Over the summer of 2010, I was really broke and didn't have any money to buy my parents and three siblings presents.

I did, however, own a huge music collection, and so I spent a weekend making very carefully planned mixed CDs for my entire family, complete with case notes about why I'd chosen each particular song.

We're heading to the Christmas seven years from that year, and my siblings have never let me forget this momentarily lapse from the consumerist norm. It's still the great symbol of the year I was too much of a loser to buy them proper presents, reports News.com.au.

Even though it remains the great family Christmas joke, things have changed since then — we all have homes of our own, we've read about the tonnes of waste going into landfill, we've realised that we just don't need any more stuff. We've been doing a Kris Kringle of $50 for the last three years, but I think it's time we went a bit further.


If you don't have a lot of money, it's too late to start putting money in an account each week for this time of year, or to seek out bargains and store them in a cupboard through the year.

So here are a few ways you can save some coin and hold onto the Christmas cheer:

1. Share the load

Enough of one person having to shoulder the entire financial and emotional load of the Christmas lunch (thanks Mum for Christmases 1980-2016). Allocate a budget of $10-25 per adult, and each adult has to prepare a dish for the family to share with that money.

They bring it, then take it home — saving on washing up too for the host.

2. Forget about yourself and feed someone else

There are so many people who don't have the luck to be lying face down on the couch in a turkey coma at 2pm on Christmas Day.

Why not go and spend time with the Salvos, the Wesley Mission or another charity you'd like to help? Sit beside someone who's struggling, and hear their story.

Wash up the dishes in the kitchen so someone else doesn't have to. Dish gravy onto hundreds of plates with a smile that could help someone else's day be a little less crappy.

Think about volunteering to help others around Christmas. You're not only doing a great thing, you might save yourself time and money. Photo / Getty Images
Think about volunteering to help others around Christmas. You're not only doing a great thing, you might save yourself time and money. Photo / Getty Images

3. Buy gifts and decorations from an op-shop

Duck into your local op-shop and you'll see it's not just the gorgeous second-hand clothes they have. At this time of year they usually have wrapping paper, cards and all sorts of Christmas decorations ready for you to buy for bargain prices.

As for presents, if you haven't managed to convince your family to abandon them all together (I haven't) find something special in there for them.

4. Take advantage of the local toy library

This is a magnificent idea friends of mine came up with, but it's not for the faint-hearted.

Borrow toys from the toy library, wrap them up and give them to your kids on Christmas Day.

After two or three weeks, they'll be sick of them and you can return them and get some more. (If you're not completely convinced that your kids will be tired of them in a few weeks, it might do to explain they're just on loan.)

Young kids probably won't notice if you take the toys back in a few weeks. Photo / News Corp Australia
Young kids probably won't notice if you take the toys back in a few weeks. Photo / News Corp Australia

5. Create a dress-up box

A few years ago, a friend went to an op-shop at Christmas time, stocked up on all the shiny clothes she could, decorated a box and made it into a dress-up box for her kids. As you can imagine, this thrifty pressie went down a treat.

And if you haven't had a wardrobe clear-out in a while, you don't need to go as far as the op-shop — find old clothes of your own with a sequin or two and make this the present.

6. Make something special

Are there a bunch of apricots or oranges at your local grocery store that are ready to be thrown out? Or some apples?

Why not fill some recycled jars with delicious homemade marmalade or jam? Add festive labels with personal messages and give a gift that will last at least a few months. Over time, your family will be excited about getting this year's batch.

7. Ask for vouchers

If your family insist on buying you Christmas presents, or being part of a Kris Kringle with a monetary budget attached, ask for vouchers that will help you in the new year.

And, not vouchers for clothes stores that you'll end up spending more of your own money, vouchers for practical things like food and petrol. If they're going to spend money on you, it may as well be useful.

8. Create a beautiful card

One of the greatest presents I was ever given at Christmas was from a colleague who'd painstakingly drawn a picture of my two dogs on the front, then written a beautiful message inside. It's so great I had it framed. Everyone in your life has something special they offer your life.

Why not make a card and tell them inside how special they are to you?

If your family tends to spend a lot over Christmas, these changes will be tough at first.

You might even be teased about them. (I just mentioned this article to my brother and sister — immediately the mixed CD jokes started.)

Still, by Boxing Day, when you're not wigging out about how much you owe on your credit card, you'll be over the moon.