Money,  Slow Living

Reduce waste and spend less this Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! A time to come together with family and friends, to celebrate and show our love, to share and feast, to dance, sing and be joyful. But it has also become a time of excessive consumption and mass overspending. I LOVE Christmas, truly, I’m still just like a kid, giddy and excitable and hopping up and down in anticipation from now until the day itself, (did I say now? Ok, so, actually I have been hopping up and down for weeks, waiting for it to be “acceptable” to show my colours…)

Cartoon image of a person with a box of Christmas items

I CAN NOT WAIT! But the past few years I have really begun to pay attention and been astonished at the amount of WASTE produced. Wasted wrapping paper, wasted packaging, wasted money, wasted time even.


Reduce waste this Christmas!

It is estimated that £22 billion will be spent by UK households at Christmas…which is scary enough, but of that, a staggering £700 Millionwill be spent on unwanted Christmas gifts. Read that again. That’s right £700 MILLION. When I discovered that I thought it had to be wrong. How can this be true?!


Then I thought about all the times I have struggled to come up with the perfect gift for a friend or loved one, and ended up buying the most random thing out of sheer panic – something is better than nothing, right? Only it’s not. Of course it’s not.


If they don’t want the item in question, what am I achieving by giving it to them? I’m just making myself feel like I did a nice thing in giving a gift, but it doesn’t enhance the experience of the receiver in any way. In fact, rather than bringing them any kind of joy, it just causes stress and bother. Either they have to keep a gift they don’t want in order not to cause offence, or get rid of it.


It’s almost like an anti-gift…


pinterest graphic

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Firstly, try to avoid the mass-produced, plastic, overpackaged junk that is EVERYWHERE.


Easier said than done, I know, especially if you are shopping for small people.


Going into any shop with my children is like running the gauntlet. I find myself sprinting down aisles calling No! Nope! No…waving my arms around wildly as the shiny boxes leer at us from all sides, Thing 1 and Thing 2 swinging off my legs and tugging on my sleeves, begging for the items that they will just DIE without…


It’s not easy, no, but try your best, be mindful of excess packaging and avoid it where possible.


So what to buy?

With regard to choosing what to buy, you may have heard the concept of choosing presents for your children following the popular logic:


“Something they want
Something they need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.”


I love this, and I think it can be used beyond stocking fillers for the kids – you can apply this to anybody you wish to buy gifts for.


Something they want

Let’s no longer be the giver of unwanted gifts…


Just ask!


I used to feel it was a bit slack to ask what people wanted for Christmas, like I couldn’t be bothered to put any thought into my present buying. But actually, I’d much rather give someone something they actually want.


I do try to make notes throughout the year. If people show an interest in something or comment that they’d love X, Y or Z, I make a note of it. Sometimes I just see a thing that I know is PERFECT for somebody, and I make a note of that for later too.


If I’m lucky I get to the time of year when it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping and already have a bunch of ideas…But there are definitely people in my life who are next to impossible to buy for without help. Rather than getting stressed out and twisted up over it, if I am struggling, these days I just come out and ask.


I’m also a big fan of gift vouchers. I know plenty of people will disagree with me here and I get it…it just doesn’t feel like a well thought out and personal present. But if you are really struggling for inspiration, then a gift card for a loved one’s favourite shop has to be better than something totally random and unwanted. This way they get to pick out exactly what they want, which is the goal after all.


(Gift cards are waaaaay better than cash in any case, which in my experience seems to have a tricky way of getting spent on household necessities instead of treats…)



Something they need

If you are met with a shrug and an “Oh I don’t mind! I don’t want anything” or asking simply isn’t your style, then think about what they might need.


What are their interests or hobbies? Can you think of any useful item pertaining to that?
Failing that, think general practical items like beeswax wraps or reusable water bottles or coffee cups, which are both useful and help to reduce waste, which is something we all need to be doing.


