Christmas is a joyous time of year, but it can also be an expensive one. What with decorating the house, laying the table with a festive feast and buying gifts for everyone from Great Aunt Mildred to the kids next door, not to mention paying for the petrol required to drive between all the relos' houses on Christmas Day, the costs can really add up.
This year there's also the added financial stress of ever-increasing interest rates and rising household bills, which may all be throwing a dampener on your plans for festive celebrations.
To restore Christmas cheer, we've put together a Grinch-proof list of ways to cut a little of the cost of decorations, gifts, food, entertaining and travel, to help you have the most festive of seasons with a little less financial strain.
Try a non-traditional Christmas meal
For many people, Christmas is all about the feasting. However, making a few changes to your traditional menu can translate to some good savings on the day.
Although you may love to feast on seafood or a leg of ham on Christmas Day, these more traditional festive options can often be expensive. A current price check shows that a half-leg of ham costs $52 ($8 per kg) and $58.50 ($13 per kg) at Woolworths and Coles respectively, while extra large cooked black tiger prawns from each of the supermarkets cost over $30 per kg.
You could consider saving money on your main protein by opting for a cheaper non-traditional alternative such as a whole chicken (from around $5/kg) or sausages, or even skip the more expensive meat options altogether and host a vegetarian or vegan Christmas.
You could even theme the Christmas meal with a specific cuisine as a creative way to save – a taco feast or slow-cooked curry to share, perhaps!
Host a 'bring a plate' Christmas event
Sharing the load at Christmas is always a great idea to reduce the stress of preparing a huge meal on your own, and it can also allow you to share the food costs.
Ask your guests if they have a specialty Christmas dish they'd like to bring to the feast – perhaps a side salad or a favourite dessert. Or, when guests ask, "what can I bring?", don't be shy about delegating something you actually need for the meal, such as bread, wine or a specific ingredient or condiment.
Bulk up meals with salads and sides
Cut down on the costs associated with feeding a crowd by increasing the size of your feast with bountiful salads made with filling ingredients such as rice and/or pasta, and cheaper, vegetable-based sides (potatoes are cheap and satisfying and you can't go wrong with a dish of roasties at Christmas!).
DIY marinades, dips and salad dressings are usually cheaper than store-bought, readymade options, and doing your own food prep to cut your own fruit and veg for salads rather than buying pre-cut can also save you cash. (It's a great time to put your food processor to work!). View more top tips for cooking on a budget.
Switch to cheaper brands and shop around for specials
CHOICE's expert testing has found that supermarket own-brand products have improved in quality in recent years, occasionally even outdoing national brands in our taste tests.
Supermarket own-brand products have improved in quality in recent years, occasionally even outdoing national brands in our taste tests
If you're shopping for staples for your Christmas dinner, check our CHOICE reviews to see if you can switch to a cheaper product that tastes better – we've tested things such as butter, olive oil, chocolate, hummus, mayonnaise and more. And if you're looking for sweet treats to snack on, we've done a taste test to find out which supermarket's budget mince pies taste the best.
Shopping around and not restricting yourself to one supermarket can also help you make great savings. Keep track of discounts and special offers and be prepared to switch supermarkets to follow the bargains. You can browse catalogues or check online to see if what you're after is on special at a nearby outlet before deciding where to spend your money.
Getting creative with your Christmas menu can translate to good savings.
Overbuying at Christmas time is easy, so know how many mouths you're feeding and make a shopping list to stick to before entering holiday supermarket madness.
If you do end up with leftovers be sure to make the most of them with these tips.
Offering more festive non-alcoholic options, such as flavoured sparkling waters, homemade cordials or tonics, punches or mocktails, is a great way to save money on beer, wine and spirits and is a delicious and fun way to keep hydrated, especially for those guests who are choosing to limit their alcohol intake.
Shop smart with unit pricing
Use unit pricing during your Christmas food shop, and year-round, to decide which products are really giving you good value for money.
If you don't have an arsenal of decorations at the ready or the budget for a tree this year, we've got you covered with these creative and eco-friendly money saving tips that will still give your home the festive feels.
Consider an alternative to a traditional Christmas tree to save a bit of extra cash.
Try a creative alternative to a Christmas tree
Both real and artificial trees can cost you a pretty penny. Instead, why not skip a tree altogether and consider decorating your favourite potted plant instead, or use a large tree branch planted in a pot (you could even spray paint it gold or silver for extra effect).
Use ornaments, lights or tinsel you already own, or read on for tips on natural ornaments you can source from your backyard or local park. For a modern take, draw a tree mural or cut a tree out of felt to stick on the wall and place presents at the base. As an added bonus, there'll be no decorations for the pets or small children to get a hold of.
Use natural materials such as twigs and flowers to create a rustic, homemade wreath.
Use natural and recycled materials
You can use branches, dried leaves and flowers to make circular or star-shaped wreaths to decorate your front door or hang around the home. Look for branches that have some bend in them and use twine, wool or embroidery thread to create a circular wreath shape or opt for an easier star shape. You could also do smaller versions to hang on the tree.
Use pine cones, dried orange slices and recycled paper or cardboard cut into stars as tree ornaments and table decoration. Or, get the kids' craft box out and have a fun afternoon together making new decorations from items you already have around the house.
Use recycled material (fabric or paper) to make bunting
Bunting is so fun and festive, and it doesn't cost a lot to make your own! Get crafty and cut triangles from fabric scraps or coloured paper, then tape or glue to string to make bunting that can drape around a tree or fireplace, or be used to dress a table or decorate a wall.
