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Christmas on a budget

23 November 2018 ( 30 March 2020 )

Want to enjoy Christmas without blowing the budget? It’s easy when you know how, thanks to these great ideas for creating a fabulous Christmas for less:

roast chicken on a festive table
Christmas dinner can be just as festive with a chicken instead of an expensive turkey - simply add delicious side dishes

Christmas dinner

Turkey wasn’t always the Christmas roast of choice – swan, pheasant, peacock and boar’s head studded with fruit were on the menu from medieval times. Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey, and Edward VII made eating turkey at Christmas fashionable.

All you need to know about cooking turkey

Today, turkeys are both big and expensive – particularly if you care about animal welfare and opt for a free range or organic bird – but there are lots of other ways to create a delicious Christmas lunch for less.

A delicious pie recipe that uses up leftover chicken

Here Instagram chef and author Miguel Barclay shares some great ideas for an economical Christmas lunch:

* He recommends the humble chicken as a more manageable and cheaper alternative to turkey. Just add a few accompaniments such as chestnut stuffing and chipolatas, and it’ll feel like a special Christmas meal.

* For something different, try chicken en-croute. Pan-fry chicken breasts, top with sun-dried tomatoes and feta, then wrap individually in puff pastry and bake.

* Visit your local farm shop for seasonal veg such as purple heritage carrots, a great talking point at Christmas dinner; roast them in honey in the oven.

* Pan-fry bacon in a splash of olive oil, adding thinly sliced sprouts as the bacon starts to crisp.

* Boil peas with a sprig of mint and serve with a knob of butter.

* For a special side dish, make a tasty vegetable gratin. Slice all the veg thinly, pour cream on top and add grated cheese, then bake in the oven until the vegetables are cooked and the top is golden brown.

Get set for Christmas! Create a beautiful table setting that won’t cost a fortune

How to save on your Christmas shopping

It’s one of the most expensive times of year, when our bank accounts and credit cards can take a beating. But careful preparation could save you pounds.

Do you really need to give a present?

Buying gifts creates an obligation for recipients to give back, whether they can afford to or not. For some, the gift of ‘not obliging you to buy for me’ is more welcome than unwanted tat. Here are some quick and easy ideas:

* Secret Santa, so you just buy for one person.

* Only buy gifts for grandchildren.

* Set a price cap for presents.

Avoid expensive add-ons

Don’t pay for extra warranty insurance for gifts, such as that offered by electrical retailers. You're covered by consumer law and many shops extra free cover beyond this.

Get cashback

Sites such as Quidco and TopCashback give you cash back when you click through from their site to a number of big retailers.

Chase bargains

Compare prices for the same item from different retailers by using a ‘shop bot’ such as PriceRunner or Kelkoo.

Use up your points or rewards

Now is the time to use those supermarket points. Don’t forget that subscriptions to the likes of magazines, audio books, music and TV streaming services and home technology can all make great gifts.

Making the most of your loyalty cards

Gift-card caution

Remember that if the recipient does not use the card before its expiry date, or if the retailer goes bust, your money could be lost. The bottom line is that if you want your relative to choose their own gift; cold, hard cash is safer.

Mind where you shop

Be wary of buying online from businesses you’ve never heard of or that don’t accept payment by credit card, which gives you that crucial extra level of consumer protection.

How to stay safe online

If you’re not sure, search for the name of the firm or website along with the word - and see if anyone has issued any alerts.

Be prepared

You’ve read this a hundred times before, but it’s true. Match your entertaining and gift ambitions with what you can afford.

So make two main shopping lists: one for presents to buy, and one for food and drink, with menus and ingredients.

Plan your travel, too. Train fares are much, much cheaper booked in advance. Share car transport and cabs home from parties.

Spread the cost

In an ideal world you’d have saved up plenty of spare cash during the year - but you’re only human, so we’ll scrub that one. Using the right credit card can help. If you aren’t able to pay off your bill as soon as you receive it, consider switching to a card with a lower interest rate. Apply for a card that offers a 0% interest-free period for purchases, or one you can shift your balance to for a lower rate.

