Now that we all have extra pressures on household budgets, thanks to energy price hikes and inflation, this is a better time than ever to find ways to slash our festive spending.
Many ways of cutting spending also mean reducing our consumption, which means our carbon impact over Christmas will also be lower.
Whether you are more motivated by saving money, or being sustainable, taking a more eco-friendly approach can give you two reasons to feel good about it.
Here are my top tips for having a frugal, eco-friendly Christmas.
Be intentional and adopt a minimalist mindset
Before making plans, you can ask yourself two questions to set the tone for Christmas this year:
- What do you enjoy most about Christmas and what are your happiest memories?
- What feelings and experiences do you want to create this year?
Is it spending time with family you don’t usually see? Opening and enjoying a thoughtfully chosen gift? Sharing the excitement of the season starting as you decorate the tree? The flavours of the festive food that you only have at that time of year?
There is so much that comes wholesale with Christmas and I know that many family members will have different things that signify Christmas to them. If you can spot and filter out things that actually don’t contribute to what you really want to do and feel this year, then cut them out.
Examples of things we will be cutting out this year: traditional foods that no-one actually likes (like Christmas pudding!); crackers and new decorations; going to lots of shows/activities leading up to Christmas; and any Christmas-themed clothes!
Things we will be focussing on: making time to connect remotely with family members abroad; fewer, but more meaningful presents; cooking projects; any work/school-related Christmas events; winter walks and making time for exercise and relaxation.
Make a list of free/low cost festive activities
If you are just taking away, and not doing new, different, better things it will be easy to feel deprived.
There are so many activities and experiences that can make wonderful Christmas memories but don’t cost anything. Some ideas include:
- Decorating the christmas tree, using what you already have. To make it more of a special experience you can play festive music and have your favourite snacks. See Number 12 if you don’t already have a tree or decorations.
- Making a Christmas playlist. It doesn’t need to be the same cheesy songs you listen to each year, unless you want to! For example, if you are learning another language, you could look for Christmas songs in that language or explore a new genre.
- Having a family photo shoot: When you have the tree up, or are out on a winter walk, you can capture the moment with a family photo shoot. Maybe you could use them in a digital Christmas card, instead of buying and sending paper cards this year? Canva makes it easy to design your own cards, and if you join (for free) using this referral link you and I will both get access to a free premium photo or illustration.
- Volunteering at a local shelter/nursing home/school event. Even if you don’t volunteer during the rest of the year, there are always lots of opportunities to help out at Christmas, although it’s worth arranging some time in advance as it’s a popular time of year to help charities. If you’re based in the UK, The Mix website has a good list of ideas, from sponsored carol singing to helping at a Crisis Centre, where you can book online and choose your shifts.
Agree no presents/children only/secret santa
Something we’ve done in previous years is either agree no presents for adults, or just have a Secret Santa, with a bigger budget than your regular office party secret santa.
If the ritual of giving gifts is really important in your family, a lovely tradition to adopt is the Icelandic tradition of gifting a book on Christmas Eve, called Jolabokaflod, often enjoyed with a hot chocolate. We started doing this the year we also did a secret santa only, and it’s a lovely way to treat someone without breaking the bank. You can buy the books secondhand (World of Books is my go-to for this) and add in a box of chocolates if you are feeling flush.
For me having a secret santa agreement for the main present (with a another secret santa book giving the night before) is the perfect combination, especially if you are having family to stay.
Choose and ask for presents that help with saving money
There are many thoughtful present ideas that are both eco and cost conscious, like items that replace disposable items and equipment for thrifty hobbies.
With energy prices up, items like air fryers or cosy thermal clothing are great options.
If you are on the “receiving end” then this is a great opportunity to ask for something that you are due to buy soon anyway.
Zero waste beauty essentials are brilliant as main gifts or stocking fillers.
If you are buying a present from a major retailer, you can usually get some kind of cashback deal to save around 5-10% on the price. I like Jam Doughnut for the ease of use. By using the referral code N3NK when you first sign up, you will automatically get 150 points to start (worth £1.50).
If you eat meat, try a different protein this year
If you usually have a traditional Christmas dinner, but are feeling open minded and have a lower budget this year, then you can switch out some items for ones that are lower cost, for example swapping turkey for chicken (something that we do).
Different proteins also have hugely different carbon footprint. Beef, for example, has almost twice the carbon footprint of lamb (and four times that of chicken or pork). To see the carbon footprint of your food choices, check out this carbon calculator on the BBC website.
Or, of course, go for a vegetarian or vegan dinner.
Use eco-friendly wrapping options
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without…a bin bag of wrapping paper?
If you are only getting a few presents, and mostly to family members, you could try out the Japanese art of cloth wrapping Furoshiki. If you already have square scarves, cloths or fabric, there’s no need to invest in material at all.
If you do buy wrapping paper then be aware that many papers are not recyclable as they have a foil or plastic coating.
Don’t buy a new tree or decorations
If one of your Christmas traditions is buying new decorations for the tree, could you try making something this year instead? Or, if you are settling into your first Christmas as a grown up, there are alternatives to blowing your budget on decorations.
Secondhand sites like Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are full of secondhand trees leading up to Christmas as people upgrade. Obviously, producing a reusable Christmas tree has a much higher carbon footprint than getting a “real one”, but getting one secondhand, and passing it on afterwards, is a good (and much cheaper) option.
An eco-friendly alternative to tinsel is popcorn on a string, and dried citrus slices make pretty decorations. Our favourite decorations were knitted by my mum, though I appreciate that takes some skill!
More than ever this year I am determined not to let supermarket magazines tell me what “it wouldn’t be Christmas without…”
Every year we see the effects of Christmas lifestyle inflation, as there’s a new essential buy. Beauty advent calendars, matching Christmas pyjamas sets and Christmas Eve boxes are all great examples (of things I won’t be buying).
Two years ago all we wanted for Christmas was to be with each other. So, I am just reminding myself of this and that we can all make wonderful memories of this time together without giving in to expectations that we need to stretch ourselves to make our loved ones happy or impress our house guests.
Please share your own plans for a Christmas that won’t cost the earth below.