As the cost of living crisis rages on, we’re moving into the most expensive time of the year.
uying presents, cooking huge Christmas dinners and keeping the lights on amidst a surge in electricity prices will be a daunting prospect to many families across the country. We’ve rounded up some advice that could help you reduce your bills this festive season.
Chef Paula McIntyre advises on making your money go further (and still enjoying your festive feast).
“We cook far too much. You see people with these massive trolleys and there’s no way you’re going to be able to cook all that food or eat it all,” she says.
According to Paula, people need to start thinking about what they actually need. Many people buy turkeys that they struggle to fit in the oven each Christmas.
“In restaurants, you allow 250g of meat per person so go along with that weight,” she suggests.
She also suggests avoiding buying a whole turkey to avoid waste. “If you buy a turkey crown, you’ve no waste because there’s no bone. If you like the legs, you can order a couple of separate legs from a butcher.
“If you have to have the turkey, ham, stuffing, that’s fine, but don’t be buying a lot of sausage meat. I must make a confession: I love a less expensive sausage meat!”
She has also given advice on how to cut down the cost of vegetables to go along with your Christmas dinner.
“With vegetables, whether you live in a city or the country, there are ways of getting them cheaper. I go to a farm shop but if you live in Belfast, there’s a couple of really good independent greengrocers. If you can, go direct to a farm. You’ll see bags of spuds for sale: they’re going to be cheaper, they’ll keep for longer, and you can still get a big bunch of carrots for £1,” she says.
“Also, try not to think that you have to have 3,000 different vegetables. Cut it down. Everyone loves roasties or mash, so maybe do something different and have roasted carrots for example. Your oven is on anyway: use it.”
Paula advocates for more mindful consumption of food, regardless of the current crisis.
“Even if there wasn’t a cost of living crisis, I think we need to pare back a bit and not think about having a table groaning with food. You don’t really need to buy so much — think about what you’re buying, think about where you’re going to store it.
“When you cram your fridge full of stuff, it’s not working at full tilt, meaning you’re getting into a health and safety issue.”
Gifting and Christmas
For Christmas party fashion and gifting, we spoke to Connor Kerr and Becky Bellamy from not-for-profit Another World Belfast. One of the organisation’s projects is Free Store, based on Winetavern Street .
Everything in the Another World Belfast swap shop is priced at £10, but this price drops to £5 if the customer brings a high-quality item of clothing to swap. Every £30 raised by Another World Belfast equates to a full wardrobe provided to a person in need.
They work with existing charities like Women’s Aid, Flourish NI, The Rainbow Project and Cara Friend to provide wardrobes for people in need. They also recently chaired the panel ‘Does Fashion Need to Cost The World?’
Becky says: “In a cost of living crisis, before we even talk about buying presents, is there something someone actually needs?
“Maybe somebody needs a Tesco voucher for some shopping, or help with their gas or a bit of babysitting.
“People get into awkward gifting where they’re bought something by somebody and it’s not to their taste and they have it in their house forever because their granny bought it for them.”
The pair emphasise quality and buying people things that they need — and won’t sit around in the house taking up space. They have gift options in their shop like candles and handmade scrunchies made from recycled fabrics. Next week, they will also be launching draft excluders made from recycled denim.
They say that while it was harder to buy second-hand fashion for gifts, it can be a great option for something to wear during party season.
“When you shop second-hand, you can get something that’s of much, much better quality but for a far better price,” says Becky.
“If it’s been put out into a shop like ours, it’s in pretty much perfect condition.”
Becky and Connor encourage people to repeat outfits, but they have a useful hack for those who want a fresh look.
“Our swap model means that somebody could come in and buy a nice sparkly party dress from us for a party tomorrow for £10.
“Say you’ve got a party next Saturday, bring that sparkly dress back into us again and swap it for something else for £5!
“You could do that every week if you wanted to.”
They also suggest buying vouchers, which are available on Swap Shop’s site.
“It doesn’t have the razzle dazzle of Christmas morning in the big box,” says Connor, “but it can be more useful for people to be able to buy a quality item that they really need.
“Sometimes as a society, we have an obsession with piles of stuff but unfortunately what is often underneath those piles of stuff is a pile of plastic,” Becky adds.
“Ultimately, what you’re left with is just more stuff that has to be dumped.
“Some people maybe don’t have £200 [to spend on a high quality item] — so club together if you want to buy something really substantial that they’re going to have for a long time, like a great pair of boots or a fantastic coat.”
“Every time they wear them, they’ll think of about their friends or their family, and still have something that’s not going to fall apart,” says Connor.
