The Pricewatch five-grand challenge: Christmas on the cheap

Cut out cards; sell your gifts; do Kris Kindle: in our continuing money-saving series, we advise on 10 ways to cut Christmas costs. You could also win €5,000 in our competition (see Monday’s paper)

Total savings so far:


Can we help you save €5,000 a year without draining the colour from your life? We think so. Austerity has forced most consumers to reduce spending already, but many of us can cut our living costs further. In weeks one, two, three and four, we showed you how to save €2,200 on your weekly shop, €800 on health insurance, €500 on car, home and life insurance, and €460 on utility bills. Last week we suggested savings of €400 on car costs.

This week, we show you how, if your total Christmas spend is €2,000, we can help you knock just 15 per cent off that, to save yourself €300. That's €4,660 and counting.

It's supposed to be the season to be jolly, but "the season to spend lolly" is closer to the mark. Last week Ibec's retail division published a Christmas Monitor, which estimated that Irish households will spend between €650 and €750 more this month than in any other month of the year. We will collectively blow €4 billion in shops in December.


Surveys about how much we’re likely to spend over the festive season come thick and fast at this time of year, but most agree that few households will have change out of €1,000 by New Year’s Day.

While €1,000 is a nice round number, we think it’s too low. When asked about spending, people nearly always underestimate. A Europe-wide study by ING Bank published last week reported that 41 per cent of consumers do not know how much they will end up spending this Christmas; 30 per cent say it is the one time of year they don’t worry about expenditure, regardless of their circumstances.

To get a base point, we filled a virtual shopping trolley with a small turkey, ham, biscuits, mince pies and other Christmas essentials, being careful to avoid high-end products or anything out of the ordinary. The cost of just 24 items – enough to feed a family of five comfortably on Christmas day alone – came to more than €250.

A case of beer, four bottles of red wine, two bottles of ordinary champagne, a bottle of brandy for lighting the plum pudding and one bottle of whiskey to make Irish coffees added more than €170 to our bill. And if two adults visit a pub three times over the 12 days of Christmas and have four drinks each on each occasion, the bill for alcohol rises to €300.

Add in a Christmas party, tree, a handful of decorations, presents, a visit to Santa Claus, cards, lighting and heating your home, and maybe giving a few bob to charity, and the Christmas spend easily tops €2,000, or double most estimates.

So, what can you do to save yourself money this Christmas? And how much can you knock of your final bill while still having yourself a happy one?


1 Lower you expectations

We’re constantly being told the perfect Christmas exists.

But it doesn’t. No one roasts chestnuts on an open fire, and Christmases are rarely white, and when they are it can be a bit miserable. Save money by resolving not to put yourself under pressure to serve the perfect meal and hand out the perfect gifts.

2 Shop smarter

A typical Irish adult will consume about 6,000 calories on Christmas day alone. At Christmas, even careful food shoppers tend to stock up as if they are heading into a nuclear winter. Instead, plan and make lists. Bear in mind that a third of what we buy goes in the bin, so buy less, stick to the list, and leave the kids at home.

3 Talking turkey

You can apparently knock about 20 per cent off the price of you turkey by buying it now and freezing it,

but we don’t like the idea. Instead, think hard about what you need and beware of false economies. The bone structure of a 6.35kg turkey and a 3.2kg turkey is almost identical, so the cheaper, small turkey is actually bad value compared with the bigger one. If you don’t like dark meat, buy a crown.

4 Don’t ham it up

A 5lb ham is all a family of five will need, particularly if the Christmas plate is bulked up with home-made stuffing – one of the easiest, cheapest and most filling elements of a Christmas dinner – and root vegetables, which are in season, filling and cheap.

Last year the big supermarkets reduced the price of their root vegetables to as little as five cent per kilogram. A Christmas dinner should cost no more than €100.

5 Presents of mind

Food and drink can cost a packet but that’s not the biggest drain: presents are. There are big bargains to be found online but the key is to shop early. And by that we mean today.

Find the stuff that is selling at heavily discounted price. Google the phrase "Amazon discount finder": there are scores of sites that ferret out the most heavily discounted stock for sale on the site. You'll be amazed at what you get back.

6 Start it with a Kris

Kris Kindle is increasingly common in Ireland. If you have a budget for presents of €200 for five people, it's better to give one brilliant present costing €150 and bank the balance than buying five mediocre gifts that people neither want nor need.

7 Recycle

Why spend money on presents when you can give away unwanted gifts or ill-advised purchases you have lying about the place? If you have, for instance, a scented candle that has never been lit, there is no shame in passing it on. Just be careful you don’t give presents back to those who gave them to you in the first place.

You can also sell the presents you get. Every year, Ebay is flooded with such stock. It may seem mean-spirited, but it’s easy to do and can make you a few bob. You just create a listing, describe it well and photograph it from multiple angles and select a starting price. And wait for the bids to pour in.

8 Embargo on presents

Don’t be Scrooge-like, but do think about who you are buying for and be adult about it. Does it make sense to spend €25 on a bottle of whiskey for someone who’ll spend €25 on a bottle of whiskey for you, particularly if neither of you likes whiskey? Of course it doesn’t. Don’t buy presents for extended family or siblings: suggest having a present-free Christmas. Chances are they’ll be delighted.

9 Call time on cards

It may be a wrench to let them go, but if you want to cut costs, cut cards. They are expensive, environmentally unfriendly, a hassle to organise and, with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and whatever social media you're having yourself, they are a complex way to tell friends and family you are thinking of them. A stamp costs 68 cent. If your card costs just 32 cent and you send 50 of them, you can knock €50 off your spend.

10 No expensive champagne

Aldi and Lidl sell some really good ones. And look out for Crémant, sparkling wine that costs about 40 per cent less than champagne.

And while we’re being social, save money by meeting friends for a Christmas lunch rather than dinner. It is cheaper, will save money on babysitters, and you can get the bus home.