The real cost of Christmas

The real cost of Christmas
Christmas time really shouldn’t break the bank, writes Colm Fitzpatrick


The Christmas period usually elicits imagery of family gatherings, present-sharing and festive cuisine, but behind this ideal, parents are struggling to cope with the financial costs and burdens that have become part and parcel of this Christian event. And although it seems incongruent to celebrate this humble nativity event with exorbitant costs, people in Ireland are spending more and more each year.

Retail Ireland, for example, projected that last year the average Irish household spent €2,654 in December. This was €870 more than any other month of the year, up from €720 last year and €694 in 2015.

Indeed, for Fr James Noonan, prior of St Theresa’s Church in Dublin, shops are enticing customers to prepare for Christmas “earlier and earlier every year”. Among the many consequences of this mentality, is that the Christian holiday loses its Faith dimension, becoming a mere excuse for retailers to make money, often at the brunt of the consumers. Although the exchange of presents is “a beautiful thing”, Fr Noonan says that parents are now under a huge amount of pressure to buy presents for their children, especially ones that are struggling financially. “If all the emphasis is on just the presents and the size of the present, then there is something diminished in that situation. I think what the present represents is far more important. But I think people have got lost,”, he says.

Given that the commercial world is taking “advantage” of consumers while at the same time, families want to celebrate gift-giving and partying at Christmas, spending your money in the most efficient way should be prioritised. It’s very easy for costs to pile on top of one another and it can be difficult to discern the best ways to reduce spending with so many pieces of advice at your fingertips. So, here are nine easy ways to combat the Christmas costs this year.

Budget, budget, budget

Before the Christmas shopping season begins, it’s important to set aside some time to look at your bank balance and decide how much money you can plan to spend between now and Christmas as well as how much you’d like to spend on gifts. This might sound overly complex, but there’s plenty of effective ways to budget and it doesn’t take much work at all.

You can for example, set up a savings account with your current bank and money automatically will come out of your account every month. Another great way to budget is by just writing down your expenses with a pen and paper and working out what is affordable for you.

If you want to get really precise you can find an accessible budgeting tool at which takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. Whatever your budget is, stick to it!

Hidden costs

Buying presents is expensive but it’s important to factor in other hidden costs too, like travel, food and decorations – these all add up! It’s wise to look at these expenses in line with your income and cut unnecessary items from the list. Everyone wants all the frills of Christmas, but sometimes it’s better to focus on appreciating what you do have rather than dwelling on what you don’t.


The internet is your friend. Anyone can fall prey to impulse buys but they are the least cost-effective way of spending money this Christmas. The best option is to research online to find the best deals rather than wandering aimlessly around shops.

Nowadays, consumers are making more Christmas purchases in November driven in part by promotional retail days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Make use of these days where prices extensively drop before they go back up.

Paper not plastic

The most expensive cards this Christmas will be credit cards. For many people, credit cards are essentially loans enabling them to live beyond their means. This is especially true during this festive commercial season which can pressurise purchasers into using them, overlooking the interest rates which can affect them further down the line.

It’s vital that you hold back on using one, and when you do be careful and judicial. The best option is to avoid borrowing altogether unless necessary, so use either cash or a debit card. This way you can enjoy Christmas without as much financial stress on your mind.


If borrowing is a necessity this Christmas, taking out a low interest loan from a reputable institution is your best option. It’s important, however that you should only take the exact amount you need to borrow and plan how you are going to make these repayments.

You should search around to find the best deal, starting with credit unions as they can be competitive.

It is also worth looking into personal microcredit schemes which entail the lending of small amounts of money at low interest rates.

It’s the thought that counts

Gifts don’t always have to be modern and expensive; often the best ones are those that have thought and care put into them. Making a gift is not only cost-effective but they are often the ones that stay in the family as heirlooms.

Why not be creative and knit a jumper, make a cushion or compose a song? People will be moved by the time and effort you put into it. If you need help with ideas, there are hundreds of websites online to offer some inspiration.

Break with tradition

Instead of splurging out on hundreds of gifts this year, it might be better to take a more minimalist approach. This might mean focusing on one or some of the things your child really wants and setting that as your aim rather than buying more than what is actually needed.

Often children are showered with gifts that are never opened or used, only to be later thrown out. Fr Noonan says to give a gift that would be “helpful for that child at that particular time”.

This means a present that’s not played with once and left aside “but something that could enrich their lives and some that would continue to help them to develop their gifts”. If this idea interests you, let your children know that the structure of gift-giving will be different this Christmas.

The gift of travel

Oftentimes, experiences are more valuable than things, which is why a family holiday can be a great Christmas present. This would be particularly useful for older and extended families who would be more open to doing something different, rather than younger children who are expecting a visit from Santa.

With all of the extended family contributing to a holiday, the figures for your Christmas expenses could drop significantly. It is surely something worth talking about with your siblings, and will alleviate the stress of having to do Christmas shopping.

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is a great way to cut down on expenses as it limits the amount of people you have to buy for, usually at an agreed inexpensive price. Look at various options, sit down and discuss this possibility with your siblings.

Many of families have the same issues but don’t necessarily want to say it so step up and be the first one to mention it. By exchanging presents anonymously among extended family and friends, Secret Santa offers a fun and mysterious way to approach gift-giving this year, which involves everyone.


This list is not exhaustive, but it can act as a spring board by which you can explore different ways to save some money this Christmas, and enjoy the occasion without worry.

For Fr Noonan, what’s really important during Christmas is “helping the child to remember that they’re absolutely loved in their family and that the parents love them”.

So, if financing is a problem this year, it is vital to remember that above all Christmas transcends the material. Although gift-giving is an important aspect of Christian life which should be celebrated, the true gifts of Christmas can’t actually be bought.