How to avoid overspending on special occasions

Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Bonfire Night and other annual events are supposed to be times of great celebration, relaxation and warmth. However, too often stress and anxiety about finances can make these events something to dread, rather than something to treasure. Christmas, in particular, can be a stressful time for those on a tight budget. The fear of a financial hangover in January and February can sully the enjoyment of “the most wonderful time of the year”.

These kinds of special occasions do not have to be about stretching your budget to the maximum. The pressure to spend can be immense and can often leave people feeling guilty if they do not indulge, but there are ways to have enjoyable and memorable celebrations without overspending. We look at some of the best ways to cut back or plan ahead, to make the most of the holidays while keeping your finances healthy.

Avoiding waste can help cut costs

One big thing that inflates the costs of special occasions is wastefulness. Excessive amounts of food and drink that never gets eaten, wrapping paper that fills an entire rubbish bag, decorations that never get put up. All of this costs money and it is money that often ends up being thrown away.

Thinking about this waste in terms of the environment or a healthy diet might be good motivation to cut it out. Avoiding paper plates and plastic cups is great for the environment and can save money. Favouring quality over quantity can help reduce the amount of food you buy and don’t eat.

If you do buy more food than you need, you can plan ahead as to how to use it for lunches and dinners, once the special occasion is over. The same thinking can be applied to wrapping paper, cards and decorations – they will always last until the next event or the following year, so pop them in storage.

Work together to keep budgets down

Friends and family may well be in the same situation as you when it comes to being financially stretched on birthdays and at Christmas. Although buying gifts for children and grandchildren can create special moments, buying gifts for extended family can sometimes feel like exchanging gifts just for the sake of it.

You do not necessarily have to agree with Martin Lewis’ idea of banning Christmas presents to see the value in agreeing with friends and family that you will both skip gift-giving. Alternatives include setting a lower spending limit or organising a Secret Santa where you each buy only one gift for a person in the group.

Plan ahead to make savings

Timing is everything when it comes to finding great deals – planning ahead for special occasions is a great way to save money. Keep an eye out for special offers on food and potential gifts throughout the year and store them until needed. The best time to buy is often immediately after an event, when retailers are clearing out seasonal stock ahead of the next big occasion.

In fact, these sales can often begin before the day itself, with decorations, cards and themed gifts on-sale, so if you do not mind waiting until the last minute, you could grab some bargains.

If you are planning on travelling to visit relatives, friends or loved ones for a special occasion, booking in advance is the best way to save money on travel. Train timetables are confirmed twelve weeks in advance, meaning this is the earliest you can find the cheapest tickets. If you are driving, then you might be able to car pool with other relatives or friends and split the cost of fuel.

Pool resources with friends and family

Special occasions are almost always about getting together with family and friends, so why not pool your resources and help everyone save? Get family and friends to bring homemade food or have joint parties or BBQs for birthdays that are close together. This means spreading the cost of the party over more people and is also a fun way to bring a big group together to celebrate.

The same thing can be done for fireworks night or Halloween or, if you have siblings, for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. If you or someone in your family has a flair for arts and crafts, homemade gifts can also be a cost-effective, but highly personal way of gift-giving.

Make the most of promotions and free experiences

There is a long list of stores and restaurants that give away ‘birthday freebies’ on your special day, you may need to sign up to a reward scheme or to a newsletter to get them, but that’s usually it. Not only is a great way to save money on your birthday, but you can also use discount codes at toy shops and clothes shops to stock up on birthday and Christmas gifts for the rest of the year.

Annual festivities like Bonfire Night and Christmas also usually come with local community events that are often a lot cheaper than holding one yourself or even totally free. Visiting Father Christmas at a shopping centre, trick or treating, firework displays organised by the local council or Christmas light displays on the high street all make for fantastic, low cost experiences.

Substitute memories and moments for purchases

There is a trend among younger generations to value experiences over possessions and this is a principle that can be extended to special occasions. Creating traditions and special moments that bring the family together, rather than just buying gifts, is a way to save money and create lifelong memories. Replacing the hassle of fighting crowds on the high street with time spent with friends and family could reduce both the stress and financial burden of the festive season.

Whether it is carol singing, watching a particular movie every year, making a favourite meal together or playing games, it is about doing something unique that you can revisit year after year.

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