Budget busters for Christmas

December 8, 2023

The festive season looks different for everyone, and most importantly, it does not need to be expensive.


We all want to be generous with our loved ones, but holiday shopping shouldn’t jeopardise our financial health. Be realistic about what you can afford to spend, set yourself a budget, and stick to it.


UnitingCare’s financial counsellors provide advice and support every day to families experiencing financial stress through the National Debt Helpline, and offer some practical tips for those struggling with financial pressure this Christmas.


If the children in your family are getting older, a Secret Santa is a great option (Each person is responsible for buying one gift). Set a budget limit for the gift and stick to it. Maybe ask people to write down their top three/five preferred gifts, which can ease the gift-buying pressure and brings back the fun!


Food can also make excellent gifts – do you have an awesome recipe in your repertoire? Perhaps you can make pickles, jams, chocolates, biscuits or preserves to give as gifts.


If you are creative, try a DIY present – bath salts, soaps, a plant from a cutting. There are loads of options on the internet – just search for ideas using your interests and skills.


Write a list and do your research: compare online to in-store prices. Don’t forget, the local stores want your business, and many will price match.


Consider using an “environmentally friendly” theme for Christmas and encourage pre-loved gifts. Check in with your local Lifeline Store or look for local ideas on Marketplace.


School supplies are a great stocking stuffer, or wrap them up and pop them under the tree for more unwrapping fun Christmas day. Supermarkets bring out Christmas themed paper bags at this time of year. They make brilliant gift bags and you can add your own touches with some glitter pens or Christmas ribbon!


One of the best ways to reduce the cost of your groceries is to meal prep based on the number of guests you are feeding. Plan it out and only buy what you need. It is easier on the budget and there is less waste.


Start buying non-perishable groceries now and take advantage of half price specials: buy one for now and one for Christmas!


Most supermarkets are closed Christmas day so if you don’t mind crowds, head there just before closure and see what items have been discounted.


Instead of going out for an expensive meal, get together with friends during the festive season at a park, or someone’s home. Everyone can bring along a plate of food to make it low stress and affordable for all.


Have a Christmas family BBQ or picnic at a public park. Guests love to bring something, so let them! If you are hosting, say yes when people ask if they can bring a dish which will reduce your personal food bill.


If you are planning to travel over Christmas, don’t leave fuelling up until the last minute when the price of fuel skyrockets. Fill up the week before and use one of the fuel finder apps to find the lowest prices in your area.

Plan for the New Year

Boxing day is a great day to prepare for next Christmas. If your budget allows, it may be worth buying your Christmas decorations and wrapping paper at the Boxing Day sales when it is heavily discounted – just beware of the sale-induced impulse-buying frenzy!


Pre-planning is the best way to avoid a nasty debt as we ring in the New Year. Instead of charging your Christmas spending to a credit card, purchase a $10 or $20 gift card each week or fortnight throughout the year to spend on Christmas. Alternatively, you can open a separate Christmas fund account and set up a direct debit of $10-20 per week. This provides cash available at Christmas to spend anywhere, including online.



The very real thing about Christmas is that life doesn’t stop. Your real estate agent will still direct debit your rental payment; your electricity company will still expect your bill payment; and your telco will still need your Bpay payment.


The added expense of Christmas can put a lot of pressure on a family’s finances and being worried about a Christmas debt hangover is no way to start 2024.


If you are worried about your finances, a free financial counsellor can assist you.


Call the National Debt Helpline from 9:30am-4:30pm Monday to Friday on 1800 007 007, or use the live chat service from 9:00am to 8:00pm via ndh.org.au.