You're never in more danger of breaking the bank than during the season of giving. But there are ways to spend and waste less without spoiling anyone's fun. Here are some ideas.

Whatever your holiday traditions, it's hard not to get carried away with spending on gifts, treats, and meals meant to make it a special time. But this year, especially, few of us can afford to spend like we did last summer.

Here are some sensible ideas that will make paying the bills in January a lot easier.

The trouble starts when you buy on the fly, grabbing stuff that seems a bargain or a good idea at the moment. So make a list of everything you need for the holidays: special food for the big days, extra meals for visitors, gifts, drinks. Check the list twice and let your partner have a look as well in case you missed something.

Decide how much you can afford to spend and split it between things such as presents, food, and family outings.

Once you're out there, stick to the list. If you walk past a serious bargain, first compare prices to see if it really is that great.

Why is it that kids who bring home their lunch box untouched from school can't stop eating during the holidays? Stock up on healthy snacks – at least then you know they're getting some nutrition from their endless munching.

In fact, try to spend every food cent on something healthy. Buy dry goods such as pasta and beans in bulk. Canned fish is full of protein and fatty acids, so use them for salads or pasta dishes.

The most expensive brands tend to be shelved at eye level in shops. Look up and down for cheaper options. Good no-name and in-house products taste the same as fancy brands – you're just not paying for a name.

Processed food, frozen meals, and pre-cooked ingredients can be pricey. Keep them off your list. Cook from scratch – it's healthier and saves money.

Some people believe that frozen vegetables taste bad. They don't if you cook them right. Freezing can help retain as many nutrients as there are in fresh items. Just use frozen food before the expiry date. Look for frozen goods without sauces or breading to help keep the salt down.

Don't shop when you're hungry. That makes it easier to stay with the list. Think twice about spoiling yourself or the family with a little treat. Is it worth the price? When you've checked everything on your list, stop shopping. Don't pop into the next shop "just to see what they have".

Think about who you bought gifts for last year: family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, teachers. Do you have to, or do you feel obliged?

If you really want to buy a gift for someone who always gives you one, maybe you can talk first this year about what you can afford.

For distant relatives and friends you hardly see, consider a nice card or message or a simple treat such as home-made cookies.

If you have a large family, let them chat about ways to scale down this year. Secret gifts will be fun. Each family member draws a name and buys a gift just for that person. You can set the price limit, making it a challenge.

There will be at least one person who doesn't need or want more stuff. For them, give your time. Make coupons for a service such as babysitting, a home-cooked meal or a special outing together.

You can spend a lot on wrapping paper, gift bags and cards without realising. Save by reusing paper. Fold this year's wrapping and put it away for next time. Gift bags are even easier to recycle – just replace the name tag.

Do something different – wrap in old newspaper or brown paper. Try the Japanese tradition called furoshiki – wrapping a gift in a pretty piece of material. It's much easier if the present has an uneven shape – and the cloth can be used again.

Put down a saving jar where everyone will see it and challenge the family to drop all their loose change in there. It's educational and the saving could pay for something later on.

Take a good look at coupons landing in your mail box or arriving on your phone. There might be some serious savings in there. After the season, look out for sales of things you'll really need in the coming year.

And in the end…

What did people miss most in this year of lockdowns and disruptions? Other people. So the best gift this year might be connecting: with phone or video calls, texts, a nice, socially distanced visit in a park or on the beach.

The rest is just decoration, if you think about it.


HOW TO KEEP DOWN THE COST OF THE HOLIDAYS HOW TO KEEP DOWN THE COST OF THE HOLIDAYS Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on December 15, 2020 Rating: 5
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