Christmas Countdown: Time for thrifty gifts...
Trying to stay thrifty without looking mean at Christmas is a feat! Most of us run out of money or end up spending far too much in the run up to the big day. Here are some ideas for low-cost gifts
* Gift your time and talent. Print off customised 'vouchers' for things you can offer which won't cost you any money, but are valuable to others. I don't know any parent who wouldn't welcome a night's free baby-sitting, for instance, or an afternoon's gardening in lieu of a paid gift. If you have a particular talent, such as baking or sewing, offer that up instead - a lovely pack of home-made truffles, beautifully wrapped, would be welcome anywhere. Or offer to provide freezer meals for an older person - single portions of favourites such as shepherd's pie or casseroles which they can heat up for a nutritious, fuss-free supper.
* Theme boxes are great fun: create a 'movie night' with a DVD, popcorn, chocolate treats and soft drink bottle for a cosy night in. Drivers will love a 'Car Wash' box - a chamois, some car cleaner, a wheel buffer and anti-freeze, all wrapped in a box with racing car wrapping will be welcome anywhere!
* For a girlie friend or sister, package up a mini bottle of sparkling wine, a lovely candle and some bubble bath and package it with some body lotion, none of it expensive, for a special treat on a rainy, cold night.
* Nobody can object to a gift which helps others. Oxfam's 'Unwrapped' selection starts from €5 with a clutch of chicks (€19) and Three Little Pigs for €75, oxfamireland.org.
* Making up a flower pot with some potted plants or herbs is a great gift. You can customise with favourite colours or tastes for a personal gift that keeps on giving!
* Download the FujiFilm App and create customised gifts using photos on your phone. A mug costs €9.99 and a personalised phone cover €14.99.
* Make Blackberry Vodka using a Kilner Jar (2L, €5.99 from Homestore & More), with cheap vodka (Aldi's 'Tamova' is €12.99 for 70cl), 110g caster sugar and 300g berries and allow to ferment for a few weeks. Lasts up to one year.
* Buy a set of coordinated towels and throws from Ikea (€6.50 for Gurli throw, €3.50 for bath towels, €2.50 for hand towels), in your friend's favourite colour.
* Lotto scratch cards are always fun to give. All Cash costs €1 each; All Cash Extravaganza costs €20 with three games and a top prize of €500,000.
* Give a 'Family Gift' rather than buying for everyone individually: a board game, restaurant voucher or tickets to an event will all be easier to buy and less costly on the pocket.
A feast of Festive food
Nobody wants to hold back when it comes to festive food, but buying so much can seem like a chore, not to mention the cost. Although you'll definitely eat more during the Christmas season, you don't have to spend more to do so. Here are some tips to get you started now, so that you don't end up shelling out a fortune on Christmas Eve...
* Buy boxes of frozen canapes from supermarkets (Tesco, 14 mini Duck spring rolls or 18 piece Chinese Selection €4 each) to store for unexpected visitors. They take minutes to heat, and place on a platter with some sweet chili sauce and a glass of bubbly.
* Price check online before buying - Tesco and Supervalu offer some free or very cheap delivery slots, so you can buy online and save time and hassle in the supermarket, especially in December.
* Fresh vegetables and fruit are always cheaper than pre-packed. Buy loose products and use any leftovers in soups or smoothies, to avoid waste. Store in paper coffee cups, cover and freeze.
* Find your inner baker. Shops bundle baking ingredients together for Christmas - now's the time to dig out easy recipes (see odlums.ie for ideas) - it's much cheaper than buying ready-made.
* Between now and Christmas, add one or two luxury items to each shop to avoid spending too much in the final week. But hide them away, lest you get tempted!
* If you're a small family, a whole turkey may be a waste. Ask your butcher about a rolled Crown or even a corn-fed, organic chicken - tastier and cheaper.
Give children the gift of money sense
Giving children control over money and teaching them how it works is a valuable gift. This year, why not consider a longer-lasting financial present? Here are the top five:
1. Prize Bonds
Available at your local post office or online at statesavings.ie, prize bonds cost €6.25 each and must be purchased as four units at a time (€25). Ask for the Gift Purchase application form. They must be held for at least three months but can then be cashed at any time thereafter. Prize draws are held every Friday.
2. Savings Stamps
An Post has 'Cyril the Squirrel' saving stamps costing €1 each. They are put onto a card and can be transferred into a savings account when full. Great for small kids.
3. Piggy Bank
Letting kids save their own money is a great idea. Buying a receptacle which is hard to access is even better! Smyths Toys has a "Paint your Dream World" piggybank (left) for €8.99 which lets them design it personally.
4. Pre Pay Credit Card
For the teenagers out there, shopping online can be hard without plastic. 3V (available from Payzone outlets) gives them a 16-digit code to do so, from a pre-loaded card. You can buy €30-€350 with a €2.50-€5 fee, 3v.ie.
5. Savings Account
Encouraging savings early is a good idea and most banks operate children's accounts. AIB's 'Junior Saver' reserves its best deposit rate for kids, at 2.26pc AER for amounts up to €1,000 for 7-11-year-olds. You will need the child's birth cert and parental permission. Visit aib.ie.