Christmas is a time to celebrate with family and friends, but its true meaning can get lost in a blizzard of panic buying, overconsumption and waste. This year, as the cost-of-living crisis bites, we asked some experts for their advice on how to spend less, waste less and still enjoy the festivities.
1. Agree on the purchase of the gift in advance
Christmas brings the dilemma of what to buy for that someone who always buys you something.
But money-saving expert Martin Lewis cautions against what he describes as “giving tit-for-tat.”
He told BBC 5 Live’s Big Green Money Show that most of us have an “ever-growing list of extended family, friends and teachers that we feel compelled to buy for.”
The consumption champion’s main advice is to have those conversations ahead of time and make a “deal with no unnecessary gifts.”
Carbon footprint expert Prof. Mike Berners-Lee agrees.
“If you’re feeling financial pressure this Christmas, start negotiations with friends and family right away,” she says.
Setting a spending limit or hosting a Secret Santa can actually be more fun, she says.
“If you stuck to the pound limit or whatever, then nobody can lose. If you hate it, well, it was just fun anyway.”
He also advises that you keep your receipts and be honest if you don’t like a gift.
“If my wife doesn’t like what I got her, she’ll tell me right away. Maybe it takes some getting used to, but it’s for the best.”
If you can afford it and want to spend more, coupons can be a good way to ensure the recipient gets a gift they really want, she adds.
2. Reduce food waste and switch to vegetable
There’s always at least one element of the holiday treat that no one likes but always buys, or a treat that you were just too full to eat.
Helen Bird of waste reduction charity Wrap says: ‘Food is one area where it’s easy to save money without making the holiday season any less fun.’
She suggests sticking to a list and only buying exactly what you need, then making sure any leftovers are used up.
Data from Wrap shows that 6.6 million tonnes of edible food is thrown away in the UK every year. Most of it comes from our homes, not from supermarkets and restaurants.
“You can keep food until midnight on any expiration date,” says Ms. Bird. “And your freezer is your friend before and after the big day.”
To make Christmas dinner even greener, consider choosing a plant-based plant.
“The science is really clear,” says Prof. Berners-Lee. “We need to greatly reduce the amount of meat and dairy in our diet. And with all the pressure on turkeys from bird flu…this year is definitely the year to give it a try.”
3. Travel less but stay longer
Driving home for Christmas can create a significant carbon footprint or “love miles,” as Prof. Berners-Lee.
According to the RAC, around 27 million trips were made in the run-up to Christmas 2021.
Time with family is precious, so you travel less but spend more time with loved ones when you do, says Prof. Berners-Lee.
Taking a trip on public transport is a greener choice but not always an option. The RAC suggests car sharing to cut your Christmas mileage and travel when the roads are quieter.
“Stuck in traffic jams wastes valuable time, but if you’re in a petrol or diesel car, you’re also wasting fuel unnecessarily,” says RAC’s Rod Dennis.
He suggests starting trips early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid traffic.
4. Recycle and reuse
When Christmas Day is over you can find yourself surrounded by a mountain of wrapping paper and piles of packaging. A good way to test if wrapping paper is recyclable, according to Wrap, is the “scrunch test.”
If the paper holds its shape after being crumpled, it can be recycled and there is no need to remove the tape. If it returns to shape, it cannot be recycled.
But, avoid glitter paper if you can, says Helen Bird of Wrap.
“Glitter wreaks havoc in paper recycling,” she says, “and when it comes to recycling Christmas cards, tear out all the glittery sections.”
Even tinsel and balls, both glass and plastic, cannot be recycled. It’s greener – and cheaper – to take care of your existing decorations and reuse them year after year.
5. Remember the meaning of Christmas
The Big Green Money Show spoke to parents and children in Warrington who agreed that the most important part of Christmas isn’t the presents, it’s spending time with family.
“It’s about having fun,” says Prof. Mike Berners-Lee. “It’s about having fun with the people you like and love the most. It’s about relaxing, and all of that can be done in an environmentally friendly way.”
You can find BBC 5 Live’s Big Green Money Show with Deborah Meaden and Felicity Hannah on BBC Sounds.