include wine glasses and a bottle of wine.
  • Photo frames: Mums, dads and grandparents all love family photos, so grab a frame and print out some photos. It can be a recent shot, or a special one from the past.
  • Candle holders: Look for candle holders, candelabras or just unusual glasses – pop in a tea light and you have a unique gift. Most op shops have heaps of candles for sale, many unused.

Family hand-me-down gifts
If your children are old enough, you could pass along keepsake jewellery or other special family treasures, especially if there is a story to go with them.

Make a charity donation rather than buying presents
Donate to charity on behalf of a family member or friend as a gift. This gift can go a long way to the charity in need and can also help you celebrate Christmas on a budget. You can ask your family member or friend what their favourite charity is or donate to one of your choosing on their behalf.

Cash in your points
Check your Flybuys or Woolies Rewards points to see what you can redeem them for. Same for Qantas rewards points. You might find you have an amount that you can use for Christmas groceries and gifts.

Give the gift of time
As nice as it is to spend money on gifts for some people, sometimes the gift of time is even more special. Create homemade coupons that can be redeemed for a home-cooked meal, massages or foot rubs for partners, gardening help for an older relative or babysitting for friends.

READ ALSO: Illawarra Christmas champion creates comprehensive map of all the best light displays

Decorating the home
As much as we all love a beautifully decorated home, it’s not worth spending lots of money on decorations.

Reuse what you have or combine them with a few new ones to create a new look. Op shops are a great place to pick up cheap and often unusual decorations, and retail outlets like the Reject Shop or Dollar Shops have everything Christmas you could want. Make a list before you head out and don’t grab everything you see.

Wrapping paper
Wrapping paper seems like a huge waste of money when you look at the pile of rubbish after the Christmas morning gift-opening frenzy. Think outside the square – reuse gift bags or place gifts in reusable cloth bags and tie with a nice ribbon. Use kids artwork from daycare or school as handmade wrapping paper, or try using scarves or pieces of fabric. Plain brown paper can be decorated with personalised messages, flowers, coloured string, or pinecones if you have a handy tree.

Christmas tree
If you don’t have a tree, or don’t have space for one, think outside the square and create your own! You could make a tree shape on the wall using fairy lights, or buy some green felt for a tree and decorations. Have a hunt around the garden or bushy area for a branch to place in a tall vase and hang decorations from its twigs. Make cone trees by bending sturdy construction paper into a cone shape and attaching the sides with tape. Then decorate it with markers, yarn or paint and add buttons and string.

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