Frugal Christmas sound appealing? 12-ish ideas, invitations (should-free zone)

Things have got pretty expensive this year, you might just have noticed. From fuel to food, car insurance to meals out, our money has gone less far. So here is a selection of frugal ideas that might just help soften the blow of that credit card bill in the new year.

There’s nothing especially revolutionary, no surprise there. Should have a frugal Christmas? Should can be shoddy, so this blog is a selection of suggestions, a series of festive invitations, if you like. Put on that Christmas jumper, have a warming dram maybe. Here goes.

1) Frugal, pointless, essential?

Among the “92 excellent present ideas from the Observer,” as The Guardian puts it, there are a few that might not break the bank. (Those brushed cotton boxer shorts are no doubt lovely, but £65 probably doesn’t count as frugal in many people’s budget.)

Create Your Own Theatre, at £12, caught my eye, and reminds me of the no doubt terrible Nativity plays my cousins and I put on as children. Am dram at its ammest (and hammiest, I bet).

Useful to some, pointless to others? A rope wristlet for your mobile is also £12. Chafe-free? Who knows. For slightly more, at £19, recycled brass earrings can be yours to give.

For plant lovers, Monstera leaf sticky notes are a snip at £3.50. Another non-essential, although of course it’s all subjective… a personalised log carrier, just £71.

2) Local markets, community events

It’s only fair that I declare a vested interest, as my side hustle (tragic term, but there you go) #oldfindsnewstories has a pitch at Dover’s artisan market on Saturday 9 December, 10am to 3pm.

More details are in an event listing, also on this website. Excuse the brazen plug.

On my stall: vintage terracotta pots, plants for house and garden, as well as a curated
selection of books and artwork.

Buying direct from small, local businesses and creatives, sole traders among them — what’s not to like? From chocolate makers to cake bakers, candle creators to knitwear makers…

I’m looking forward to meeting all the other stallholders, and then doing a series of markets in East Kent and beyond next year.

(As I put the finishing touches to this blog, the weather outside is frightful 🙂 — so on Saturday… delightful.)

3) Give the gift of your time?

It irks me not to remember where I first saw this suggestion, as not crediting someone else’s idea or content brings me out in hives. May they forgive me, festive spirit and all.

It’s a simple idea. Yes, yes, we’re all sooo busy. Say, for instance, you are short on funds — or perhaps it just suits you to be frugal — and one of your nearest and dearest needs help with something.

Cleaning their house, painting the garage, clearing up the garden… the list, of course, is potentially endless.

So you suggest that your present to them, or perhaps part of their gift, is that you spend a couple of hours, half a day, helping lighten the load. That’s not going to suit every one, but might be worth considering.

The calm, the frugal path, — Jacques Dupin, 1970 (credit: Poetry Foundation)

The Times Money Mentor (their weekly newsletter is emailed on Thursdays) reminds us to talk to our loved ones about spending at Christmas.

Start conversations with your partner, children, friends and family about presents, hosting and outings. You may not get them on board but stand your ground about sticking to your budget.

Katie Binns, Times Money Mentor writer, 21 November 2023

4) Cheque mate

What a wonderful website MoneySavingExpert can be. <Give the gift of your time> was the theme of one of their blogs, it turns out, so perhaps that was where I first saw that idea mentioned. The credit goes to them, with pleasure.

Another page gives you access to a fun, printable cheque which includes the wording:

NOT subject to availability — redeem at (good) will.

[to fill in the PDF, you will need access to a printer]

I just remembered how I loved going shopping with my dad in the supermarket Safeways back in 1970s south London. The era of chequebooks in a sports jacket pocket…

Another blog: Father’s Day: four things my dad taught me – by doing them

5) Make it (or fake it)

Someone finds you eccentric because you make them a present? That seems pretty unlikely. And besides, would that bother you anyhow?

In no particular order (hundreds more ideas are out there), how about:

  • homemade candles or soap
  • spring bulbs in pots (terracotta or otherwise)
  • a tree decoration made from a twig, twine and holly

A gift you made with love, time, thought and care — how could that be anything but a winner?

Fake it, retrofit it, customise it…

  • transplant a house plant from a supermarket into a second-hand pot
  • print that cute photo of Rover, just right in that charity-shop picture frame
  • handwrite three of your gran’s favourite poems, add a collage cover and back

A previous blog: Certain age? Aren’t we all. Six ideas to get outside more (beyond the screens)

6 to 9) Charity shops, Vinted, eBay, Marketplace…

Why would you not? Time might not be on your side in the run-up to the end-of-year holidays, and arguably it can take a little longer to find a suitable present in a charity shop.

From books to artwork,
bric a brac to a scarf or hat —
there’s an element of luck in
what happens to be in stock.

But that can be part of the fun…

Vinted? I previously associated it with clothes, mainly, but I stand corrected. A few possibilities under your loved-one’s tree include:

  • a penguin hot water bottle cover can be yours for £1.75
  • a Disney dogs single duvet cover for £11.20
  • classic literature: £1.86 will get you Bram Stoker’s Dracula

(All prices exclude postage.)

Marketplace on Facebook can be a rabbit hole to get lost in… the sometimes weird and wonderful mix of things for sale means you can soon lose focus if you’re looking for something specific. But again, as with charity shops, happenstance might be on your side, and you get to bag a bargain.

The potential hassle of going to collect that find might put you off. Still, giving your hard-earned shekels direct to another household, helping to fund their frugal festive season in the process, might just be a bit of you.