Something to wear

What is Christmas without a pair of socks eh? You may well chuckle but if you have never worn a pair of bamboo socks, you haven’t lived! Hmmmmm….


Handy with a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles? Make something homemade for extra bonus points!


Also, consider buying second hand – you can find some wonderful pre-loved clothes, give an unloved outfit a second chance and save some money in the process.



Something to read

My nan used to buy books for everybody, every year. It became a bit of a running joke in my family, wondering what kind of book we’d each receive, a bit like The Weasleys and Molly’s hand-knitted jumpers. But actually, I love to read…and so do most people I know, so I am ALWAYS happy to receive another book! And I like to give them too.


There are usually a few stand out books I have read each year, I pick the ones that have had the most impact on me or I have just thoroughly enjoyed and give them to my friends. They don’t take up a huge amount of space, don’t need to be used right away, and can easily be passed on when you have finished with them.


Resist the urge to get into a competitive mindset when buying gifts. Sometimes less is more! I feel like there is an awful lot of expectation to buy bigger, better and flashier gifts year on year. That really isn’t what Christmas is about!


Read also:

10 Ways to Simplify Your Life

An introduction to Slow living

Other wonderful gift ideas for a less wasteful, more thoughtful Christmas include:

  • Putting together gift hampers. You’ll save money putting something together yourself rather than buying a pre-selected gift hamper! Try making it themed – for example, you could put together a movie night hamper, with popcorn, a DVD, and something to drink, or a meal hamper full of ingredients and a hand-written recipe that you love.


  • Buy an experience. Something that you can get out and DO! I love this kind of gift, Buy your sister a massage, send your brother out for a ride on a Segway, treat your folks to a meal at their favourite restaurant – there is a limitless amount of experiences to be had! This can be a pricey option, especially if you buy a pre-arranged “gift experience” but get creative and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, you could even keep it super low key and arrange to have a night in with the recipient, you cook and provide the company/movie/game/whatever and all they have to do is show up!


  • Bake gingerbread, make fudge, go foraging and make up your own sloe gin (maybe a bit late for that one…umm, next year perhaps?!) Homemade food and drink is always the best and it’s fun to do!



  • Give somebody the gift of charity:
    World Vision have a selection of charitable gifts aimed at making a difference to the lives of children and their families around the globe from as little as £6.Or for something a little bit different, twin a loved one’s loo! “Your smallest room becomes the proud owner of a certificate, complete with a colour photo of its twin and GPS coordinates so you can look up your twin’s location on Google Maps. Your money helps those in desperate poverty to have access to a proper latrine, clean water and the information they need to be healthy.”


But at the end of the day, remember:


“It’s not what’s under the christmas tree that matters, but who’s around it”

Charlie brown



Gah! 230,000 Tonnes of wasted Christmas food gets thrown away every year. That is obscene people!


Have you visited a supermarket in the run-up to Christmas? Of course you have (if you haven’t then you are awesome and I bow down before you…). It’s crazy isn’t it? People racing around piling food into their trolleys like they won’t be able to buy any again for years!


For JUST ONE DAY! So much booze, so much meat, so much chocolate! (and I do consume all 3 of these incidentally – this isn’t a tee-total, vegan, no-sugar rant, but HONESTLY! There is no need for sooooooo much excess!)




Work out what special meals you intend to cook over the festive period. Take into consideration any events you may have been invited to by others and whether you’ll need to take anything along for those. Write a shopping list for what you need. Don’t be seduced by the mountains of shiny stuff! You won’t run out of food. You will be fine. The shops will open again!


We are throwing away so much food, and there really is no need. If you make one change this Christmas then let it be to only buy what food you will eat. It has to be the easiest one to commit to! Don’t buy ten Terry’s chocolate oranges when one will do…


Christmas trees

Young boy beside a Christmas tree


Buy a real tree!

