How to survive Christmas on a budget


How to survive Christmas on a budget

If you feel you are the only broke person in South Africa facing the festive season – be assured, you are not alone. According to the World Bank, South Africans are the biggest borrowers in the world, with 86% of the population in debt. During the festive season many people go overboard and spend more than they can afford – only to face a bleak January and February.

Do we need to buy presents?


How to plan your spending by making lists

It is best to start planning for the festive season early – for example three months before Christmas.

Make lists: It helps if you have a specific list that contains all the items you need to buy for meals. Another one that contains the names of people you want to give presents too.

Decide beforehand if you are going to buy something specific or are you going to make a present yourself? Also decide how much money you afford for each person’s gift and stick to that.

Buying gifts for children

Many parents are duped into buying expensive toys for children that they never really play with. The fun in many toys is in creating it – and that fun was probably had by the designer. It looks good but ends up very quickly in a chest of drawers or cupboard. What are the best toys to buy for children?

If you are really cash strapped – consider buying something your child needs, rather than wants. It is pointless to go into debt to buy a smartphone for a teen but they don’t have a warm jersey, school shoes, sport equipment or you can’t afford their school fees for the next year.  Be sensible. It is best to do Christmas shopping on your own so that you can focus. You can easily be persuaded to buy stuff you don’t need by a friend or family member. It is not good to make emotional decisions when you shop.

Gifts on a budget

When you have no money for gifts

Have a good look through your house. What do you have that you haven’t used? Can you sell it on eBay, or give it as a gift to someone? Can the item be used for another purpose? Do you have enough stuff for a garage sale?

Make, don’t buy, your presents

To receive a handmade gift that someone made especially for you is precious. What can you create or make yourself? Have a look on the following websites for cool ideas:

50 of the best gift ideas of Christmas

Activities for families during holidays that doesn’t cost money

The festive season is the time of the year where families get together all over the country to relax and spend memorable times together. One option is to Google activities in your vicinity – there are usually prices listed to activities. Not everyone can afford activities that cost money. It will help to make a list of activities that your family can do that are within your budget or that don’t cost a cent.

Some suggestions:

  • Do a tour to check out the festive lights in your suburb/city
  • Have a family movie night at home
  • Make DIY Christmas decorations for your tree or Christmas table.
  • Bake holiday cookies or preserves
  • Have a creative supper where everyone makes their own pizzas or hamburgers
  • Have a board game evening –board games are so much fun to play if you are a group (30 Seconds, Monopoly, Catan, Charades, 5 Second Rule, Poker to name a few)
  • Have a family picnic day somewhere out at a picnic spot
  • Join a Parkrun or walk as a family
  • Have a day on the beach or at a dam /lake nearby
  • Invite friends for a ‘’Bring & Braai’’ where every family contributes one or two dishes & drinks
  • Visit  museums or historical sites that you haven’t been too
  • Visit a farmer’s market
  • Attend a Carol’s by candle night  song evening
  • Attend an open air film festival / firecracker display
  • Go for a family bike ride
  • Get involved in community sports
  • Organize a self-guided walking tour.
  • Research the interesting historic and cultural sites in your town, then go on a walking tour of them. Pack a lunch in your backpack and have a picnic on the village green or in the park.

How to plan a cost-effective Christmas day lunch

Plan and write down a menu for the Festive period – to make sure you have everything you need to prepare meals.

If money is tight, plan to make everything yourself from table decorations to meals– it is cheaper than buying already prepared food or eating out. Home cooking tastes better and are always better value for money than fast foods or ready-made foods.

Compare prices of foods for a basic Christmas meal to save money. If you have a list of what you need, it is easy to look for specials at different stores. Draw up a budget to see if you can afford what you plan. If necessary, replace expensive items with cheaper alternatives or brand name products.

For example calculate cost of

  • Leg of lamb vs Gammon vs a Whole chicken
  • A chocolate mousse containing 2 x Lindt© chocolates vs 2 x Cadbury© dark chocolates
  • 2 liter Cool-drink or fruit juice concentrates that you can mix with water vs 2 liter Coke© or Fanta©

Make sure you have containers and fridge storage space for any leftovers.

Buy what is in season – it is usually cheaper than out-of-season foods.

Keep luxuries items to a minimum. Well prepared food is more important than expensive products.

Christmas for needy families

There are many organisations and individuals that provide Christmas meals to people in need. But they must know that you are in need of help. Make sure your name is on the list of churches or NGO’s in your area and how many people there are in your house that needs a meal. You might be lucky enough to live in an area where a church group will deliver a fully cooked meal to your house on Christmas day.

Christmas budget templates

Budget for the new year

With so many South African families caught up in debt, we have to start budgeting. It is not going to get easier soon. Lack of financial literacy is seen as one of the reasons so many South Africans struggle to budget and turn to credit to make ends meet each month. It is crucial and possible for us to learn about money, credit, debit, loans, spending and budgets to survive and live within our means.

The next article shares 3 ways to make budgeting a success in the new year.

3 Ways to make budgeting a success in the new year

More guidance on debt:

Dealing with debt

Debt: Ways to save on monthly expenses

Money management & debt control

Debt Warning Signs Quiz


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