My Christmas Manifesto: how to have a cheap, charitable and absolutely fantastic time this year

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Young people are getting back to basics this Christmas, forgoing expensive shopping trips and remembering the things that really matter. In this two part series, I offer up some helpful ways to have fun and be generous without breaking the bank

Iona Bain

Will Christmas be different this year? From all the reports I have read, everyone is feeling the pinch and intends to cut back. So is it possible we might be going back to a time my parents talk about; less a stressful shop-a-thon, more a time to remember the things that really matter?

This seems like the clichéd message of every Christmas movie, but it’s easier said than done.

We have to resist the ingrained social pressures all around us; we must have those presents from those shops beneath a (real) tree on Christmas Day, and nothing less.

I think children and young people are particularly susceptible to these pressures, and people my age have grown up to expect a certain kind of lavish Christmas.

According to the charity Family Action, many parents say they feel pressurised into buying more expensive gifts for their children than they can really afford, with expectations for the likes of MP3s and mobile phones fanned by retailers and the media. The charity says in a report published this week: “Some parents dread Christmas because of the potential to disappoint their children.”

But those children are growing up fast and facing a harsh economic reality when they leave home. A record number of 18-30 year olds are unemployed, and those that are lucky to have a job are struggling with rising rents and bills, and must pay more for everyday goods as well. In fact, people of all ages are having a tough time of it. A recent Which? survey found four in ten of us will be spending less this Christmas and half are worried about the cost of presents.

The Cooperative Bank’s Christmas survey also found that for the second year running, people are planning to cut back on their festive shopping, with 55% saying they would spend less on presents.

But some good is coming out of this. People young and old are rejecting consumerism for its own sake and are getting back to basics. They don’t want to stop having a good time, doing right by their family and friends. But they now realise they don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy life, and being generous doesn’t have to mean splashing the cash on those around you; whether its giving thoughtful presents from charity shops, holding a lovely Christmas party on a budget or sending a shoebox with your old toys to poorer children in the world, Christmas is an opportunity to have fun and do some good.

So here’s my two part guide to having a cheap, ethical and amazing Christmas. In this first blog, I’ll share my tips on how to buy terrific presents and party on the cheap.

With this manifesto ringing in your ears, your friends and family will think you’ve had a Scrooge-style epiphany, and they’ll admire you all the more for it!

1) Stuff John Lewis and buy your presents from charity shops…

You can get some terrific, thoughtful presents and save an absolute packet. The best things to buy here are books, DVDs, accessories, jewellery, pictures and other bits and bobs. Nobody has to know where a present came from or how much it cost but chances are it’ll be original and highly appreciated.

2) …the girls might find killer frocks for parties here as well.

Many charity shops have a special vintage rail now, but have a root around in all the sections. If you see a dress you fancy, check for any holes, loose seams or stains, and make sure you understand how to wash it (no point getting something that requires a huge dry cleaning bill every time you wear it).

3) Use comparison sites to find the best deals.

These aren’t just for buying your car insurance.

Tunechecker allows you to hunt down the best price for a particular album, while Kelkoo points you to the biggest bargains on a range of items. Thefashionpixie is a new site I’ve come across which might help you to find the cheapest clothes on the high street, either as gifts for your friends or to boost your party wardrobe.

4) Forget expensive Christmas party packages – go out on the cheap or hold your own party and go online to find cheap food and drink.

A friend of mine went to her office Christmas party last week at a bar/restaurant in London – it cost about £60 per head, although the company paid most of the bill. It was a perfectly decent night but nothing special, she says, and certainly not worth the price just for a night out with your friends.

If you can, why not have your own Christmas get-together at home? For cheap food and drink, I recommend taking a trip to Aldi or Lidl and opting for the supermarket’s own brands over big name products. Alternatively, you can compare prices on food and drink at

Also, flex those loyalty muscles when it comes to your Christmas shopping. The Co-operative expects its canny customers to cash in £2.5m worth of saving stamps, bought during this year, 50% more than last year. This month, the store is paying out an extra £2 for every £48 saved.

If you can’t have a party at home, then set a budget for going out and stick to it. Go online to find 2for1 or discount vouchers on meals – Vouchercloud, livingsocial and Groupon are three of the most popular at the moment. And don’t go overboard on the drinking, as this could seriously drain your finances and health in the run-up to Christmas.

5) Use Twitter to find discounts and sales.

Brands often use social media to offer discounts and alert customers to special sales. Also, check out @PennyGolighty on Twitter – she alerts her followers to special offers as soon as they appear. Of course, @ionayoungmoney isn’t a bad one to follow either!

6) Get your Christmas decorations at Poundland

Enough said. Just don’t go for anything too tacky!

7) Get crafty with your cards/gift tags and always recycle

For example, this is a great trick from my Mum; you can cut out small pictures from any Christmas card, punch a hole in the top corner and voila – you have a free gift tag. So long as there is no writing on the back, nobody will know any better.

You can also head down to discount book shops and get art supplies on the cheap to make your own Christmas cards and gift tags. Again, Poundland will help you out in this department. Get creative and people will really appreciate the effort you’ve gone to.

And don’t forget – cards and gift tags are always cheap on Boxing Day, so don’t forget to stock up for next year – this will save you both time and money.


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