Buying gifts for family and friends can be stressful when money is tight. Here are some budget-friendly gift ideas.
Do a Secret Santa
A Secret Santa is where everyone picks a name of one person out of a hat to buy a gift for. Not only does Secret Santa save money, as you only have to buy a gift for one person as opposed to multiple people, it also adds an element of surprise to Christmas Day as the gift givers are kept secret (although keeping it secret is optional).
It takes the pressure off buying gifts for everyone and you can set a spending limit for gifts beforehand. It may also mean you'll get one decent gift that costs a bit more as opposed to multiple cheap gifts that you potentially don't want.
Swap pricey gifts for meaningful experiences
A trip to the movies (especially on a discount day), the nail salon, an indoor play centre, or to your local cafe for breakfast; giving experiences can sometimes be a cheaper alternative to presents and creates opportunities to make new memories with your loved ones. If you have a skill or talent, you can also offer a personalised experience as a special gift – a cooking lesson perhaps, driving lessons, or a language tutorial, to be redeemed at a time that suits the gift receiver.
Giving experiences can sometimes be a cheaper alternative to presents, and creates opportunities to make new memories with your loved ones
Experiences also serve as a great option for kids prone to perpetually changing interests or for your cousin who seems to already own absolutely everything.
Use your CHOICE membership to find a cheaper, good-quality gift
Your sister may have her heart set on a particular coffee machine, or your teenager may have requested that specific brand of headphones, but if you check out our CHOICE reviews, you might find a cheaper product that performs even better than the one they've asked for. We often find that cheaper products outperform more expensive ones, so make sure you check CHOICE reviews before you buy.
Shopping in the upcoming Black Friday and pre-Christmas sales is also a great way to save. Find out how to get the best deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and read our useful advice on how to buy thousands of different products, including the best air fryers under $250, splurge vs Save: the cheaper stick vacs that compare with expensive ones, and the best slow cookers under $50.
Give delicious and thoughtful gifts that cost less, such as homemade relishes or sauces.
Give homemade gifts
Propagate plants you already own by taking cuttings and replanting as gifts. Or give a painting, drawing or hand-written story as a gift – that personal touch can really go a long way at Christmas.
Or, if you're a dab hand in the kitchen, bake up a batch of cookies, jam, relishes or hot sauce for a thoughtful and tasty gift that keeps on giving (and perhaps can double as edible treats on your festive table come Christmas Day).Buy secondhand or shop at your local charity store or op-shop
A book from the series your seven-year-old is currently obsessed with, a novelty apron for a self-proclaimed chef or board games for the summer hols are all gifts you could potentially pick up at op shops for a fraction of the price of buying new.
You can also pick up plenty of great-quality or even new items secondhand on online marketplaces or buy, swap, sell, trade sites. After all, your three-year-old is not going to know that the Peppa Pig playset or Tonka trucks you bought him are preloved!Just ensure you follow our tips for buying safely online so you don't fall victim to scammers.
Ditch the Christmas wrapping paper
The costs of wrapping paper and gift tags can really add up. Instead of buying rolls of wrapping paper, try out some DIY options. Use fabric such as tea towels or recycled paper and string, and homemade gift tags. Not only will you save money, but it's better for the environment! Use twine, dried leaves and flowers to decorate wrapped gifts.
If the Grinch taught us anything, it's that no one should be alone on Christmas. But celebrating the silly season with friends, coworkers and family doesn't have to break the bank.
Replace going to bars and restaurants with cheaper activities
Take a walk around your neighbourhood with a festive fruit punch in hand and take in the Christmas lights, host an at-home Christmas movie night or have a picnic at the beach in the lead up to the big day.
Get creative with babysitting options
Save on nights out by shipping the kids to a friend's house for the night and create a roster so you can return the favour later. Or if you're going out with friends who have kids, see if you can split the cost of a babysitter for the night. The kids will love all the extra sleepovers and playdates at their friends houses!
Whether on a plane or in a car, going near or far, travelling smarter can save you serious money and leave you asking, "How's the serenity?"
Play tourist in your own city
If going away isn't on the cards these holidays, pick an area or park you haven't been to before and plan a mini holiday itinerary for the day. Also check with your local council about free events and walking tours happening over the holidays.
House swap with family or friends
For a cheap holiday, organise a house swap for a few nights and explore a new area. Ask them to make a list of recommendations in the area and do the same in return.
Avoid car hire excess and hidden fees
If you're renting a car these holidays you might save by sourcing your own insurance rather than opting for the policy offered by your car hire company.
Beware of avoidable hidden fees such as premium location surcharges (picking up from certain locations), refuelling fees at premium prices, as well as additional and young driver fees.
Pre-pack travel snacks
Nothing is worse than paying a premium price for pretzels, lollies or other mediocre snacks on the road, so plan ahead and bring a snack pack for your day of flying or driving. You'll probably end up eating healthier options, too. Try homemade popcorn, a snack box with chopped fruit and veg, rice crackers – they'll all be much cheaper if you pack them yourself.
Know how to score the best deals on accommodation
All hotel booking sites claim they have the best deals, but you can sometimes get better deals by booking with hotels directly or calling them and asking for their best rate, as well as telling them the quote you were given by a booking site.
Seek out the cheapest fuel before you set off
Another place Australians are feeling the pinch is at the pump, with fuel prices continuing to rise on average. Consider a fuel comparison app to plot your journey with the cheapest fuel stops and read our tips on how to save money on fuel.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.