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Christmas joy on a budget

Going broke during the festive season every year? Look for frugal ways to cut back on costs

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 There’s regular Christmas spending and then there are expenses that can make budgets go bust and money vanish from your bank accounts. While twinkly trees, attractive trinkets and tasty turkeys are an inescapable part of the Christmas deal, there’s no reason to go bankrupt during the festive season every year.

Elaborate celebrations

From Secret Santas to recycled decorations, planned budgets and DIY gifts, there are as many ways to save your money as there are to spend it.
Elsa Roodt, co-founder of Dubai Party Queens, has some handy tips to save you from going broke this Christmas. “While it’s lovely to have yourself a big sit down all-day Christmasathon with loved ones, there’s no reason that, as the host, all the expenses are yours to bear. Suggest a pot luck Christmas day with your friends and family, where each person has to bring along one item to add to the table. Not only will it bring down your costs tremendously, your festive feast stays as elaborate as ever,” says Roodt.

“As the host, the turkey is your baby, so cut down on both time and money by ordering in. With cooked Christmas meals of a three-to-four-kilogram turkey with all the trimmings available at hotels for merely Dh300 vs. about the same amount for an uncooked turkey from your local supermarket, it would save you a few dirhams, not to mention your time,” she adds.

The South African businesswoman also believes that having a Christmas tree is more symbolic than compulsory. “Not everyone needs a large expensive pine or fir tree in their homes. Why not decorate a big plant you already have or buy a little basil plant from your local grocery store for just Dh11 and decorate that? Not only will you save hundreds, your dining table will smell great too,” she says.

Roodt has some more practical ideas to get you through the festive season with a decent bank balance. “Rather than spend thousands on Christmas gifts that people may never even use, the trend today has shifted towards budget gifts, quirky trinkets or Secret Santa evenings,” she says. “On a personal level, my family and I have set a budget of Dh100 per person for gifts. That way, we have to become creative enough to find a Christmas gift that’s worth giving, while sticking to a budget.”

Advertising professional Gemma Matthewson says last year her family decided on a £10 (about Dh59) budget per present, and they plan to do the same this year. “Another way I manage to cut down on Christmas costs is making some gifts myself. For example, websites such as are brilliant for personalising and creating photo gifts,” says the Senior Accounts Executive, who will be going home to the UK for Christmas. “I also make my own Christmas card each year, which doesn’t sound like much, but ends up saving me a large chunk of money.”

Assuming an average Hallmark card costs anything between Dh20 and Dh50 and one sends out at least 20 Christmas cards each year, that’s a substantial amount of money saved. Other budget-saving ideas such as investing in a plastic Christmas tree, shopping in advance during sales and substituting expensive Christmas gift wraps with regular ones also contribute to cutting down on costs.

Create special gifts

Debbie Nicol, Managing Director, Business En Motion and creator of Embers of the World, says, “Special occasions call for special touches, and what better than bringing Mother Nature into your gift giving. Collecting a myriad of nature’s treasures, such as seeds, foliage, stems with unique personalities and connecting them in unusual ways, make for great gift trimmings and home decorations... and recyclable as well! The fact that the design has your special touch is not only guaranteed to save you some Christmas cash, but it’s sure to be a conversation starter.”
Another fabulous way to save money during the festive season is to “ensure you create a theme that permeates all your festive activities such as a localised Christmas where the theme would guide all actions,” says the Australian business consultant and author.

“Any baked lunches are to be made with only local produce [normally a third of the price and a lot more fresh due to less transportation]. Highlight gifts linked to the local area [thereby supporting local industry and craftspeople] and source community-based methods of delivery,” she says.