Along the way, in East Kent at least, 12 vintage (toy) buses might also catch your attention. As for those 101 unused wiper blades, let’s hope they don’t go to waste.

10) The pleasure of their company

StepChange, the debt charity, cites a YouGov survey on its website, showing that people get far more out of giving than receiving presents. Interesting, but maybe not so surprising.

Far and away, though, almost half of those surveyed value spending time with their loved ones. (Compare that with 11 percent for giving, and 2 percent for receiving, gifts.)

Please don’t buy me anything

If someone close to you says, “Please don’t buy me anything,” it’s possible that they might not mean this literally. But chances are they might be just as happy with a small, thoughtful (preloved maybe), present that means you’ve not saddled yourself with debt that you’ll struggle to repay.

many people feel obliged to buy gifts for others
that they know they won’t use,
with money they don’t have,
and cause themselves stress they don’t need

Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert founder, 2018 (cited in a November 2022 article)

11) Help a hound, defend a donkey, foster a feline

Options range from essential vet care for a cat or dog (£75) at rehoming charity Battersea to £20 to protect a coal-mine donkey at Brooke, which also advocates for the welfare of horses.

Veterinary charity PDSA has Christmas cards for £2.99. As well as cats and dogs, of course, a Highland cow is the star of one, and an ever-lovely R/robin on another.

Smaller rescue charities will thank you for your support too. I have a border collie, so Seamus asks that I mention Valgrays Border Collie and Animal Rescue (thank you to a friend back in south London for the introduction, a few years ago) or of course Border Collie Trust GB (interviewed on BBC Radio 4 recently after that leg of the HS2 trainline was cancelled) .

You may, or may not, be able to resist their festive video with a singing reindeer and… border collie.

A blog from my days in south London: Postcards of #PortesdePenge: five ideas to combine print and online

12) Buy a tree, or a (frugal?) decoration

Let’s say parents have a conversation about Christmas with their grown-up son. Money might be an issue for his household, including young children, who continually grow out of their clothes and shoes, and teenagers who constantly graze from the fridge.

The pre-25 December main present, the conversation goes, is a Christmas tree — a pine-scented beauty that will be the joy and delight of all the grandchildren.

Maybe the grandparents sneakily buy a few second-hand decorations for the tree, and granddad happily bodges about in the shed to make them a really distinctive creation out of wood offcuts. That, it turns out, will be a December talking point for years ahead.

At the risk of sounding mawkish, maybe, what could be more lovely?

Whatever your plans, or budget, over the holiday season, Seamus and I wish you and yours a peaceful, restful and fun time of it. Who knows, maybe even a frugal one too, leaving you a little less frazzled into the bargain.


Image credits: ua_Bob_Dmyt_ua, Pezibear, Prawny, marcart, YoshisMom, Silviarita, Monicore, ShortSword, Pexels – all on Pixabay; Abbie Tanner on Unsplash.

*What was the best festive present, maybe preloved, you ever got?
Or maybe there’s a bargain gift that gave you a lot of pleasure stumbling upon?
Please add a comment below, I’ll be sure to reply to each one.
(I have a target of five reader comments for this blog.)*

8 comments on “Frugal Christmas sound appealing? 12-ish ideas, invitations (should-free zone)

    • Brian McGee on

      My pleasure, Catherine, thanks a lot for your comment. Yes, time is precious for sure… and a helping hand can have a big impact. I like these lines by Jim Yerman, courtesy of Poem Hunter:

      “may we think of time less as an enemy
      and accept her as our friend”
      Amen to that! Enjoy the festive season 🙂

    • Jenny H on

      Hi Brian, wish I could make it to Dover this weekend but a nasty virus (cough/sneeze/blow) and parents needing care mean I can’t. But… I love the idea of spring bulbs in a used terracotta pot and will be doing that this year for some of my nearest and dearest. Thanks for the inspiration to do this! Jenny x

      • Brian McGee on

        Sorry to hear you’re feeling rough, Jenny (complete with stage directions!) — we hope you’re soon on the mend. Perhaps you’ll manage to watch a Saturday-afternoon episode of Columbo or Murder She Wrote on the sofa to aid recovery?

        How lovely to hear about your plan to plant spring bulbs in terracotta bulbs for your nearest and dearest. Thanks a lot for your comment. See you in Dover one of these days, for sure 🙂 B&Sx

        [Spring bulb planting has mostly passed me by this autumn; it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, reappears after a lot of planting in containers a year ago. Grape hyacinths, purple tulips and tête-à-tête daffodils were among my favourites.]

  1. Helen Gray on

    Thanks Brian – the pleasure of company for me… the Christmas (just) before we lost my mum we decided to stay an extra couple of days and spent a lovely day wintry walking on the beach. I treasure those memories now.

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment, Helen. Yes those are memories to treasure, for sure. Very sorry to hear about the loss of your mum.

      I often think of my dad when walking on Shakespeare Beach in Dover, as he and his sister grew up living in a then-hotel nearby, back when the trains arrived at Western Docks.

      My mum had bad health and limited mobility… so I always try to remember how wonderful it is to get out in the elements, whatever the weather! (Winter walks are among my favourites.)

  2. Danielle on

    Loved reading this! Such a thoughtful and interesting article – you’ve even inspired me to put some of my clothes I’ve been hoarding on Vinted. They might be useful for someone else!

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment, Danielle. How great to hear about your Vinted plans. I’ve not used it (yet) so perhaps we can swap notes before long.

      Such a pleasure to know that something we no longer need is being put to good use. I’m trying to let go of excess belongings too – a work in progress! 🙂


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