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How I Enjoy Christmas on a Budget

Christmas joy
Christmas is enjoyable on a budget

Christmas is a time when we overspend. But you don’t have to throw out your budget. Here’s how you can enjoy Christmas without a holiday debt hangover.


Money Bite Sized – Minute Read:

  • Many of us overspend at Christmas
  • 56% of us shop without a budget at Christmas and a third of us don’t know how much we actually spend.
  • For gifts, work out how much money you can spend on each person.
  • Plan out your Christmas meal menu beforehand or ask people to bring a plate for a large gathering.
  • If you have to travel to see your family, get organised and buy these tickets months in advance to save money.
  • You’ll enjoy Christmas a lot more if you’re not worrying about your spending.

Now we’re finally in December, we have full permission to watch Last Christmas and not feel weird about it. Christmas is the time you let your hair down and give in to a bit of excess whether that’s buying gifts for those you love, putting yourself in a food coma, and singing along to “All I want for Christmas is you” despite only knowing the one line.

But that excess can very easily add up.

Commonwealth Bank research last year found Australians spend $10.7 billion each year at Christmas. And we’re not even stopping to think before we put our hand in our wallet, with 56% of us heading to the stops without having a spending budget in mind. A third of us don’t even monitor how much we spend over Christmas.

I’d like more Australians to wake up in January without a holiday spending hangover looming over us.

One disorganised Christmas too many was all I needed to start budgeting. Once I started budgeting for the big-ticket items, I enjoyed next Christmas so much more because I wasn’t spending it feeling stressed about money and how much I was spending.

Here’s what I focused on to start enjoying Christmas more:

1. Gifts

Gifts can be very easy to overspend on if you don’t have a firm plan in place before you hit the shops. My golden rule is to plan out my budget and start buying gifts early in the year. One example of this was utilising my travel budget on a trip to London to buy gifts from a museum shop because it was using money that I’d already budgeted for to buy unique, thoughtful gifts.

If I need to buy gifts closer to Christmas, I’ll work out my budget according to two things:
  • How much money I have available
  • How many people I need to buy gifts for

You can then work out whether you split that money equally or spend more on those closest to you.

For example, if I had a budget of $400 and 10 people to buy gifts for:
  • Option 1: I could spend $40 on each person ($400 ÷ 10 = $40 each)
  • Option 2: I could spend 75% of my budget on my 5 family members:
    • 75% of $400 = $300
      • $300 ÷ 5 = $60 per gift for family members
    • 25% of $400 = $100
      • $100 ÷ 5 = $20 per gift for everyone else

I personally prefer the second option because it means that I have the flexibility to spend more on those people I value most. If you want to save money and time on your gift shopping this year, check out our 5 Christmas Shopping Hacks.

2. Food

Whether it’s glistening potatoes, the mouth-watering ham or roasting turkey, indulging in food is a highlight of Christmas. This can be a problem is that when you’re hosting Christmas and having to invite more of the family round to your place each year, the catering food costs can get out of control.

To still indulge within my budget, I plan out the menu and how much it will roughly cost before I hit the shops. If you do this in advance, you can shop around and see how much money different supermarkets are charging for the same item.

You can also ask people to bring a dish with them, which means you’ll spend less time in the kitchen and people bring food they will actually enjoy. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian in a family of meat-eaters, this is a great option as it means that you can enjoy a meat substitute dish rather than just having an extra serve of potatoes.

3. Travel

Travel is one of the biggest costs of Christmas but is something people forget to budget for. If you live in a separate state or country to your family, Christmas time will always involve travelling if you want to spend Christmas together.

In Australia, where travelling from Sydney to Perth is either a 5 hour flight or a 4 day car journey, most of us who are travelling will pick the flight. Airlines like Qantas prey on this by increasing the price of flights for each day closer to Christmas. You can budget around this by booking months in advance and consider going to see your family earlier in December to save on travel costs. If your flight is only an hour or so, consider taking the bus instead and use the time to get some work done.


Budgeting for Christmas takes time and initial effort but the weight off your shoulders is worth it.

The whole point of Christmas is to enjoy time with those you care about. You’ll enjoy this time a lot more if you’re not worrying about your bank balance or credit limit. By planning ahead for my gift, food, and travel costs, I find that I enjoy Christmas more when I know I’m spending money within my budget and that the only hangover I’ll be worrying about after Christmas will be wine induced.

Read more: How to have an ethical Christmas this year

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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