How to use credit cards to protect your consumer rights

Carefully consider taking out a loan

If you need a long time to pay off Christmas debts, or will add them to existing borrowing, consider a personal loan to spread the cost over a fixed number of months. It could work out cheaper than overshooting on a credit card.

But with loans, always tread carefully and do your homework – and don’t over-extend yourself when it comes to repayments you can’t actually afford.

Stylish Christmas savers

An amazing Christmas table and elegantly wrapped presents don't have to blow your budget. With these expert tips from a stylist and a party planner, here’s how you can be stylish on a shoestring:

Creating a festive Christmas table

* Use different height decorations across your dining table for a layered look. Slimline pieces such as tall candles and narrow tree ornaments won’t obstruct your guests’ view.

* For a simple festive arrangement, use fresh eucalyptus as a runner – intertwine with battery-operated fairy lights for added sparkle. Get ahead by arranging it the night before – eucalyptus stays fresh for days.

* Continue the greenery theme with place settings – tie cutlery together with a few eucalyptus leaves and natural string.

* Add a further natural touch by using slices of wood as rustic place mats. You can buy them readymade; no need to get out the chainsaw unless you want to.

* There’s always room for lovely flowers on the table, even if you have to move them before you eat. DIY with red roses, berries and gold-sprayed leaves, or look for seasonal offers and buy a ready-made bouquet.

Thrifty Christmas dinner ideas

Three ways to make the humblest present look boutique gift-wrapped

* Use brown paper - it never goes out of style and can be dressed up in so many ways.

* The details make a difference - use ribbon, string and coloured twine to add texture or colour. Tie in fresh eucalyptus, just a sprig or two, to make your presents smell wonderful as well as look great. A sprig of rosemary works well, too.

* Look for creative alternatives - use old music scores as wrapping paper (or print off a Christmas carol score from the internet) and finish with a big, swanky bow.

More present wrapping ideas

* Tartan is always a joy to behold, so mix and match tartan prints on paper and ribbon in red, green and white.

* Use festive masking tape to make your own criss-cross or other designs on brown paper.

* Upcycle free or out-of-date road maps and secure with red cord, then thread through a pretty button and knot to secure it.

* Buy an ink stamp pad in a festive design from hobby shops in the high street or online, or use a white chalk pen on black paper to create your own unique wrapping paper. Add ribbon in a complementary colour.

Tips for planning a party

* Putting any nibble or canapé on a Christmas or festive plate will make them look fantastic. Display everything on your table with lots of candles and you’ll have a gorgeous spread.

* Make the Christmas tree the focal point where your guests will gather. Decorate with swags of fairy lights and gorgeous baubles.

* No space for a tree? Create a twig installation over an island or a table. Use invisible fishing wire to hang up the branches, then add baubles.

* Spray paint twigs and branches gold or silver, put in a vase and decorate with baubles and clear fairy lights to create a mini Christmas tree.

* Decorate mantelpieces and window ledges with holly branches and ivy.

* Fill blank spaces on walls with large, fold-out foil decorations and fat tinsel. It's colourful, fun and screams Christmas party.

* Then play your favourite Christmas songs and everyone will have a ball!

What wine to drink with your Christmas dinner

Here are some top tips for pairing the right wine with the right food at Christmas. And remember: the likes of budget supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi are just as good quality hunting grounds for fabulous wines as the more obvious shops, supermarkets and warehouses:

Look for champagne alternatives. You no longer have to shell out for champagne to get quality fizz. All-conquering prosecco and cava keep getting better, while French champagne-style crémant is guaranteed great value.

Crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc or Chablis, make brilliant apéritifs. Flavourful but fresh, they’re not just perfect on their own, they also have the acidity to match your classic smoked salmon canapes.

Christmas dinner on a budget

Rich whites and elegant red to match the main event. You might still think it simply isn’t Christmas without turkey. So make sure you pair its weight, but lack of fat, with a full-bodied white or elegant red.

Cheese boards don’t just need redsAs tannins can overwhelm many cheeses, white wines are more versatile. Try a glass of Sancerre with goat’s cheese, or Gewürztraminer with something stinky.

House guest etiquette for the festive season

Needs some inspiration for your festive feasts? Visit our Christmas recipe hub


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.