Lighting and decorations
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, money saving expert Martin Lewis advised against using bright incandescent lights as they can be “expensive” to run.
He recommended substituting them for LED lights for festive sparkle that won’t break the bank.
“If you’ve got LED lights, a string of 100 — which is a pretty decent amount — if you were to have them on for six hours every day over a month, it would cost 18p [for the month] roughly,” he said.
“So they are not very expensive to run. I know many people who are really struggling, are turning off their Christmas lights — listen, 18p is still 18p, it’s still money, but actually as long you’ve got LED lights and you could only have them on just in the evening when you’re there, they shouldn’t be too prohibitive to keep your Christmas lights on.”
Another way of saving money on lighting is making the switch to solar-powered lighting.
“You can also use solar lights and power up in the day outdoors, and bring them in in the evening,” suggests money-saving expert and founder of Money Magpie, Jasmine Birtles.
“You can also turn the big lights off and have those [Christmas lights] on, which may even save you money,” she adds.
“Decorations are typically not a regular cost, as people tend to use the same baubles, lights, tinsel and other decorations year after year.
“That said, they can become a hidden spend if you need to get replacements,” says Rajan Lakhani, money expert at the smart money app Plum.
“It’s important then to make those decorations last as long as possible, so you’re not having to spend on them more frequently than you should. For example, pack away your decorations properly — ideally into the same containers if you still have them, or if not, boxes and reusable bags, and store them somewhere safe where they can’t get damaged.
“If you don’t have spare boxes, your work office or a local shop may have some spare ones, and remember to pack bigger, more fragile ornaments in tissue paper,” Rajan adds.
You can also look outdoors for some quirky decorations for free.
Put dried flowers inside clear glass open mouth baubles to make tree decorations, which will cost less than anything in stores, says Mary-Anne Da’marzo, founder of Soho-based preserved flower shop The Last Bunch .
“Instead of putting tea lights in them, add in festive dried flowers and branches. You can keep them loose or use a glue gun to create designs and fix in place.”
Making little dried bouquets is a great way to add a rustic feel to your festive theme and can easily be made using cut flowers from your garden, says Da’marzo.
“Thread twine through the stems and hang them on your Christmas tree, intersperse them throughout with wreaths, or mantel decorations, or just dot them around your Christmas table.
“You can also make these using cut flowers from your garden. holly and clematis will all look fabulously festive.”
Many of us budget for Christmas presents but forget to include wrapping paper, which can be pricey. Jasmine Birtles recommends either keeping wrapping paper and ribbons from past presents and reusing them.
“You can also buy rolls of basic white or brown paper that can be made fun with ribbons and bits from outdoors like holly and ivy, so why not make your own? Also, if you get a nice bag in a shop, keep the wrapping paper, or even ask for extra when shopping.”
“The office Christmas party has become an institution, and for many the social event of the year. While your employer will typically foot all, if not most of the bill, there are some hidden costs for employees,” says Rajan Lakhani.
“For example, some companies will also arrange a Secret Santa. The cost can vary significantly for this, but typically it’s around £10-£15. If you’re not able to afford this, don’t feel compelled to take part.
“Most companies will give employees the option to opt out, and if that’s not the case, let the organiser know.
“It’s likely you won’t be alone in facing this issue.”
The party might get more expensive if you need to pay for a babysitter.
“Grandparents, family or close friends can help instead of paying for a babysitter, [but] the key is to make sure you give them enough advance warning and confirm their help well in time,” says Rajan.
Alternatively, if you don’t have any family or friends who can help, do a swap with other parents — they will look after yours that night, then you look after theirs another night, he adds.
Another oft-forgotten Christmas expense is travel. Whether it’s driving a car full of gifts for the whole family back to your parents’ house, getting home from nights out or catching the train for a festive daytrip, things can get expensive very quickly.
The RAC recommends making sure your vehicle is well-maintained and regularly serviced. This improves the efficiency of the vehicle, which will then lower your fuel consumption. They also recommend keeping speed down, as this is the “biggest fuel-guzzling factor.”
For getting back from nights out, carpooling is an option (of course, if there’s drinking involved there will have to be a designated driver.
Public transport is also a great money-saving option. Translink has various offers on over the Christmas season — for instance, a third off rail day returns after 9.30am. It offers the same deal on Ulsterbus and Goldlink services. You can also travel between Londonderry and Belfast from £13 —or £19.50 for a return. There are several other deals available on their website.
Translink will also be running its after hours Nightmovers bus service until December 23.