Here are 24 ways to have fun over the holidays without going into 2016 in the red. It's the season to be jolly but enjoying Christmas with loved ones can wreak havoc on your finances. From buying presents for family and friends to preparing lavish Christmas meals, before you know it your December bonus or savings are gone and your credit card balance is giving you heart palpitations. Use our easy and practical saving tips to enjoy this festive season without breaking the bank.
Ideally you should have started saving for Christmas presents at the beginning of the year. If you’d saved R100 a month you’d now have R 1 200 to blow on gifts. But if you didn’t think that far ahead there are still ways to keep the costs down.
1. Budget Look at your December budget and plan accordingly. How much money can you realistically spend on presents? Next, make a list of all the people you’d like to buy gifts for and how much you’d like to spend on each person. If the total is more than you budgeted for cut back on either the list of people or the cost of the gifts. When you go shopping stay within your budget even if you see the perfect but expensive gift.
2. Secret Santa Draw names from a hat and only buy a present for the name you draw. Decide on a price limit for the gifts. Alternatively, if you have several children in the family, decide beforehand that the adults buy gifts only for the children, not one another.
3. Get creative “Instead of running around looking for presents and spending thousands, get the whole family involved and make personalised gifts,” Bernardine van Wyk, a YOU reader from Johannesburg, suggests. “This is great fun for the kids and much more special than bought gifts.” The same goes for Christmas decorations. There are a number of websites with clever DIY Christmas ideas. “It can be as simple as tying ribbons in Christmas colours around your scatter cushions,” Bernadine says. “They’ll look just like Christmas gifts.” 4. Check online for deals Going from shop to shop looking for the best deal is exhausting. Rather compare prices online, says Henry Brownley of Credit Compare, a website that helps consumers compare online deals. You can compare the prices from the comfort of your home ? just make sure you take delivery costs into account. 5. Need over want We’ve all received – and bought – unwanted Christmas gifts that end up unused, gathering dust. Why not buy items you know people will use, says YOU reader Bianca Ferreira of Rustenburg: “Buy each person a new toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, soap and deodorant for the new year. It’s what people need,” she says.
6. Share costs Food prices are sky-high and the cost of a proper Christmas lunch or dinner can be astronomical, especially if it’s one person’s responsibility. Discuss what the family would like to have as a Christmas meal and divide the costs and cooking tasks, says Johan Schneider, managing director of Union Caterers in Pretoria.
7. Rather eat out If your family is small check out Christmas lunch prices at restaurants. “If you look at the cost and time that goes into cooking a large, proper Christmas lunch at home, then it’s often not worth your while if you’re a small family. It might be better to go to a restaurant where you pay R150 per person,” Schneider says. Be careful when ordering alcoholic drinks though because they can push up costs.
8. Be creative with leftovers “Roast potatoes from the night before can be made into potato salad and likewise oven-roasted vegetables can be eaten cold the following day in a couscous salad,” Clare Bock of Appetite Catering in Cape Town says. “Leftover cake and biscuits can be made into trifle and soft strawberries can be whizzed up in the food processor, lightly sweetened and used to accompany ice cream.”
9. Cheaper alternatives Some traditional Christmas food such as turkey is quite expensive but alternatives such as Cornish ham and roast beef taste great and are more reasonably priced, says cookbook author and food expert Dorah Sitole.
10. Budget Make a food shopping budget and stick to it by avoiding expensive brands with flashy Christmas packaging, says Thamo Shandu of Anelisa Catering in Johannesburg. Rather stick to your usual brands or no-name brands.
11. Try making everything yourself, advises Rendil Pietersen of Kings Catering in Paarl. “For example a Swiss roll is quick and cheap.” The same goes for table decorations. “Use items you have in your home or garden to decorate the table and make your own crackers. Fill them with homemade gifts.”
12. Buy in bulk and share Buy in bulk and split the cost with a friend or neighbour, say Sarah Aspery and Bruce Gaboreau of Et Voila Catering in Durban. 13. Use store loyalty points Use the points you’ve accumulated on store loyalty cards to buy ingredients for your Christmas meal or presents, Sarah says. But don’t be tempted to use credit card or store credit cards. 14. An informal affair You don’t have to have a big lunch or dinner to celebrate Christmas. Keep costs down by doing something casual, advises YOU reader Pat Griessel of Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal. “Instead of a huge sit-down lunch I’m going to organise a picnic where my family can relax for a few hours and enjoy one another’s company,” she says.
15. Book early or at the last minute It’s cheaper to book a flight or holiday package in advance, says Jean Vogler, marketing manager at online travel agency FlightSite. But if you’ve left it to the last minute, don’t despair. Seats on flights or hotel rooms often open up due to cancellations. These are then sold at discounted prices. “It’s risky but the price of package deals can drop by 30 or 40 per cent at the last minute,” Jean says.
16. Travel in pairs Sharing a room is more cost-effective than going it alone.
17. Book a rental car in advance If you book a rental car in advance you have a wider choice. “There are more cheaper deals available,” Jean says. “And you don’t pay for rental cars in advance so you can book as soon as you have your travel dates.” 18. Book self-catering accommodation Cook for yourself and save on eating out. 19. Ungraded Be on the lookout for ungraded accommodation, Jean advises. These hotels and guesthouses haven’t paid for star-grading and they charge less. Search their names on TripAdvisor, she adds. “This website has tourists’ reviews and you’ll be able to get an indication of what the accommodation is like even if it isn’t rated.”
On the road
With the price of petrol at a premium, travelling by road can cost an arm and a leg. Make sure you keep fuel costs low.
20. It’s a drag Underinflated tyres cause extra drag, says Graeme Scala, head of public relations at the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa. The engine has to work harder to overcome the drag and uses more petrol. Equipment such as roof- or bike racks also increase drag and fuel consumption.
21. Lighten the load The heavier your luggage, the harder your engine works. Try to travel as light as possible.
22. Cruising speed Don’t put pedal to the metal. Fast accelerating and high engine revs chew up fuel, says the AA. Stop-start driving also wastes fuel. If you see a traffic jam ahead for instance take your foot off the accelerator and gently slow down.
23. Idling If you’re stuck at roadworks or in traffic switch off the engine if it’s safe to do so.
24. Uphill Change to a lower gear on hills. If the car is in too high a gear the engine works harder, the AA says.
Extra sources: aa.co.za, creditcompare.co.za, unioncaterers .co.za, appetitecateri ng.co.za, etvoila.co.za, flightsite.co.za