It seems counter-intuitive to many that buying a real tree could actually be better for the environment, but the simple fact is that they are planted and grown in colossal numbers, and simply wouldn’t be if we stopped buying them. No demand, no trees!


Think about it. All the while people want real Christmas trees they will be planted and grown. While they are growing they will be releasing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide, thus helping to slow climate change. We buy approx 8million trees at Christmas time in the UK. That’s a lot of glorious air cleansing going on!


New trees are planted to replace the cut ones, and most places now offer Christmas tree recycling (check with your local council to see if they offer kerbside collection or have designated drop off areas.) When they are done being the centre of our festive attention and cheerfully reminding us of the evergreen nature of the seasons, the trees will be mulched and returned to the earth.


Yes, your plastic trees can be reused, year after year – but they will eventually be thrown away, and that is yet more plastic in landfill.


And really, there is nothing more festive than getting out and choosing your own tree!


Cartoon image of Christmas trees


Cards and gift wrap

Cards are a sore point in our house. I don’t want to send them, my husband does. He considers them a beautiful tradition and a nice way to let people know you are thinking of them. And I suppose he’s right *sigh*, but again, it just feels so wasteful to me when you pile them up after Christmas is over. So how can we address this?


Don’t get caught up in the game of “well I’d better send one to so and so because they’ll send one to us…”


You don’t need to send a card to every person you have ever met. Harsh? Maybe it’s just me…but I think there are people who are important to include on a card giving list – dear old friends who I won’t be seeing over the festive period because they live so far away, family members across the country – people I genuinely wish to connect with and send them my love.


But does every single child and teacher at my kids’ school need a card? Probably not. We see them every day, it’s not hard to simply TELL them you wish them a lovely time!

Send an e-card

Maybe you could consider sending ecards or emails. This way you still let those that matter to you know that they well, matter!


If you do want to send traditional cards then make sure you buy charity ones. ‘Cards for good causes’ have a wide selection of lovely cards which support a huge number of charities and organisations.


Alternatively, if you are a crafty type, make your own. You can reuse pictures from old cards or use up paper and card you may have stashed away somewhere. Recycling with a personal touch!



Gift wrap

For sustainable gift wrap avoid foil or glittery wrapping papers. Try using good ol’ brown paper and bakers twine, with a sprig of rosemary for decoration for a classic and simple look. Another favourite of mine is wrapping gifts in tea towels and tying with ribbon, this way the wrapping even forms part of the gift – as you can get some really awesome patterned towels! Check out pound shops and budget shops, or splash out on some fancy festive ones like these.


And for the ultimate hardcore no waste among you, simply use no wrapping at all! After all, it’s what’s inside that counts!




pipe cleaner snowflakes and twinkly lights


Don’t buy plastic! Make your own, reuse old decorations, get creative! I used to invite groups of friends together for a Yule feast, each year. Everybody present was asked to make/amend/upcycle a Christmas tree ornament and bring it along, and then we’d all swap. Of all the tree ornaments I now own, this little collection, made with love, are still most definitely my favourite.


Use popcorn garlands instead of tinsel, hang ivy and offcuts from the tree around the room. Attend a natural wreath-making workshop and harness the beauty of nature this winter!



With the average UK household spending approx £800 on Christmas, you’ll need to have been putting aside about £70 a month since January. Now you can pay for Christmas without any pressure or stress on your wallet. Done! Yay!


What’s that? You didn’t? Nope. Neither did I.


I meant to…some months I even succeeded, but then other things cropped up and Christmas seemed so far away, and I just sort of “borrowed” the money out of the Christmas slot with the intention of putting it back, and well, I think you can guess…


Next year I am going to be addressing this again for sure – I saw an excellent tip somewhere recently about buying gift cards each month and putting them aside. Then you won’t be so tempted to spend them throughout the year and can use them to do your Christmas shopping. Gift cards for the win!


Related reading:

Kakeibo – the Japanese Budgeting Journal

Why You Hate Budgeting (and what you can do about it!)

