Christmas usually means spending quality time with family and friends, eating great food and exchanging gifts. However,  we are often having so much fun that we relax our budgets and lose track of our finances.

Here are six ways you can make your next Christmas just as good without taking a hit to your savings (or being in debt this time next year).

# 1. Get organised and act early
Preparing your family ahead of schedule is a great start. This especially applies if you’re planning on travelling during the Christmas break. Do your research. Look at costs of flights, car services and travel insurance and book now to avoid price hikes that occur closer to the date when services are in high demand. If you’re driving, monitor petrol prices and consider what day you’ll get the best deal. In general, you can often get a better price on weekends and Mondays. However,  keep an eye on local petrol prices and take advantage of special offers.

You might also like to consider postponing a getaway during late December and organise the family a holiday in late January or early February instead. You’re likely to be able to afford to go away for two weeks for the price of one week during peak time.

#2. Start a Christmas savings plan
Create lists for those you want to buy gifts for and set an allocated amount for each, months in advance if possible. Grab any good specials and allow yourself the freedom to consider lay-by and make the payments in instalments.

Will you make one present this year an experience rather than a material present, to make it really special? This might be swimming with dolphins or taking the family for a learn to surf lesson or for a special picnic. What will you need to plan to make it memorable?

# 3. Avoid using credit cards
It’s easy to rely on credit cards to get you through the festive season but this only sets you up for more financial stress in the future (and takes away a lot of the fun). If you’re in credit card debt, then work on eliminating this before Christmas. Transfer your debt to a zero per cent special account for a limited time to help you get ahead and ensure you’re paying extra off every month.

The ASIC reports that Australians plan to spend $1,079 over the holiday season and the average person spends $400 or more on presents alone (but only 60 per cent of us pay with savings). Start saving early and put aside a small amount of money each week leading up to Christmas. Not sure where to start? Save any loose change in a jar each week and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how this builds up over time. Setting a budget will also give you an idea of how much you should save each month and gives you a number to stick to.

Will your family need $3,000 for an amazing Christmas  to cover special food and drinks, activities, presents and a local holiday? That’s $500 extra saved per month for six months and roughly $120 extra you’ll need to save (or make extra) per week.

Spending time with those you love is the best part about the holidays

# 4. Spring-clean and sell unwanted items
All of us have bits and pieces around the house that we no longer need or want. Select any furniture, clothes or knick-knacks that you can do without and sell them on second-hand websites such as Quicksales, Gumtree, and Cash Converters. Or team up with a friend and split the cost of doing a market stall. It will be a fun experience and you can donate whatever you don’t sell to a charity shop or put it on freecycle for local pickup. You’ll be de-cluttering your surroundings while making some extra cash.

Don’t forget to also use food you have in the cupboard. It is a great idea to get into the habit of skipping doing a big shop once a month. Instead, use what you have in the fridge and in the cupboard and only buy the essentials you’re missing. You’ll save on food waste and save roughly 20 per cent of your monthly food bill without even noticing it.

The average Australian throws out roughly 20 per cent of the food they purchase so you’ll be helping the environment and your back pocket.

# 5. Research and shop online
Shopping online can be a great alternative to fighting your way through shopping crowds during the pre-Christmas rush. This allows you to start your Christmas shopping as early as you’d like while also providing you with more options and flexibility. Search for discounts or coupon codes you might be able to use on particular sites or at the checkout to save a few extra dollars wherever possible.

You can also use online auction websites such as GraysOnline to bid for items, including any supplies you may need over the holiday season. You’ll be buying during off-peak time so should be able to grab some great deals while also avoiding the stress of last-minute shopping which can restrict your bargaining power.

# 6. Remember what you truly enjoy about the holidays
Enjoying Christmas doesn’t have to come down to splurging on gifts; it’s more about how you spend this special time with those you love. Get involved with Christmas activities in your local community, whether that’s going to a local carol service, taking a drive to a popular street filled with decorated houses or volunteer your time to help out those less fortunate.

Get out some colouring books, be inspired with DIY and hand-make cards and gifts. These activities will come at minimal cost but are sure to create great memories and keepsakes for loved ones. Focus on how you can save now to have a debt free Christmas (and New Year) and you’ll enjoy the holidays even more. 

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