12 ways to a debt-free Christmas

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am

1 Make your own gifts

If ever there was a time to put your hobbies to use, it is now. Draw on your interests to create unique and personalised gifts - a Christmas cake, a painted canvas, a pair of handmade earrings - for friends and family. Those who do not have a specific interest can opt for parent and teen coach Carol McNaughton Ho's service token gift idea. It requires the giver to think up a number of favours such as making a cup of tea, a neck rub, doing the washing up; essentially things the receiver would most like help with once in a while. Write each one on a piece of folded paper and present it as a jarful of 'treats' on Christmas day. The idea is for the receiver to use these favours once during the course of the year.

2 Manage your finances

It is easy for spending to get out of control during the festive season, says Vanessa Lee Taub, an adviser at Financial Partners. To rein in your expenses, she suggests determining a budget for the season and then sticking to it. 'For people who need more discipline, you can withdraw whatever that sum is in cash and stick to spending the cash. Cash is much more tangible than credit cards,' she adds. Keeping all your receipts and making a habit of tallying them up is also a good way of monitoring your spending, she says.

3 Use a gift registry service

An online gift registry service such as Nunu Luan's Double Happiness can help cut down on wasted gifts. By setting up your own online wish list, givers can group together to buy a gift the person really wants. 'This is a perfect option for the kid who has lots of toys and [avoids] wasteful duplicated gifts, and it allows adults to have the one thing they might really want at the moment, for example, a superb bottle of wine, which all your friends can contribute towards,' says Ms Luan.

4 Celebrate around an event or activity

Get family and friends involved in a specific activity or event and cut out the cost and hassle of sourcing gifts for everyone. Emma Matthew, private member club and 24-hour concierge service Quintessentially's Asia-Pacific chief executive, suggests an informal wine tasting at home, a private screening of your favourite movie at the UA Director's Club or a Christmas cooking session at one of the city's cooking schools.

5 Plan ahead

Thinking in advance allows you to take advantage of the good deals before the Christmas mayhem. Browse the Christmas gift fairs for great value and nifty ideas. And don't forget to buy in volume, food and wine especially. Buying a case of wine and family size packs works out significantly cheaper.

6 Recycle last year's decorations

Spending on festive decorations, wrapping paper and gift tags may not sound like much but it all adds up on your final bill. If your budget is tighter this year, consider re-using old decorations or recycling wrapping paper. This can reduce your spending and save trees.

7 Do a secret Santa

An approach more commonly used for office and school Christmas parties, there is no reason why this practice can't be extended to the home. Each person, through a draw, is tasked with buying one specific person a gift. A limit on spending can be set to ensure spending doesn't spiral out of control. The presents can then either be exchanged anonymously or people can leave hints to make themselves known.

8 Give to charity

What better way is there to celebrate the spirit of the season than buying gifts for friends and family while changing the lives of the world's poor? Charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and World Vision are making this easier than before with their user-friendly websites that allow you to buy everything from a mosquito net to a toilet, or enable you to contribute towards teacher training and the provision of clean water for people the world over. There are many options and something for every budget. The charity will then send a card to notify the friend or family member for whom you have bought the gift.

9 Holiday at home

The recession may have slashed families' holiday budgets but that doesn't mean that the fun has to end. Ms McNaughton Ho is big on creativity and improvisation. Why not be creative and get a pop-up tent from Toys 'R' Us and allow the kids to camp the night away in the living room?

10 Have a party for the kids

Treat your teenage daughter and her friends to a pyjama party instead of spending money on frivolous gifts. These parties needn't be expensive, Ms McNaughton Ho points out. All it takes is just a few DVDs, popcorn and some basic foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers or pasta.

11 Get in the cheap bubbly

Plenty of places other than the Champagne region in France make delicious bubbly. Get your bubbly fix this year from a glass of Italian Prosecco or Spanish cava, at less than half the cost of champagne.

12 Look for the deals

Getting a good deal doesn't necessarily mean haggling to the point of embarrassment. Instead, pay greater attention to special offers from your credit card company, frequent-flyer programmes, retail-loyalty schemes and even your employer. Read the small print and pick up on seasonal bargains early.