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How to talk to friends and family about spending less on Christmas

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

From the cost of Christmas dinner to the price of presents, the festive season can be hard to keep frugal.

Many of us are feeling the pinch this Christmas. But talking about spending less than usual can be tricky to tackle. Everyone has different budgets and priorities for their money. Bringing up the cost of Christmas can turn the Yuletide mirth into mayhem.

We’re sharing some pointers on how you can approach these difficult conversations to help maintain the peace this Christmas.

Keep your explanation brief

Suggesting spending less will hopefully be met with relief, or at least acceptance. But sadly, this isn’t always the case.

If you suspect that spending less this year will be controversial, it can be tempting to justify yourself to the nth degree. But keeping your explanation short and sweet can be more effective. With less detail to pick on, people may be more likely to accept your plan without quibble.

Don’t mention the money

Strange as it may seem in an article about how to talk about spending less at Christmas, not mentioning money could work in your favour.

Few things get people worked up like finances. So, leaving them out of the equation or making them an afterthought can help avoid an argument.

For example, let’s say you’d like to try Secret Santa to save money on gifts. You could make your approach about how much fun it’ll be to add a bit of mystery to the gift exchange. The fact that you’ll all probably save money? That’s just a bonus. 

Hold your boundaries

Deciding to look after your finances this Christmas is a boundary that you’re setting. And nobody knows how to push your boundaries and get you to back down like those closest to you.

Particularly if your choice to spend less means changing years-old traditions, you might experience a bit of pushback on your decision. Remember, you don’t need to justify yourself. Whenever something that would involve you spending more than you’re comfortable with comes up, a simple response like “No, that won’t work for me this year” is all you need.

Be clear that you don’t expect gifts, but be gracious if you get them anyway

Spending less may mean cheaper, fewer, or no gifts for your nearest and dearest. If you tell them this is your plan, make sure it’s clear from the start that you’re OK with it if they decide to spend less – or nothing – on you, too.

Even once you’ve been upfront about your plans to spend less this year, you may receive gifts anyway. A 2013 study by Baylor University in the USA found that we sometimes punish others for their generosity because it makes us feel guilty and embarrassed.

To avoid a festive feud, it’s important to remember that making you look bad is probably not their goal. For many people, buying presents really is about the joy of giving and making someone happy. Heartfelt appreciation of their gesture is all the gift they need.

Discuss it sooner rather than later… but not too soon

By December, a lot of people have their Christmas plans wrapped up. If you want to spend less on Christmas this year and hope others will join you, then opening discussions about it close to the big day might be too short notice. This could result in you spending as normal to avoid conflict, stretching your finances beyond comfort.

Broaching the subject too soon may not be wise either. What you agree in January or February may be long-forgotten by the time Christmas rolls around again. You could even offend people by bringing up changing your festive traditions too soon after Christmas. For example, suggesting you all bring a dish to Christmas dinner next year could make the person who cooked this year think you didn’t enjoy their food!

The early autumn could be a good time to bring up spending less on Christmas. It’s close enough that people may be thinking about the festive season and will remember what you’re committing to. But it’s not so close that plans will be well under way. Ideal!

Looking for ways to spend less without leaving anyone out? Try our five ideas to spend less on Christmas presents this year.

Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

Author Profile Image: Helen Fox

Helen Fox

Personal Finance Editor

Helen is a personal finance editor who’s spent 11 years (and counting!) in the finance industry. She creates content on everything money with the goal of getting people thinking – and talking – about their finances in ways they may not have done before.

Group of friends talking and drinking coffee outdoors during winter Group of friends talking and drinking coffee outdoors during winter