The countdown to Christmas has begun. Personally, the first appearance of twinkly lights and colourful tinsel brings about feelings of both excitement and an overarching desire to slow down time - just when it feels that Iâm settling into the year, shopping centres seem to get flooded with all the familiar signs that itâs coming to an end. But this year Iâm determined to not get caught off-guard sometime in late December with a mad rush to finalise plans and find gifts (and I really mean it this time). So with a quickly diminishing number of days until Christmas, I took on the challenge of exploring all the best deals to make this festive season a little less stressful and a whole lot lighter on the pocket.
Decide how and where to spend your holiday
If youâre planning on travelling anywhere this Christmas season, accommodation could quite easily be your biggest expense. Too often the allure of âjust getting awayâ off balances our budget before weâve even packed the car. There are, however, various options that will ensure you get that well-deserved holiday without having to dip into your savings.
House Swaps are a growing trend across the globe. The romanticised version of it portrayed in The Holiday is a whole lot closer to reality than one might expect - well except for the whole Jude Law rocking up on âyourâ doorstep part. The concept is simple: you put up your house on a site like homebase-hols.com, browse through the other houses on offer in the destination of your choice and find someone youâd like to swap homes with. And in one easy move youâve secured free accommodation to enjoy your Christmas holiday in financial peace. Sound too good to be true? Well the only possible downside is that youâll have complete strangers staying in your home, but when youâre lounging in your free beach villa somewhere in the Caribbean, you might not mind that the friendly owners are relaxing on your same old couch, in your same old house, with the same old cracks in the wall that youâve been meaning to fix since Easter.
Holiday parks are another great option for getting away on the cheap this season. With hundreds of parks situated across the UK, youâre spoilt for choice with the destinations, amenities and activities on offer. To find out more about holiday parks and what makes them so popular, check out our Top 10 UK Holiday Parks.
For more adventurous travellers, couch surfing may just be the answer to all your accommodation needs. What could be better than deciding where youâd like to travel, making contact with some friendly locals who are no doubt clued up on the best that the destination has to offer, and then setting up camp on their couch - for free while youâre there. Of course it means that you have to be willing to open your couch to travellers too, but in my experience, no one lives pay-it-forward more than backpackers.
As a final suggestion for finding the best accommodation deals this Christmas, keep an eye on Gumtree for any exciting offers that may pop up.
Book your tickets early
By booking travel tickets early, you can save yourself hundreds of pounds and it may even mean the difference between getting a seat or not. While flights are notoriously pricey come December, you still have the chance of securing a better-priced ticket if you book earlier. Alternatively, UK train and bus services are a great way to travel and can even make for a fun trip - depending on the level of comfort youâre accustomed to.
The point is that travel deals are definitely out there, especially if your dates are slightly flexible. I was particularly impressed with Megabusâs Â£1 coach special (with the oh-so-hefty 5p booking fee), which travels to numerous destinations across the UK and Europe, as well as the very reasonable prices offered by Easy Bus for airport transfers, and the great offers from National Express.
Christmas Shopping. Those two words either send a thrill of delight throughout your body or a skin-crawling chill down your spine. Whether exploring shopping centres, wading through crowded aisles and gathering gifts is your fortÃ© or not, Christmas means presents - and that means shopping. Luckily though, you have options.
Online shopping is one of the 21st centuryâs greatest conveniences. The advantages of being able to do your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your own lounge are obvious - but knowing where to look can be tricky. Various sites such as Christmas Deals and iwantoneofthose.com compare prices of a variety of goods, offer gift ideas and often provide free delivery.
Discount vouchers are another great way to save money this festive season. hotukdeals.com offers deals, vouchers and freebies and moneyoffvouchercodes.co.uk sends out email alerts for the latest money-off vouchers at a wide variety of stores, making sure that you get great discounts on everything from groceries to gifts and even travel deals.
Amazon is the world's largest online retailer. In order to bring customers the best deals this festive season, they are once again treating us to Black Friday on 23 November and Cyber Monday on 26 November. Basically, kicking off from 19 November, there are daily specials and bargains designed to jump-start the 2012 Christmas shopping season. The busiest time of the year for online shopping, Cyber Monday alone is rumoured to rake in around two million orders. The famously low prices are definitely worth the wait and the free shipping on many items may save you from having to brave the shops at all.
Give some thought to your Christmas Tree
For the artificial tree lovers out there, I can appreciate that you save money by keeping one tree for years, it doesnât shed its prickly needles all over the floor and it really demands little hassle - but in my opinion, thereâs nothing like finding the perfect Christmas tree. Itâs important to make sure that youâre getting the tree from a good source though: in an effort to protect the Christmas tree trade the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) actively engages with its members to ensure tree quality, fair prices and environmental sustainability. So when choosing your tree this Christmas, make sure it has the BCTGA stamp of approval.
Alternatively you can grow your own Christmas Tree in a large pot outside and bring it in to be decorated each year. This can be especially fun if you have kids as you get to watch them grow together.
Donât miss out
All the celebrations of the festive season can often make you feel like thereâs a hole in your pocket. To make the most of your holiday without breaking the piggy-bank, keep an eye open for fun, free events like Christmas carolling in the park or the turning on of the Christmas lights. Local notice boards are a great way to make sure you donât miss out on any entertainment this Christmas holiday.
Donât forget the magic
The magic of Christmas is as important as mint sauce - it just makes everything a little more special. Sentimental perhaps, but I still like the idea of leaving a mince pie and a beer for Santa. The Royal Mail seems to echo this sentiment by accepting cards and letters to Father Christmas. Just include your name, address and a stamp and make sure your letter gets to them before 14 December. They do remind us however that he is very busy and might not be able to reply to everyoneâs letters. Itâs also a great way to find out what the kids really want this Christmas - so you donât waste time or money on expensive toys - and it also might mean that the gifts are appreciated that much more if Santa knows just how much they really want them.
Last Updated: October 2012