'Tis the season to be frugal. Though we love it dearly (most of us anyway), Christmas is here to coldheartedly empty our bank accounts without even so much as a 'ho ho ho', rendering us desperately poor and sorry for ourselves.
For students, this can often be particularly saddening, since the balance of said bank accounts is seldom healthy to begin with.
But there is hope.
Students must stand against this tinsel-toting, woolly jumper-wearing, festive beast; they needn't gulp at the thought of sinking even further into their overdrafts, nor should busy distance learners with mouths to feed and books to read despair at the stressful weeks that lie ahead. No. Students must scrimp, and save, until they are almost actually making money.
But seriously – Christmas shopping on a student budget is less painful than it probably seems; as long as you're smart and disciplined about it. Sure, you don't have to be Einstein to realise that shopping on Black Friday or massive Ecommerce sites is generally guaranteed to yield more favourable spend/gain ratios, but you might not have considered a few other tricks worth knowing. So we've pulled out a few that may just save you and your bank balance a great deal of anguish this Christmas...
Plan Your Christmas Budget
Before you even consider setting foot in a shop, you really must plan a strict and thorough Christmas budget. A good place to start would be deciding who you are going to buy for – your immediate family of course – and probably your grandparents, housemates and oldest friends. That's already totting up rather worryingly.
And that's before the guilt presents. These are the ones you buy for slightly less important friends, even though you know you shouldn't, but the thought of them finding out that you bought presents for other friends and not them is just too much to bear... Well snap out of it. Friends, as friends should, respect that you are helplessly impoverished, and not get all offended when you don't come a-knocking with an immaculately wrapped Christmas gift. You just better hope that they don't get you one. That would be awkward and require the old 'I ordered something but it didn't arrive in time' excuse. Even if it were true, nobody would ever actually believe you.
Once you've decided who you're buying for, it's time to allocate individual budgets – and stick to them. Make sure all your usual expenses are accounted for and if there really is no wiggle room them consider crossing off a few luxuries for the month. As the saying goes, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.
Use Coupons and Vouchers
When few in number, Clubcard and Nectar Card coupons hardly feel rewarding, but come the end of the year, when you've accumulated a tidy stash of them, it's time to trade them in. They can be used to buy either actual presents or discounted food which would offset the Christmas expense.
It can also be worthwhile to carefully sift through junkmail at this time of year, since it's likely that at some point you have either wittingly or unwittingly signed up to a vouchers/coupons newsletter, and there are, as a result, some big discount opportunities sitting pretty in your inbox. These can help you make substantial savings if you use them in time. Groupon, for example, is a great site for using coupons (Groupon.co.uk).
Ditch Major Brands for Budget Stores
Don't succumb to the glitzy, high-budget Christmas displays that many of the major brands or high street stores typically install to lure in passers by. They may look pretty, but they often lead to a twinkling land of overrated and overpriced goods that you really don't need in your life.
Instead, resist and keep costs down by heading off to stores like Primark for novelty t-shirts, Zara for trendier garb, Tiger for stocking fillers and TK Maxx for just about anything else you can think of. These are the perfect stores for cheap Christmas gifts on a budget. Poundland and 99p stores are perfect for deals on wrapping paper, gift cards, bags and various cheap Christmas decorations.
No matter what the cost (or result in most cases), a present that has been personally and lovingly crafted is always infinitely more gratifying. You don't actually have to be creative, either; it's the thought that counts, and that goes a lot further than a standard scented candle or bottle of posh bubblebath.
If you're stuck for ideas, consider baking a batch of mince pies or personalised Christmas cookies, cobbling together some tasteful jewellery – again, with a personal touch – or digging out some old photos (or download a bunch from Facebook) and having them printed for your folks. This will surely bring a tear to Mum's eye and make your Dad nod in firm approval. In fact the whole family will probably admire you for your sterling efforts, and you will have incurred minimum expense. Result.
Do Secret Santa
Secret Santa rules; it's fun, cheap and everyone ends up with a present. The budget needn't stray beyond £5-10 and it can actually be a lot of fun, particularly if whoever you buy for has no idea you were their Secret Santa. Ergo, you could quite easily get that gift that is probably a bit inappropriate but acceptable nonetheless since you know you'll get away with it (unless you are caught out by process of elimination). Regardless, it's almost always a giggle.
For the best cheap Christmas present ideas shop at the budget stores mentioned above.
Cash in on January Sales
If you're really thinking ahead, you could wake on Boxing Day morning and take to the high street along with all the other elbow-jabbing bargain hunters to raid the January Sales. Not only could you grab yourself a Christmas present, but you could bag your mates a Christmas jumper each as early gifts for Christmas the following year. Or, if you really did run out of time or ideas, you could even leave your family members a festively decorated I.O.U. under the Christmas tree, and go to work on making amends (and saving a pretty penny) the next day.
Shop Sooner Rather Than Later
It's all too easy to leave your Christmas shopping until the last frantic week, by which time all the good stuff has been snapped up by other, more organised shoppers. It just takes some of us a bit longer to come to terms with what is happening, or we procrastinate for as long as possible, in the hope someone will kindly do our Christmas shopping for us. This is a fool's game, as the result is always the same: a horrible, often damp day spent tearing around your nearest jam-packed city centre, not even knowing what you're looking for. And what do you end up with? A DVD for Dad and a bottle of posh bubblebath for Mum.
You may as well have made a miniature Christmas tree out of Groupon vouchers. That would have gone down better.
We hope that our tips have shown you that budgeting for Christmas isn't too challenging as long as you put your mind to it and stay disciplined. This means remembering to study too of course, and not doing these things.