Christmas is a wonderful time, but it can be easily dampened by the limitations of being a student.
From presents to food to train tickets home, Christmas is generally pretty expensive, and sometimes it feels like your student loan just won’t stretch far enough.
But you don’t have to be a Grinch at Christmas if you’re a student. By being smart and sticking only to the essentials, you and your mates can actually have a ‘simply wonderful Christmastime’ without breaking anyone’s bank balance.
Here’s how to do Christmas like a boss…even when on a student budget.
1. Create a budget
Yes, yes, we know it’s a boring start. But creating a reliable budget will set a good foundation for when you’re rockin’ around the Christmas tree.
- Make a list of all your expenses before your next loan instalment, including rent, food and bills. From whatever you have left, decide how much you’d like to spend on presents, socialising and perhaps a Christmas dinner with all your flatmates.
- If you and your friends/flatmates are planning to do something together to send out the year, talk to them and see how much you’re all comfortable chucking in. Agree what this money will be spent on – whether it’s a delicious festive feast, decorations for the house, or a Christmas party.
- If you find yourself a bit short, see if you can cut back on a couple of luxuries, pick up a few extra shifts at your job or make some fast cash.
2. Lay out the priorities
You won’t be able to attend every Christmas night out you’ve been invited to, or buy a gift for everyone you know, and sadly that’s just life. But it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
Have a think about what means the most to you at Christmas and save your money for things most important to you. This might be a meal out with friends; attending a specific uni event; going to a carol service or exploring your city’s Christmas markets.
Whatever they are, getting clear about what you really want to do will keep you from wasting money on the things that aren’t relevant.
3. Do Christmas dinner on a budget
Christmas dinner might look like all fancy, but it can easily be done on a budget if you know how.
Talk to your friends or housemates and see how much everybody is willing to contribute. If you have four mates or more, the cost can be as little as £3 per head.
- Choose frozen veggies or ‘value’ items to keep the costs down and make portions go further. This might include carrots, parsnips, broccoli, peas, cauli and Yorkshire puds.
- Turkey or chicken breasts will be easier to fit into a small oven. However a whole bird will work out cheaper.
- Use cheap herbs and seasonings like garlic, salt, pepper, honey or sugar (for glazing carrots and parsnips), lemons, rosemary, thyme and olive oil.
- If you can’t be bothered making your own stuffing, packet stuffing mix will work out cheaper and quicker.
- Instant gravy granules are a handy no-fuss option for gravy, and cheap too. However making your own gravy doesn’t have to cost much either.
- If your budget will stretch after buying all the essentials, you can add pigs-in-blankets, cranberry sauce and bread sauce too.
- If you’re looking to keep costs down, veggie roasts like those by Quorn and Fry’s are great alternatives to meat and will taste just as good! They are also often easier to cook and contain less saturated fat too. Win win! Alternatively a delicious nut roast can be a great money-saver.
- For dessert, go for something cheap from the supermarket freezer like cheesecake, a strudel or churros that you can just chuck in the oven.
- Use MySupermarket.com to see where you can find food items for the cheapest cost.
4. Give gifts smartly
Gift-giving is definitely a sensitive subject around Christmas, especially if you don’t have a lot of spare cash.
The good thing is that your friends and family will likely understand your situation and won’t be expecting you to buy them lavish things. After all, its the thought that counts!
Try the following for much less stressful gift-giving:
- Arrange a Secret Santa or White Elephant with your friends or family. With Secret Santa you each choose a name from a hat of someone in your group, and you anonymously buy them a gift. With a White Elephant, everyone brings along a gift, you place them on a table or under the tree, and then everyone chooses one at random (which can have some hilarious results!).
- If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift, Zeek sells second-hand but unused gift cards for a range of popular high street stores. You can get a pretty decent gift card for up to 20% less than its retail value! Use it to give to someone you love, or to go away and choose your own gift for them from a particular store.
- Give handmade gifts instead. Consumables like handmade truffles, cookies or granola make really thoughtful gifts. Alternatively you could give someone a handmade piece of homeware, or treat them with some homemade body butter or scrub.
- Ask your friends/family not to buy you gifts this year! If there’s nothing you need, and you don’t mind forgoing presents, you can agree with loved ones to forget the gifts tradition and just enjoy spending time together. Most of the time people are only too happy to oblige.
- If you’re buying presents for family and plan on going home for Christmas, order them online and have them delivered there. That way you won’t need to struggle with all your prezzies on the train!
5. Be thrifty with your decorating
Nothing gets people in the festive mood more than a Christmas tree, some lights and some tinsel. Just because you’re a student, there’s no need to miss out on this luxury.
- Ask parents and older family members for any second-hand Christmas decorations they don’t want. Usually people will be only too glad to get them out of the way.
- Shop at charity shops for baubles, ornaments or second-hand Christmas trees.
- Try making your own decorations from paper, craft items and things around the house. Not only does this save money, it’s also a great way to get your flat/housemates together and get them joining in. Paper chains and wreaths are pretty cheap to make, and you can use cotton wool (which is very cheap) to create fake snow. Alternatively, be like Joey and go nuts with some snow in a can.
- Check out pound shops and also websites online. Fairy lights can often be bought for as little as £1, and it doesn’t matter if they break after a week or two. Tinsel is also cheap and can be bought at most craft shops.
- Hang up Christmas cards on pieces of twine tacked to walls, banisters or door frames. Alone they’ll be enough to brighten up the place for next to nothing.
Note: Before you and your mates head home for Christmas, you might want to consider taking your decorations down as it’s pretty depressing to arrive back in January with a load of tidying up to do.
6. Book your transport home in advance
If you rely on public transport to get home, its a good idea to book it in advance (i.e. now) to keep the cost down.
The sooner you book your transport, the less you have to think about leading up to Christmas and the more you can just enjoy the festivities.
- Try to be flexible with your dates and avoid traveling at peak times whenever possible.
- If you’re flying home, check out Skyscanner and aim to buy tickets when they are on a downward trend.
7. Stay safe and save money
There’s nothing worse than returning to your student house after Christmas and finding a huge electricity bill waiting for you. Or realising that you’ve been burgled.
Therefore its important to check everything twice before you leave, and get house and flatmates to check too.
- Turn off all lights before you leave your room, and do one last sweep of the house if you’re the last one to leave.
- Turn things off standby like the TV, microwave and modem, and unplug things if necessary.
- Turn off all taps tightly ensuring there are no drips or leaks.
- Empty your fridge of all perishable food, and make sure the kitchen bin is emptied. Nobody wants to come back to a flat full of funky smells.
- Make sure all doors and windows are locked and secured. This includes the front and back doors and your bedroom door too, if possible.
Above all, we at Caro hope you all have an awesome Christmas and a Happy New Year!