So what do we do if the time to shop is upon us and we haven’t been budgeting at our best?

Well, by following the ideas in the above sections regarding reducing waste, you will inherently reduce your spending too, so that is a good place to start.


Obviously buying less food will mean you are spending less money. Buying one well thought out gift that you know your significant other will love is better than buying loads of random and unnecessary stuff, just so it looks more generous. Making your own cards out of craft supplies you already have will save you more than you’d think.


Shop around for deals. It is always worth looking around if you have a particular gift in mind, you never know what you will find cheaper elsewhere. This applies to food as well as gifts – buy non-perishable goods now or early on in December if you see them on offer, and make sure to use any loyalty points you may have.

Write it down

As is my way, when in doubt, make a list…


Write a list of everybody you need to buy gifts for, everybody you want to send a card to (remembering to factor postage into your calculations!), all the meals you will prepare and functions you will attend (will you be taking a bottle of wine? Nibbles?).


Write another for items you will need such as Christmas trees and decorations. Leave nothing out, write down every little thing you can think of – are there any particular traditions you have? Any places you visit each year or treats you indulge in that just make Christmas for you? Write those down too.


Work out how much you can afford to spend on each category. Be honest.
Setting a budget is one of the single most useful things you can do for yourself this Christmas.



Further reading: 3 simple ways to help you take control of your spending


If you are struggling, confront that truth. Some of the best years I can remember have been the poorest, and I think this is due to the fact we were upfront about it. When I told my brother we couldn’t afford to give him and his fiancee much one year, he suggested we set a token amount of £5 that we would spend per couple, and see who could get the weirdest/funniest/most for their money gift. This resulted in highly entertaining shopping trips and even funnier presents!


On my hubby’s side of the family we now just do gifts for the kids after years of us giving his brother cash, and him giving us back the same amount. Buying for children and giving adults the gift of time is a great way to save money and allows you to focus on what is important.


Family sledging in the snow
The best things in life are free!


Planning, organisation and budgeting are key to managing your finances over Christmas. Sticking to your budget will help you avoid going into the new year in debt. Paying in cash can help – you can see what money you physically have and be more aware of when and where you are overspending. In addition to setting yourself a budget, keep a list of what you have spent. This will help you see if you are sticking to that budget, as well as giving you an honest account of your Christmas spending so you can adjust your budget accordingly next year (‘cause we’re all gonna do better next year right?)


It is estimated that £18,000,000,000 will be withdrawn from UK cash machines over Christmas – wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep just a little bit of that in your own pocket?


Final thought…

If you are genuinely struggling financially, please don’t put Christmas on credit. Don’t wait for the new year – please get help now, life is too short!

Citizens Advice Bureau:

StepChange Debt charity:



  • Ellie

    I have never left a comment on anything I have read online before but I found this extremelyhelpful. Especially the part about the Christmas trees. I have never looked at it that way before & always thought the opposite.
    Thankyou. I now feel well informed & shall pass on my new knowledge.

  • Christian

    Long-life toys Fair play to any parent trying to bring fewer plastic toys into the house. While there are lots of lovely, sustainable wooden toys for toddlers, older kids are much more specific in their Christmas demands, which can be almost impossible to resist. So if you are buying plastic toys as gifts, try to choose ones that will last. Most plastic used in Lego or Playmobil, for example, is not recyclable, but a child might get many years of play out of them, and they can be reused by younger siblings or cousins a few years down the line. If your children have been learning about the environment in school, maybe this is the year to start a discussion about toys, consumption and their impact on the planet. SH

    • Kath | The Life Spotters

      Thank you for your well thought out comment, I agree! Lego is a big favourite in our house and has been enjoyed over and over again by different family members already, and when our kids were small they loved playing with the Playmobil at Nanny’s house that had belonged to my brother 30 years ago! Good quality plastic toys can be a great long term investment.

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